Buongiorno, bonjour and “g’day”! (don't you like how they're all the same thing? ~ who knew Australian vernacular was so cosmopolitan???).

Also, "a good day to you, sir/maam" for our American pals, "Ni Hao" to China, and "Здравствуй" to our Russian comrades, "etcetera etcetera and so forth"... (for Yul Brynner).

It’s your old pal Kit (Christof) Fennessy here. I've been writing this blog with your help for ten years, and there's over a hundred and fifty recipes, restaurant reviews of Australia and around the world, and general gourmet articles in these pages for you to fritter away your idle hours on.

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Now, what's on the bill of fare today?

Monday, April 11, 2011

Cheese and Wine Matching

Richmond Hill Café and Larder
48-50 Bridge Road

Can you believe it? There’s such a thing as a cheese snob. A fromage fop. Someone queer for queso. Just like a wine snob, but with different organs shutting down. And the professionals in the trade? “Cheese mongers”. I didn’t even know there was a word marriage like that. As in “I monger cheese for a living.”

I recently attended a cheese and wine matching course at Richmond Hill. They happen once a month and are educational and entertaining, if mucus inducing. Attendees could be typified as retirees from Kew, gay couples from the inner city, and gluttonous freak-show scenarios (me). The exceptions were the children of the rather glamorous mother I was seated next to; they’d bought her the ticket and were tasting their cheese against red lemonade. Forza!

Richmond Hill has a cheese room that is set up to imitate a cave. I think it’s about 17 degrees, and around 15% humidity. Cheese won’t ripen properly when refrigerated, as it’s all about interaction between moulds and milk.

The monger in charge was Anthony Femia, and what a cheese nerd! He knew everything and was put through his paces by an unusually well informed audience. The sommelier was Martin Fortune. No one challenged him at all. This was a cheese snob event, no question.

Like a wine tasting, we moved from the weak to the strong. We started with a glass of bubbles (no cheese offered, but you might try a triple cream), and then worked our way through the whites (goat’s cheese, bries), light reds (washed rind, semi-hard), big reds (cheddar) and then on to fortifieds (blue).

A quick word on cheese tasting; you’ll feel like you’re lactose intolerant by the end. Saturated fat mixed with so many exotic bacteria will leave you awash with a feeling of guilt and gurgles.

To whit, the lessons.

Goats Cheese
Holy Goat La Luna Ring
Sutton Grange, Victoria

This was meant to be a milder goat’s cheese; i.e. not so much like licking the back end of a goat. My notes? “Yum! Back end – oh oh, foot odour.” Apparently it’s a great breakfast cheese, to have with berries, or crumbled on pesto.

Wine match:
2009 Spinefex ‘Lola’ Semillon, Viognier, Vermentino
Basically, choose a high acid white wine to cut the cheese (!) and refresh your mouth that will have been dried out by the cheese sucking the moisture out of your cake hole. Would also go well with a sauvignon blanc.

Surface Ripened, White Mould

Fromage de Meux cow’s milk
Ile-de-France, France

Hooray! I’ve finally found out what the difference between brie and camembert is! Back in the day, everyone made white mould cheeses. They were all basically the same recipe, the difference being the sizes, the different grass types the animals ate and different penicillins (penicilli?) to ripen them.
When those nutty Europeans started naming everything as a regional speciality – before the formation of the European Union, after the invention of fire, somewhere in there – they named one Brie and another Camembert to match where they came from. The main difference is brie is made in a 1-3 kg wheel, while a camembert is much smaller. This affects the water quantity in the cheese (I’m guessing bigger cheeses hold more water).
You know they’re ripe when the insides run or bulge. Store white mould cheeses in paper in your vegetable crisper. The outside cut will oxidise, so trim the outside bits when you eat raw, but don’t throw them away! You can melt them on an open sandwich – try turkey, avocado and relish!

Wine match:
2008 Tom Boy Hill ‘Rebellion’ Chardonnay
Ballarat, VIC

‘Why a “card-onnay”?’ Basically, to try and complement the more robust flavours of the white mould cheese without overpowering them.

Surface Ripened, Washed Rind
Pont L’Évêque cow’s milk
Normandy, France

My notes: “Phwoar crikey! Talk about strong!” This cheese is apparently known as “Monk’s meat”. During Lent, when the monks had to give up meat, they turn to this robust cheese. A good cheese for winter, with a taste of cauliflower and meat; great for cooking.

Wine match:
2008 Farfalla Pinot Noir
Mornington Peninsula, VIC

Our sommelier recommended a lighter style red, but also endorsed beer or cider with this one.

Tomme de Chevre goat’s milk
Loire, France

This was a mouth watering harder cheese, kind of like a parmy. The word tome comes from the Alpines (not the fags, the mountains) and means “hunk”, but in cheese-speak it means it’s made from a mix of milks (i.e. by a cheese maker, not a farmer).

