It is almost ten years now since I left the rolling hills and stunning coastline of Dorset that I had called home for more decades than I would care to share, to head south to the ‘land of plenty’ and all that it promised.
One might be forgiven for thinking that moving to a country so intrinsically linked with British rules and customs would be a relatively easy transition to make, particularly since we share the same language (although that could be argued at times), but despite these common denominators I continue to be fascinated by the differences in customs here in Australia to those observed in Britain. My conclusion is that this wonderful country embraces so well the diversity of its multicultural influences, that it has forged its own style and form of etiquette to enrich us all with a sense of history and belonging to a wider global community.
With that in mind, I thought I would share with you ‘what’s what and what’s not’ here in the colony, and our first port (pun not intended) of call is cheese!
Once a month, just a stone’s throw across the Barwon River from my home here in Victoria, the local farmers can be heard setting up stalls amongst the native river red gums, silver wattle and woolly tea trees, very early on a Saturday morning. Like farmer’s markets in towns and cities across Britain, the trestle tables groan with the weight of the most splendid array of locally grown fruit and vegetables, grass-fed meat and, to my mind the pièce de résistance, cheese.
Cheese is as popular here in Australia as it is in Britain, but what separates the two nations is the point at which the cheese is served during a meal. With the strong Italian influence (the fourth largest ethnic group in Australia) it has brought about the widespread inclusion of cheese on the antipasto platter which is traditionally eaten, as the Italian name suggests, ‘before the meal’.
During summer, when Mr R and I have friends round for casual drinks, alfresco, we always serve a substantial cheeseboard, together with locally grown olives, chilli and fennel salami, home-made pesto, crostini and crackers, some olive sourdough bread and perhaps a fig & fennel paste. Of course, the trick is to be fairly speedy in enjoying its delights before the heat has us and our guests compelled to seek refuge in the cool and comfort of the air conditioning. There is of course a second reason: any significant rise in temperature will have the cheese ‘running’ and sweating so profusely that it will spoil rapidly which is tantamount to sacrilege in my book.
When Mr R and I host a dinner party English style, even though my good husband is Australian, our guests who hail from all corners of the globe will witness the traditional way to serve cheese – after the pudding (and there exists a moot point, more of which later in another blog, perhaps!).
The cheese is selected to provide for a broad range of tastes and textures, and it should ALWAYS be served at room temperature to ensure a full flavour. Ideally, the cheeseboard should include the following: a soft cheese (d’Affinois is my favourite now widely available in some of our better delicatessens here in Victoria); a hard cheese such as a cheddar (Warrnambool Heritage extra tasty is a good one); a mild cheese which might include a goat’s cheese; and a sharp cheese, perhaps a blue brie (Tarago Shadows of Blue is outstanding in my opinion) or a Stilton (yes, available here in my local greengrocer).
The cheese should be presented beautifully ensuring that it is also arranged, and eaten, in order from the mildest through to the strongest. A separate cheese knife for each cheese is a must, as is providing a Stilton ‘scoop’ if serving the Stilton as a truckle (whole). Never, never take the ‘nose’ off the cheese; that’s almost as heinous as saving the pork crackling for yourself and giving your guests the overcooked morsels. Instead cut the cheese like a slice of cake ensuring the pointed end of the cheese is always intact.
Remember to include some fruit, grapes are best, but Muscatel raisins are a perfectly acceptable accompaniment, and some sticks of celery displayed in a celery glass add interest and texture.
And finally, if there is just one wine, fortified or otherwise, that I would suggest as a pairing with a selection of mixed cheese, a glass of Champagne it is – as if one needed an excuse at all !