Life and Cheese – Eating, making and cooking with cheese
Lucy Hoffman writes Life and cheese to help spread the love about artisan, raw milk and downright delicious cheeses. She have a mission to learn more about cheeses and to share this learning with others
Calling all cheese-lovers! The Great Eketahuna Cheese Festival is on Sunday May 26 and Monday May 27 2019 at the Eketahuna Community Centre.
And this year it’s bigger and even better, over two days, starting on Sunday!
There are producers from all over the county coming: Kaikoura Cheese, Whangapiro Buffalo Co, Sentry Hill Organics, Cartwheel Creamery, Mt Eliza Cheese, ViaVio Cheese, Nieuwenhuis Farmstead Cheese, Bellefield Butter Co, Little Farm Goat Dairy, Kingsmeade Cheese, Faisons du Fromage, Cranky Goat, The Deer Milker and Blackwood Cheese.
I love this festival, it’s intimate and exciting. You can feel the passion of the small scale cheese maker, breathe in their fighting spirit and experience an amazing community, literally at the grassroots of great New Zealand cheese.
I dream of a day when Kiwi cheese is up there on the global stage with our Savs and Pinot Noirs, our lamb and our movies. And it’s here in Eke that you’ll find the life blood of this dream. The makers, the sellers, and my cheesey friends, the eaters.
Because we eaters are a key part on the equation, our stomachs and purses are vital to the health of our small scale and farm house cheese industry.
And it is an industry under threat of extinction.
Under threat due to unaffordable regulatory measures designed for food safety in industrial dairy. New Zealand dairy regulations are geared to huge, complex factories of export-orientated companies and they cripple our small-scale cheese makers.
So cheese folk, make the pilgrimage to Eke, hang out with our artisan cheese makers and mongers, share a slice of their dreams and aspirations and get to the heart of what troubles and fuels them.
Oh and along the way eat a sh*t–load of cheese and dairy. See you there!
It’s a post that’s been gently lapping around me for a couple of months sparked by a comment made by work friend. He was raving about a faux-meat carpaccio he’d at a vegan restaurant in Melbourne.
I was stunned. I knew he liked cheese, but raw meat? Sheesh that’s hard for most meat-eaters to conceptualise, but for a vegan? So it was with trepidation I asked, do you like eating meat?
Hell yeah, he said, I like the taste of meat, I just don’t like the cruelty.
That sentence has stuck with me and got me thinking about vegan cheese. Would I use it? Could I make a decent-enough vegan cheese scone? Everyone loves a cheese scone, except a vegan that is, and, as it turns out a strict halal person.
So it was time to experiment with my trusty cheese scone recipe and translate it to vegan.
Luckily vegan cheese is not low fat. This is important as there’s no butter or oil in my recipe and it relies on cheese for fats. Also vegan cheese needs help caramelising, so I upped the sugar a little. I also added vinegar to the almond milk as the scones need cheddar’s acid tang and extra cayenne to oomph up its cheesy punch.
Don’t worry my cheesey friends, I’m not going vegan. But this has got me thinking about being more choosey with dairy. It is a privilege not a right and industrial dairy has a big environmental and animal welfare impact. Maybe one day when it gets better I may even swap my big block cheese.
Though this is a quick and easy recipe there is a trick to a great scone. So here are here are my tips, collected from my mum and many friends over the years.
Tips for scones
1 Heat the oven – it must be hot
2. Preheat the tray – put it in when you turn the oven on.
3. Add all the milk at once – it should be a wet rather than a dry mixture
4. Mix quickly by making slicing actions with a knife, just enough to bind together. Don’t over mix.
5. Touch the mixture as little as possible and get it into the oven asap after mixing the milk in.
Add the vinegar to the almond milk, stir and put aside.
Sift flour, baking powder, salt, sugar and cayenne pepper into a bowl. Mix in cheese. Make a well in the centre.
Check you have a clear bench with flour on it, the oven is fully heated. You want the scones to go into the oven as soon as possible.
Add the milk, mix quickly with a knife. Turn out onto a floured bench and quickly shape into a 3 cm thick rectangle. Cut into 8 and put on to your floured, hot tray. Bake for 15-20 minutes. You’ll smell them as they get ready.
