Doing Cheese Down Under
Although I’ve spent heaps of time in Australia over the years, I’ve never really spent any of it in the Yarra Valley. Due east (and slightly north) of Melbourne, this wine region is only an hour’s drive from the big city through horse and pony-laden pastures and undulating hills with a backdrop of the Dandenong ranges. Affluent but unpretentious, the wineries are not only welcoming but still free for tastings…and the wines made my big, fruit and alcohol-laden Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz palate SO HAPPY! Lean, expressive Chardonnays and Pinot noirs layered with dry spices pair so well with cheeses of all kinds. I swilled my way all over that valley and made sure that the local economy was in an upturn. Next blog will detail the wineries specifically and the wine/cheese pairings we found.
Best of all, though, was visiting Laurie Gutteridge at the Giant Steps & Innocent Bystander winery in Healesville. I met Laurie 5 years ago at London’s Neals Yard Dairy, where he was cutting the cheese (so to speak). He hooked up with an Adelaide girl (South Oz) and, 3 years ago, landed over here. With that all-encompassing passion for cheese that we share, Laurie convinced the owner of G.S/I.B. (who is also the founder of Little Creatures, one of the best known microbrews in the country) that he could come and make something happen in their cheese room, which had been built but was lying in wait for someone to love it. And so he’s been there ever since, doing his cheese thing. In fact, he’s doing it so well that all over the valley Laurie is known as “Cheesey.” (Or is that “Cheesie”?) Regardless, he’s the Cheese Guy and everyone knows it.
G.S./I.B. isn’t just a winery and cheese room. It’s a modern, cavernous space with comfortable booths and tables, a roaring coffee business that just installed a roaster large enough to suffice the lines that demand coffee every morning and a wood-burning oven that churns out all kinds of breads and pastries as well as fantastic pizzas—topped, of course, with some of Laurie’s cheeses, like Shaw River (water) Buffalo Mozzarella from nearby Yambuk. There are fulltime chefs operating a very busy open kitchen and the vibe is hip and happening. Laurie picks 3 cheeses for their rotating cheese plate and promotes local Australian as much as he can, working with cheesemakers around the country to build what he hopes will someday be a bustling domestic artisan cheese scene. It’s quietly growing and every state is different (see culture’s piece on South Australia in the Winter 2010 issue). Australia’s relatively tiny overall population keeps the pace much slower than either Laurie’s British or my American expectations, but it’s great to be encouraging today’s Aussie cheesemakers. Still, there are plenty of European cheeses that can’t be rivaled here so having a healthy international mix is key. American cheeses don’t even exist here yet, though Laurie has just received his first--Cabot Clothbound Cheddar—and was mightily impressed.
I’m spending a month down under so this is the first of several blogs with an Aussie bent. Thanks, Laurie, for a great visit to the Yarra, and we’ll see you and Emma over in South Oz one of these fine days.