Friday, April 29, 2011

The best French-style cheese outside of France

A couple of years ago, we went for a holiday in Tasmania, which I had never visited before, though David had. I loved it--for its amazing beauty, its fascinating and troubled history, its friendliness and quaint architectural charm, and for the compactness which gives the island state that European feel of quickly-changing regional landscapes(I don't think it really looks like Europe at all apart from certain very small areas of hop yard country, but that aspect of rapidly changing landscapes certainly reminds you of it.)

But what was also an unexpected revelation was the discovery of just how much good food there was in Tasmania, and how they've already developed a real regional sense of produce, much more than anywhere else in Australia. Tasmanians are actually developing that real understanding of 'terroir' which to my mind is what so characterises French food and makes it so exciting and distinctive and authentic. Even though it is something that is slowly growing in the rest of Australia, I think Tasmanians are way ahead when it comes to that, perhaps because of the very compatcness of the state, they are much better able to co-ordinate efforts, so that from well set up farmgate sales to markets to specialist shops, you can try all kinds of regional specialities, from excellent charcuterie to gorgeous seafood, home-smoked fish and farm-fresh oysters to organic ciders and the best cheese outside of France.

And for my money the best French-style cheese outside of France is made on Bruny Island. We had the most glorious picnic lunch on Bruny Island( which is not all that far from Hobart)with a dozen Bruny Island oysters, fresh bread we'd bought in a Hobart bakery, cider, and a selection of sumptuous, tasty Bruny Island cheeses such as the Saint(a Camembert-style cheese, meltingly delicious), and Tom, a 'Tomme-style' hard cheese bursting with flavour. I could not believe the taste and texture--they beat into a cocked hat any other French-style cheese I'd ever tasted in Australia, by a long shot. Cheesemaker Nick Haddow sells a range of absolutely wondrous products and I was dead keen to keep buying it.

So how disappointing to be told that back on the mainland it would be difficult to get the cheese--they only sell to one or two outlets, and even then only in the capital cities of course. It's understandable, for this isn't a factory operation but truly 'artisanal' as you'd say in French, and all the better for it. The only way for us to get the cheese once we'd left Tassie, we learned, was to join the Bruny Island Cheese club, and put in orders for the special packages of cheeses 'in season', as it were, that they put together.

We've been thinking about it for ages--it's not a cheap order--but finally we cracked and joined. We got our first parcel the other week, and though due to the fact we live in a regional area, the parcel was late arriving on our doorstep(not the company's fault but slow old Australia Post which never told us it had arrived till days after!), the cheeses were still excellent, though for me, if not for my hardy husband, the Saint had almost passed the pungent point of no return. But the pear-washed rind soft cheese and the raw milk hard cheese and the ODO(one day old cheese, marinated in oil and herbs) were extraordinary, a rich and flavourful sensation.

The Bruny Island Cheese website is at

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