A washed rind blue? Never heard of it, nor has Pual Broughton from C’est Cheese, but he reckons it’d be worth a go. This is not a traditional style of cheese, but with a twinkle in his eye Paul thinks he could make it by taking a blue brie or a harder style, and washing it with a local Martinbourgh Pinot Noir.
Paul has just added an eatery and a cheese factory to his C’est chess sohp, and fingers crossed he’ll get his liquor licence and MPI approval to started making and selling blue cheese.
You’ve got to hand it to Paul, he’s not afraid to challenge preconceptions. Who’d’ve thought an artisan cheese shop would survive, let alone thrive, in sleepy Featherston, an hour of so from Wellington over the Rimutaka Hill? Yet thrive it has as it enters its sixth year.
I love visiting Paul and C’est Cheese. The tasting cheese today was Blue River aged cheddar. Paul told Catherine, my fellow cheese fiend, and I about how this is some of the last that they made. He’s bought up the last 600Kg after they closed their cheese making facilities. So get in quick. It’s a big mouthful of sweet nuttiness.
Paul’s enthusiasm and vision pervades everything they do at C’est Cheese. He built everything in the expanded shop, right down to the putting up new beams! The kitchen and menu, through small are perfectly formed.
Catherine, a judge in the recent NZ Cheese Awards, had the Huevos Rancheros with Drunken Nanny Lush goat cheese and I had a Wairarapa Omelette with Gouda, Kingsmeade pecorino and a side of Beef and Blue sausage.
And oh my, these were the best cheese sausages this curd nerd has tasted. Paul’s says his secret is that while most butchers use a kit with dried blue cheese he takes real blue cheese and gets a butcher up the way to crumble it into the mixture.
So along side my (obligatory) Mahoe Old Edam (crack cheese of the highest order), a ripe Grinning Gecho Brie, and a piece of Invercargill Blue River Cheddar, I added six sausages and a frozen takeaway of their spicy Mac and Cheese.
Those of you who know me know I love this shop. Catherine noted you can really nerd out with Paul. He is knowledgeable, generous and passionate, and most of all he has a vision. A vision of his Wairarapa cheese empire and dreams of making blue cheese. Good luck with MPI Paul, cos I want to try your washed rind blue. I reckon it’ll be something!
‘Noo fotos’ she said in her Scottish brogue, as I was happily snapping shots in the cheese room at Formatgeria La Seu, a cheese shop in the narrow streets of the Gothic quarter in Barcelona.
‘Just enjoy the cheese’ Katherine the owner implored. She’d put up the ‘No fotos’ sign three years ago out of frustration with people coming in and automatically taking photos.
‘They even had them on their heads! Moving this way and that!’ The go pros had been the last straw and since then, there’s been a policy of no photos. Not for me, not for her brother, not even the folks at Neal’s Yard Dairy she laughed.
You’ve got to admire her attitude. A Spanish tour guide once told her she’d never make any money, restricting tourists this way. ‘Pah!’ She said, ‘what does she know?’
Her unconventional response is emblematic of her commitment to small, local producers, her humour and her independence. How apt for a Scot in the heart of Catalonia.
‘It’s a public holiday tomorrow,’ she said with a twinkle in her eye, ‘Spanish National day. So all the Catalans’ [shops] will be open… I’ll be open,’ she grinned.
Along with cheese, Catherine offers great tasting platters. I had three cheeses and a glass of wine for €3, just standing at her counter chatting away. Her standing plates are like a painter’s palette with a hole for your thumb and one for the glass. She’d got them made when you could stand outside in the street, but now that’s not allowed, they work well in the small space of her shop (sorry no photo of the plate, not allowed). The cheeses were delicious and I took home four more which I devoured that night back at my AirBnB, hence the photos.
She’s also well known for her cheese ice creams, the flavours that day were smoked and blue cheese. Small and perfectly formed, cool and delicious.
‘Don’t bother with a photo’ she laughed, remembering a tourist who’d spent 20 minutes trying to get the perfect shot whilst ice cream melted down his arm, ‘just enjoy the cheese!’
