Wine and cheese, a pairing that can cause the utmost confusion amongst the best of us. Sure, we can all take great pleasure in eating cheese while drinking wine but how do we pai? Will brie go with a red wine or does it go better with champagne? Thankfully, we had a chat to Milk The Cow’s head cheesemonger, Laura Lown to tell us the do’s and don’ts about cheese and wine.
1. Tell us a bit about Milk The Cow, how did you come to open such a wonderful place?
Milk The Cow established in 2012. It is a licensed fromagerie, some people say you have to have a license to sell cheese, no it’s all cheese and booze. We specialise in artisanal, handmade cheeses, which are a little bit more of a rarity, from all over the world. We stock your local cheeses- your Yarra Valley, your classic style brie, things like that. But we also do really, really rare cheeses which are one off- washed in whiskey, barolo, espresso. Something that you can’t get from every other fromagerie in Australia. We are a fromagerie but we’re also big on educating and bringing forward the cheese industry in Australia which is pretty new and uneducated in a sense.
2. What is a common mistake people make when it comes to pairing wine and cheese?
A lot of people have this conception that it is a terrifying skill that only cheesemongers need to know. When really you need to trust your own palette. I always say “if you don’t want to go wrong- whatever goes together, grows together.” So if you’ve got a French cheese match it with a French wine. You’re not going to get it horribly wrong. Trust your palette, taste something. If a cheese is rich and high in butter fat, match it with a wine which is going to cut through it. If a cheese is salty, match it with a fortified or vine semillion which is really sweet. I think people tend to think it’s a hard thing to do when really it’s just, whatever you like. Try it, there is no right or wrong. There’s no guidelines, nothing set in stone. You can’t have a blue cheese with a red wine? You actually can it just matters what works for you.
3. What other alcohol goes well with cheese?
What I love personally is whiskey and cheese. We also do beer and cheese, saki, fortified, dessert wine and we have cheese which comes garnished with every coffee order here. For me personally, whiskey and cheese is my forte and then second to that is beer. Wine is that classic match- it’s that elegance of having a dinner party with cheese and wine. It’s a very French thing to do but nowadays living in Australia with the growing craft beer industry, cheese goes amazingly with it.
4. For someone who doesn’t know a lot about cheese or wine are there any classes they can take at MTC to learn more?
We have two venues, one in St Kilda and the other in Carlton. So at St Kilda the first class of the month on a Monday is ‘Perfect Match Monday’ and it’s where we invite the wine makers, distillers, brewers, cheese makers in to showcase their products and educate you on their winery, their heritage and their portfolio. We replicate that on Tuesdays at our Carlton venue. We get one of Melbourne’s best chefs to come in on the last Monday and Friday of the month to speak to guests over a four course degustation of cheese and wine. For example, I sat down with Christy Tania from Om Nom, the dessert bar in the city. She is always on Masterchef and everyone knows her as the guru of desserts. We just went through her menu and matched cheeses to it. But you actually get to meet Christy and all the other guests we feature and learn how to make their food, learn about the cheese matches and about the wine matches. We do a champagne and cheese masterclass, absinthe and cheese, we just did an Indian single malt whiskey and cheese the other night. There is so much going on- it just never ends you’ve got to go online and check it all out.
5. Describe your perfect cheese board
My perfect cheese board is simplicity. I had a guy come in the other day saying “I’m having friends over, I want to have a cheese board but I want small amounts of lots of cheeses.” That is a big no-no for me. I understand that you want a broad range of cheese but getting 20 different cheeses at 30 grams each is silly because not everyone is going to taste it. The classic thing for me is to get four cheeses- a white mould, a blue cheese, a rind washed cheese and a hard cheese. You’ve covered the four main cheeses in the cheese industry and you’ve got something for everyone. If you really want to go all out, get a fifth cheese, which I like to call my “wild card”. The wild card is something a little bit unusual. You can have Reypenaer XO, a three year old gouda from the Netherlands. It’s like popping candy in your mouth. We’ve got BellaVitano cheeses from the USA, they’re very new- a designer way of making cheeses. They are hybrids of cheeses, mixing cheddar and parmesans which have been washed in things like chai, sea salt, espresso, merlot and balsamic vinegar. They’re like new world cheeses- a little bit different. Just keep it simple- don’t keep it crazy.
6. What other cheese accompaniments could you add to a cheese board IE muscatels, quince paste?
On all the featured cheesemonger cheese boards we do at Milk The Cow I just put quince paste with it. It’s a classic match but needless to say on our menu I do muscatels, truffle honey, saffron vanilla pears, glace figs, shiraz and onion jam, French butter. We’ve got all sorts, and again, keep it simple. Some people think “oh i’ll have everything”, not a good idea- you’re taking away from the cheese and you want to enhance it. If you’ve got a blue cheese, which is really salty, get truffle honey because it’s really sweet.
7. What are the most common pairings?
Most people come to Milk the Cow for an occasion, we are known as a fantastic, unique place to come to. We do a lot of hens parties and birthdays. A lot of people have palette cleansers here, with your sparkling and prosecco. A classic match with sparkling is the decadent triple cream cheeses which again are our most highly consumed cheeses since opening. People love it because if you’re new to the cheese world, come to Milk the Cow and see nearly 200 cheeses on the counter, you know that everyone is going to love a triple cream cheese because it is more of a cheesecake than anything; it’s the dessert of all cheeses. Most people start with that, then they go, ‘We really like that. Do you have anything will a bit more of a full body?”
8. What’s your all time favourite cheese to EAT
I always get asked this question! Someone once said to me if you have children it’s probably saying who is your favourite child. Look, it changes everyday. Cheese is a living product and flavours change with the season. Different flavours become available at different times of the year. Right now I’m loving the company BellaVitano, which are based in Wisconsin. They’re the ones doing the espresso washed cheeses and cognac cheeses.
9. What’s your favourite DRINK to pair with cheese?
We have a blend from the Barossa Valley called the ‘GSM’ which is a grenache, shiraz and merlot blend. It’s really medicinal, it’s one of the drinks I have at the end of the night. I always put that with beaufort de alpas, one of the most superior aged mountain cheeses you can get in the world. It takes over 500 litres of milk to make one wheel of it. The cows are grazing in the Savoie region, mountain pastures in France and they are grazing on summer pastures of strawberries and buttercups.
10. When you’re not pairing cheese and wine what do you do for PLAY?
I’m pretty much in Milk The Cow all the time. I go between both stores, doing events, training staff, working the floor. In my spare, spare time when I’m not obsessing over cheese, I love to go out and have dinner. But i’m one of those people who purposely goes to a dessert menu to look at their cheese section. Everyone goes ‘oh Laura please don’t’. I’ve been doing cheese for over 10 years now and it’s become my life. Recently, I got a tattoo of a cow on my arm, just because. I’m always looking for new cheeses, following all my favourite dairies around the world. You can never really, switch off- it’s cheese, cheese, cheese all the time. But I love it.
Milk The Cow St Kilda
157 Fitzroy Street.
03 9537 2225
Milk The Cow Carlton
323 Lygon Street.
03 9348 4771