USE YOUR TONGUE!
That was the message that was first given by Valerie Henbest, cheese importer (or “Fromage Air”) for Smelly Cheese, in Adelaide, South Australia. Valerie is also a passionate cheese educator and eater, originally from Normandy, France and now an Aussie-Franco mix. With a great accent, I might add, and a life pulse that’s infectious.
Last week, I attended a Bubbles & Cheese Master Class taught by my friend Natalie Fryar, who makes Jansz Australia (Tasmanian sparkling wine) and Valerie Henbest at the Smelly Cheese headquarters in Adelaide. After a tour of the aging room, 20+ of us sat down to bubbles and cheese…but the first order of business was to think about what we were tasting, an exercise that never, ever gets old.
I just got back from a month in Australia. What do I miss most, besides my best mates and Aussie humor? The nature and the smells. They're often linked, actually. Walking around the Barossa Valley (South Australia), strong wafts of peppermint (eucalyptus trees) backed with black pepper and lemon (also from the trees and native scrub) swirl around me. Then there's the ubiquitous rosemary and sweet lavender that grow so well that some use them for hedgerows. The air often has a dusty, clay-like scent, possibly from that iron-rich, sunbaked red soil mixed with a deep, meaty undertones that I want to believe is Vegemite...but I really have no idea where it comes from.
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.
In sharing stories with fellow cheese dorks, I’m starting to realize the extreme measures to which people will resort for a fix. I’m not talking smuggling French cheese past U.S. customs in one’s underwear, although that’s certainly admirable.
No, I’m talking about situations that are perhaps a bit humiliating, if not outright pathetic. I seem to find myself in these situations with some regularity, in part because I’m frequently on the road (here or overseas) for my work as a food and travel journalist. The fact that I’m lactose intolerant just adds to the fun.