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A few weeks ago I was invited by the team at Ryan’s IGA supermarkets to attend A Night of Cheese Discovery at the Provincial Hotel in Ballarat. I love cheese, so I was thrilled to share a night with some Ballarat locals expanding my knowledge on this ancient comfort food.

The night was hosted by Naomi Crisante, the author of food based website Cheese Matters - Exploring, Cooking and Enjoying Cheese. She guided us through a most tasty and informative evening of cheese heaven as we matched a variety of Lion’s cheese with wine and beer. She walked us through a step by step tasting that informed my palette and has expanded my approach to the world of cheese.

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Naomi shared with us the tips and tricks to creating a great cheese platter, which I dutifully noted and expanded upon to share with you.

1. When deciding what to put on your platter keep the following phrase in mind - compliment, contrast and clash.

Choose a variation of cheese textures and flavours but also a variety of things to eat with your cheese, sweet, tart, crunchy and unexpected contrasts. Some examples of Compliment, contrast and clash;

  • A soft unripened cheese such as Persian feta would be nicely contrasted with the texture of crisp ciabatta and the tartness of cornichons (gherkins) and a sparkling dry white wine.
  • A ripe buttery smooth camembert could be enjoyed with sweet lush strawberries and a glass of cold champagne.
  • A bitey mature club cheddar could be nicely contrasted with some sliced green apple and a glass of beer.
  • A myrtle smoked cheddar could be enjoyed with the tart sweetness of quince paste and a glass of merlot.
  • A creamy yet tangy blue cheese served with truffle honey, panforte and a cold glass of dessert wine.

These are just a handful of the limitless variations you could serve to surprise and delight family and friends at your next gathering.

2. Remember cheeses should be served at room temperature.

Cheese is composed of fat, that is why cold cheese is largely devoid of flavour, a warmer cheese has relaxed fat molecules which allows for a greater perception of flavour. This will allow for a greater appreciation of the variety of cheese types, the way they are made and where they have been produced.

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3. Serve your cheese ripe, ideally as close to the use by date as possible.

By consuming cheese at it's ripest state you will be able to really taste the true flavour of the cheese, rather than the more acidic flavour of an unripened cheese. Known as the art of affinage, purposefully aging cheese from soft fresh cheese through to hard aged cheese.

You should be able to gauge a soft ripened cheese by the way it squishes. Is it springy in the middle if you squish at the side do you see it moving? This usually indicates it is ripe. Once you open a soft cheese, that’s it it will stop ripening. Soft cheeses ripen from the outside in.
Harder cheeses ripen from the inside out, warmer and more humid environments will mature a cheese quicker.

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4. With so many types of cheese available, don’t over do it. 

Make a simple selection, try to choose three different types of cheeses to provide a nice variety, for example a soft white, a blue and firmer cheddar. This way you will cater to more tastes when you are entertaining without overwhelming your guests. 

5. Serve your cheese selection with a variety of seasonal accompaniments.

Try to avoid relying only on the old staple companion biscuits and think about contrasting flavours and textures and unexpected contrasts. The best accompaniments to serve with cheese are seasonal fruit, apples, pears, grapes, peaches, apricots,berries, dates, figs and dried fruits. Crusty bread, baguette, ciabatta, or any fresh artisan loaves. Crackers, crisp breads, panforte, fig or date loaves and lavosh. Olives, pickles, gherkins, fruit paste and chutneys. Nuts, walnuts, pecans, brazil nuts and almonds. Charcuterie, salami, ham and proscuitto. 

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6. Give your cheese platter space.

Opt for a larger platter to ensure the cheese is not touching accompaniments and allows room for people to manoeuvre. Also offer a different knife for each cheese.

7. Always seek out some local cheeses to feature on your cheese platter.

Australia’s pristine natural environment and variable climate allows for the production of some of the very best cheeses in the word. Ryan’s Super IGA in Pleasant Park and Northway in Ballarat range a vast amount of cheese from around the world, they also offer some great local options, it really is a spectacular offering the biggest range of cheese you will find in Ballarat. You can also obtain some of the exquisite varieties made by our local producer Goldfields Farmhouse Cheese at our quality local farmer markets.

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Wednesday, 29 March 2017