First we heard the tinkling of their bells, then we spied the sheep living two back yards from our house in the old Maltese town of Haz Zebbug. And on our last day we were lucky enough to taste the cheese made from their milk by our neighbour, Connie.
Connie makes and sells Gjebjniets with the milk from her four sheep. A simple fresh cheese made from milk, salt and rennet in small basket-shapes, Gbejna are made from sheep and sometimes goats milk across the Maltese islands.
Our host, Mariella had recommended I ask our neighbour, Connie, if I could buy some of hers after she’d read that I was a cheese fiend on my AirBnB profile. Just knock on the brown door Mariella had said, and ask to buy some.
Mariella recommended eating them for breakfast on some bread from the wood-fired bakery at the end of the street. Connie offered us tomatoes from her garden and eggs from her hens. Together they made a most delicious breakfast on our last day in Malta.
Gracious and welcoming, Connie had made the cheeses that morning and would usually sell them the next day in Mdina. I was was so excited to meet her.
Her cheeses were so fresh she recommended adding a little salt. They were like soft pillows of sweet milk barely hovering between liquid and solid. Like marshmallows described my friend Bronwyn.
The Maltese eat these little cheeselets fresh, semi-dried, brined, and peppered. They are used in many ways, fresh on the local bread, in ravioli, or in the delicious cheese pies that are ubiquitous on the island.
These beautiful diamonds of filo-like pastry with fresh, ricotta-like filling are called Pastizz, and are available from the Pasitzzerias which are common all across Malta. We’d munched on some the night before as we meandered home from the local festival in Haz Zebbug celebrating Independence Day.
We’d also eaten the semi-dried version crumbled feta-like over a salad and on antipasto platters, and I’d even encountered a cheeselet in a “Patriot” burger Maltese-style.
Thank you Mariella, Connie and Connie’s sheep, our final meal in Malta summed up our marvellous stay on your Islands, plenty of good company, food, sun and happy bellies all round.
Hot melted cheese between butter-fried bread. The American grilled cheese is the pinnacle of cheese on toast. Somehow the toasted sandwiches I grew up on, though delicious, fade beside its fat, cheesy bounty.
I confess I’ve only eaten these at home using recipes from US books and magazines so they retain an air of the foreign, the exotic, if you can say that about something as prosaic as a cheese sandwich. It’s the frying that elevates them from the panini or cheese toasty. Grilled for Americans is cooking on a grill rather than under a grill in the oven, which they call broil I think.
Fried both sides, this is no open sandwich or cheese on toast. A traditional Kiwi toasted sandwich is thin, two pieces of commercial white bread forged together around meagre fillings. Nothing wrong with that but this my friend is a different delight.
Key to its glory is the butter-crisp fry. Go slowly on a cast iron skillet says the de Bruno Brothers recipe. Generosity of filling is important too urge the Cowgirl Creamery folks.
Hot, crisp, oozing, it’s just the ticket on a cold day. It is comfort and homely, and the antidote I need for a nasty virus that has stolen my voice in a finale of laringytis. Today I will let the cheese sing for me.
Bread- about 1 cm thick, not too many holes, any kind – flat baguette, loaf all good. Stale is fine, and I like seeded, though I slice brown bread a little thinner.
Cheese anything goes, something that will melt. Use up leftovers, up to 3 kinds is fine. If they’re a bit dry include a soft, fresh cheese
Fry slowly – around 7 to 8 minutes each side on a medium low heat
Butter – normal salted is good. The solids help with crispy caramelisation.
Recipe Bread – cut into 1 cm slices Butter Cheese – I used Taleggio today, with rinds cut off and chilled in the freezer for 20 mins so it didn’t melt too quickly. Grate if you are using a block cheese like cheddar. Caramelised onion relish – you can include ham, mustard, relish etc
Heat the cast iron pan on a medium-low heat.
Evenly and generously butter one side of each slice of bread. This will be the outside.
Slice the cheese, grate if using block cheese. Get your relish or other additions ready as you are going assemble it in the pan.
When the pan is hot enough, place the first slice butter side down. Carefully spread the unbuttered side with relish, add the cheese and any other fillings and place the second piece of bread butter side up. Repeat but don’t jam too many slices in a pan or they won’t crisp.
