The Australian Grand Champion dairy awards are announced today! I have 3 of the winners here. Do you want to see? I also have a wonderful Quick Cheese loaf so skip to the end for that.
What would you say if someone asked you to take a hamper of cheese home and eat it with your friends?.
You would say yes, right?
I most certainly did. The cheeses were three of the winners from the Australian Grand Dairy awards. Each year now for the past 16, producers from all over Australia vie for the chance to be named in the line up of the best of the best dairy products Australia has to offer. Lets face it, a hamper of any cheese arriving at your house along with condiments and wine is bound to cause excitment, so imagine if the cheeses are champions. I think that makes it a cheese lover’s dream come true.
A couple of Saturdays ago, we got down to business and ate a serious amount of cheese- for judging purposes of course. I asked Miss G, Birdie, Roberto and JB to taste this years Australian Dairy Champion cheeses with me and pick their favourite .
We tried each in turn, looking, smelling, and finally tasting.
Anyone can do this at home too. In fact it is great fun and people taste some very interesting things in a piece of cheese when they eat it slowly. Cheese judges typically taste hundreds of cheeses a show and need to spit just like wine judges. Judging cheese on a full stomach changes the way you taste. Who wants to taste when they are full?
Follow these simple rules for your tasting
- Cheeses are always assessed by appearance first. Did you know that cheddars for instance can be cloth matured, making them earthy and often sharp and crumbly or matured and then wax rinded. A cheese with a rind of wax could indicate a moist cheese that is less crumbly and perhaps more fruity. Glimpses of these things can help to identify characteristics and expectations before tasting
- Smell is a very important indicator in cheese. Some cheeses have an aroma that is extremely strong but the cheese is actually mild in taste. This happens a lot with washed rind cheeses.
- Taste and smell are an important sense combination when eating and tasting cheese. In fact cheeses are quite commonly scored with a combined taste/ smell option
- Texture is vital, not only for hard and semi hard cheeses but for soft cheeses as well.
Crackers and condiments are of course never part of judging cheese for a professional. These things although a great compliment to cheese, mask some of their flavours. For most of us eating cheese at home this isn’t a problem, but we did try the cheeses alone first before adding any condiments. Wine and beer exempt.
We drank an Australian Prosecco with the cheeses. I have only ever had Italian Prosecco. I wasn’t really sure an Australian one would stack up but I am very pleased to say it did.
Prosecco’s traditional home is the Valdobbiadene district, in the Veneto. It’s a light tank fermented sparkling that’s great for an appertif. This one, Dalz otto is from the King Valley Victoria, and made by an Italian who came from the Veneto area to Australia and produced his first vintage 2004. It has citrus freshness, gentle bubbles and a dry almost spicy appeal that finishes clean and dry. It was the perfect wine for this cheese on a sunny Saturday.
The Australian Grand Dairy Awards is a celebration of all kinds of dairy products. Everything from cheese to ice cream, yoghurt and butter. The cheeses are chosen from a large field that stretches all the way from small family owned companies to the well known supermarket brands.
What do champion cheeses taste like?
The champions are chosen from the final field and then one Grand Champion is chosen above them all. This years Grand Champion Cheese award was given to Heidi Farm Gruyere. Gruyere and the semi hard , eye style cheeses are some of my favourite. I have a particular love for French Comte. But Heidi Farm Gruyere is one Australian cheese I particularly like and we are all pleased that Heidi Gruyere is in the line up to taste. This Tasmanian cheese is a perfect example of it’s style with a pliable texture and a subtle nutty clean finish.
This cheese is in magnificent condition. Heidi Gruyere is ripened for up to 9 months for these younger styles and cut from a wheel that is usually around 30 kg. The colour was pale straw and the rind evenly formed around the whole of the cheese. It smells of fresh milk and grass, and even caramel with sweet lactic milk notes and is moist and pliable. We found the flavour to be milder than expected but it has lightly nutty notes and a fruity appeal. It’s quite a gentle laid back Gruyere but I love it.
The hamper arrived with condiments Essential Ingredient Pickled Cherries, Cunliffe and Water’s Peppered Apples and Lemon Chutney, Truffle Hill truffled Honey with Hazelnuts and Falwasser Crackers. The pickled cherries go particularly well with the Heidi Gruyere.
Next in the line up of this years Grand Dairy Awards is a Bay of Fires Cheddar. This was also a beautifully ripe and well presented cheese from St Helen’s on the east Coast of Tasmania.
**Cloth binding is a traditional method of aging cheese, the cheese is hooped then later wrapped in cloth and left to ripen. This method allows the cheddar to interact with the environment, and breath, aging and loosing moisture to produce a crumbly earthy, sometimes sharp cheese. It is an expensive way to produce cheddar because up to 30% of the volume can be lost.
Bay of Fires Cheddar is aged 12 months on pine boards. This is not a really sharp cheddar. It’s most endearing characteristic beside the earthy flavour from it’s clothbound maturation, is it’s creamy mouth feel that finishes clean and sweet. Its not overly crumbly but the firm texture makes it very moorish and also perfect with the Apple, Pepper and Lemon chutney and even more welcome with a beer. The appearance of this cheese suggests there might be some salt crystals or pockets of deposits but there is none. It’s a lovely earthy cheddar.
The final cheese is King Island Black label triple cream Blue. Again this cheese is in the most beautiful condition. The rind is not perfectly white, it’s starting to mottle as it should with maturation. It’s is oozily creamy in places with pockets of blue and little lumps. The best way I can describe it is as a blue spiked triple cream brie. It’s made in a log that is turned every couple of days for about a month and hand pierced to develop gentle blue pockets. It’s lush and buttery and luxurious. The blue is very gentle and when you reach a pocket amongst the creamy interior it provides a wondrous spike of a moment.
Look at this gorgeous cheese. This was a favourite, as you can imagine. It was incredibly suited to the truffle hazelnuts, although I might just take the cheese judges stance and eat this cheese alone.
Now I have something really special for you. I know you are going to love it because when I made it it got eaten straight away. Cheddar Cheese quick Bread. OMG it is so delicious toasted!!!! I am not suggesting you make this with Bay of Fires cheddar, but this is a very quick and delicious way to use up scraps of cheddar or even Gruyere or Parmesan you may not want to waste. It also works perfectly with a big old block of extra tasty too!
- 150 gram cheddar cheese
- 50 gram Parmesan cheese
- 380 gram plain flour 2 1/2 cups
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon bi carbonate of soda
- 1 teaspoon vinegar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika fresh grated
- 300 ml milk
- 1 whole Egg
- 100 gram sour cream or yoghurt
- 60 gram butter melted, 3 Tablespoons
You can pulse the mixture together in your processor too but over mixing can result in a tough quick bread,
Use any cheese you like
I often put some grated cheese on top
You can cover the loaf with foil after about 30 minutes to stop it browning too much
Serve sliced and toasted with ham or eggs or blue cheese and truffle honey!!
Make a baked breakfast strata, serve with scrambled eggs and salmon, eat with salad
There’s also a Cheese Festival. To help celebrate this years winners
If you live in Melbourne this could be the festival for you. When: Friday 19 February 2016, 5pm – 9pm
Congratulations to all the winners of this years Australian Grand Dairy Awards.