Wine match:
2009 Al Muvedre Tinto Joven
Alicante, Spain

I’ve been to Alicante. You’ve got to say it kind of breathlessly, with an English accent while clutching the locket around your neck. “Allicante!”
This wine got a tick in my notes, and is a mix of Grenache and shiraz. You should (allegedly) always have red with harder cheeses, and this one was a medium red to match the saltiness of the cheese.

Cooked Curds

Quickes English Cheddar cow’s milk
Devon, England

Phew! On home ground here with cheddar. Did you know they wrap the cheese in cloth, and then drop it on the farm yard ground to crack it to let in the bugs? Yum!!

Wine match:
2008 Hollick Cabernet Merlot
Coonawarra, SA

OK, I think I may have been drifting off here, as the notes quota was starting to drop. I note a large tick on the wine here, and my notes “big red”.

Blue Cheese
Quesos Valdeon cow and goat’s milk
Valdeon Valley, Northern Spain

I LOVE blue cheese, and this was a very good one. The story behind this cheese is that a shepherd, sitting down to his sycamore leaf wrapped cheese and a loaf of rye bread, saw a beautiful girl walk past and forgot about his lunch, getting up and following her for two to three weeks (titter from audience). When he came back, there was mould all over his cheese, and inside, but he ate it anyway and found a taste of heaven. As a result, many cheese makers still use rye bread as part of the fermentation today… or something.

Good local blues suggested by our cheese monger were Gippsland Blue and Tarwin Blue.

Wine match:
Chambers Muscat
Rutherglen, VIC

Now here’s a couple of things I didn’t realise. First never have a red with a blue. Go for a sweet wine, like a port, a muscat, botrytis white, black sherry, sparkling shiraz (with Stilton), etc.
The second? That we have some of the world’s best Muscat, made from vines a hundred and fifty years old unscathed by the phylloxera plague of the late 1800’s. If these were made in Europe they’d command big bucks. Here, due to fashions and the market, they’re lucky to sell a bottle for $50.

So there you go. You don’t need to be a monger to be a cheese snob! Just follow these careful notes, tell them the story about the shepherd and everyone will think that your veins run with liquid cheese!

Until next time, keep eating!

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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Sarti Restaurant

6 Russel Place

E tempo de carnivale! E festivale della commedia del'arte! Primo baby. (Who knew my year ten drama classes and grade six Italian would still come in handy?)

Italian and comedy? Where's this theme going?

Melbourne's Comedy Festival may be missing Scarramouche - but the zanies are out to play; Arj Barker having rude things done to his face by a papaya (you'll have to see him about that), Mick Molloy talking about his sex life (don't picture it - this is a food blog), and hundreds more artisans plying their craft in town right now (you'd really better catch a show).

So you make tracks like lightning down to the Town Hall for a laugh. And then it hits you. It's night, you're out, and you need to eat! (there's an Italian segue set-up going on here somewhere, I can feel it...) But where can you eat nearby? Everything's booked. It's crazy! Ramrod backed maitre d's turned us away from door after door. I felt like a second class citizen, let me tell you. Perhaps it's my new cologne 'Eau de Cow Dung'?

We were finally greeted with open arms, however, at Sarti; tucked as usual down a smelly alley, but conveniently only a block and a half from the centre of all things humourous at this time of year (finally, we got there - Italian joint is it?).

It IS an Italian restaurant (well done) without the check table cloths, not your hackneyed pizza joint but a more warm and modern trattoria. The decor's stripped back, black, timber, white; friendly and modern. We sat outside on their "rooftop" terrace - looking up at skyscraper walls - and it's laid back and groovy. The staff are good looking and knew the menu by heart - both good signs.

The menu? Excellent and simple. We had small pork and fennel sausages with a white polenta marsala sauce (which reminded me curiously of doughnuts) and calamari for entree. I had a fantastic mud crab and prawn spaghetti, my companions downing other specialities including crispy skinned fish and a berlotti beans and pancetta pasta.

The downsides? Going before a show means you're sitting there with a ticking stop watch in your head. It felt a bit rushed, so I would have liked to do a three or four hour session there; may be a late lunch that goes all afternoon? Oh, and the water prices! You know you're on the wrong side of Lent when you start ordering sparkling mineral water with your dinner. Qu'el horreur when the bill came! Still, if I was drinking wine, it'd seem cheap and the sting would have been taken off by the warm glow of booze. Quick! A poem:

Ah, booze!
One day I'll sup
There at your cup.
One day.
Ah, booze!

Obsessing? Moi?

So, all in all? Hot staff, nice atmos, good menu, prices a little on the high side but bearable. I give it six muscular tentacles out of eight! Now make me laugh, damn you!!

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