Adjust the temperature, and leave for 7-8 minutes. Check at 5 minutes as they’re easy to burn.
When the first side is looking brown and delicious, gently turn them over. The cheese will have started to melt so they’ll stick together well.
They came in their hundreds, from far flung UK and Tasmania, from Twizel and Katikati, Auckland and the Waikato, from Wellington and of course from Eketahuna. Cheese makers and mongers, those who wanted to learn and those who were there to taste, the expert, the official and the curious. Two MPs, an ex-Minister, the French Ambassador and a Mayor, they all descended for the Great Eketahuna Cheese Fest.
Or as Nick Haddow from Bruny Island Cheese said the Eketahuna Great Cheese Fest because there was some great cheese in the room. And great love and passion and an emerging sense of community and collaboration from our fearless, brave and you’ve got to admit stubborn small and artisan cheese makers.
These are a quirky lot, they are doing it despite the barriers, high compliance costs and low margins. I love how the narrative is switching from the struggle and expense to collaboration and community.
This was the largest gathering of small cheese makers since the NZ Cheese awards, and you feel the buzz of being together and of forging an identity.
You get a sense that they’re doing what the wine industry did, making specialist produce that speaks of a specific time and a place. Building an industry apart from the industrial, learning from the oops and the bugger of mistakes and connecting with consumers, and chefs and tourists.
These are our artisan cheesemakers and we should be proud. They are mixing the joy and the delight of the crafted with the resilience and learning of the artisan and throwing in a little magic and mischief. Bravo Cheesemakers! Bring on Eke 2019!
And thanks again to the Eketahuna community, they too are a quirky, resilient lot who know how to have fun!
Extra cold storage has been ordered, display tables are being sourced, and across our little nation cheese makers, mongers and fanatics are getting ready to descend on Manawatu for The Great Eketahuna Cheese Festival on Monday 14 May 2018. I can not wait!
The Great Eketahuna Cheese Festival is a celebration of small and artisan cheesemakers, a chance for New Zealand and international cheese heads to come together for the love of fromage. If you get a chance, pop in, there is a lively programme, there’ll be plenty of cheese to taste, and lots of cheesy fun to be had.
It kicks off on Sunday 13th May, 3pm- 4:30pm with a light-hearted talk and tasting by cheesemonger Calum Hodgson aka @CurdNerd.
Then on Monday 14th May, from 9:30am the Eketahuna Community Centre will be open to the public. The festival will be opened by Minister of Primary Industries, Agriculture, Bio-Security and Rural Communities Damien O’Connor and then there’ll be a chance to talk to the makers, sample and buy their cheese. At 2:30pm Biddy Fraser will open the afternoon session with a light-hearted intro to cheese making. She’s a hoot so I have no doubt the afternoon’s seminars and panel discussion will be full of great stories and lively debate.
This is an exciting milestone for New Zealand cheese, it’s wonderful to see small and artisan cheesemakers and mongers emerge from behind the big cheeses of Fonterra and the likes.
And as a cheese fiend I am proud to be able to attend. I’ll also take one for the team and fully expect to return to Wellie with a fully belly, a happy heart and a large hoard of cheese!
I had to take care unwrapping Whitestone’s Kurow Chèvre. You know it’s going to be something special when the cheesemaker has put it in a funky cardboard box. Even before I’d cut the tape holding the paper wrapping in place I could tell Kurow is a delicate beauty.
The rind blossoms ivory and white, and laying it gently on the board It shimmers, almost threatening to collapse.
Cutting into it shows it is a textally gorgeous cheese. The rind is al dente with just enough bite on the tooth, it barely contains a chalky inner suspended in a glossy, liquid outer.
Kurow Chèvre has the lemony lightness I love in goat cheese. And even better, is off set by deeper, vegetal notes. Mushroom, forest floor and peppery rocket. Wow, what a cheese.
Made in Oamaru from goats milk sourced from Overbrook Farm in Timaru, I love that Whitestone is getting geeky on goats cheese. Check out their Seriously Goat website, enter the draw to go on a factory tour, and please watch the video- Phill and his goats are gorgeous.
Oh and definitely try this cheese, it’s only being made in goat milking season between November and May so get in quick. Geek out on goat.