Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Raw Milk Cheese in Oz: an Update

Hi Cheese Lovers

Many, many people are talking about the proposal to allow more raw milk cheeses to be made and imported, P1007. The proposal is still in progress and FSANZ are now calling for another round of public submissions – if you have been following this proposal from the beginning, it is important to note that there have been some changes to the scope. 

As outlined in the 2nd Review Assessment document, the scope of proposal P1007 has changed. It has been narrowed to ‘Category 1’ (hard cooked) cheeses only. FSANZ is proposing a small change in the processing guidelines for locally made cheeses using raw milk as follows:

You can make cheese from unpasteurised milk, provided:
(i) the curd is heated to a temperature of no less than 48°C; and
(ii) the cheese or cheese product has a moisture content of less than 36%, after being stored at a temperature of no less than 10°C for a period of no less than 6 months from the date of processing

(i) the curd is heated to a temperature of no less than 48°C; and
(ii) the cheese or cheese product has a moisture content of less than 39%, after being stored at a temperature of no less than 10°C for a period of no less that 120 days from the date of processing

Even though this might seem like ‘not much progress’ there is certainly positive momentum for permitting a wider range of raw milk cheeses to be made and imported, ie ‘Category 2’ (semi-hard), as the 2nd Review Assessment states.

HOWEVER – in order for these products to be made safely, FSANZ has to develop comprehensive guidelines for producing, handling and making cheese out of raw milk. This will take a while – so in the meantime, FSANZ will change the code as detailed above to give cheese-makers and importers as much flexibility as possible in the short term.

After reading through the 2nd Review Assessment document on the FSANZ website, I had a few questions – Patricia Blenman from FSANZ gave me a few minutes of her time to discuss them.

Below, I have summarised our discussion (NB – I haven’t quoted Patricia directly, more paraphrased her and summed things up).

My questions to Patricia were along the following lines: 

What should we cover in our submission – are you only asking for comments on the change to the Code 4.2.4 (above), or would it still be of benefit to include our general views on raw milk cheese?

We should comment on the proposed change in the Code AND we can include any other views / arguments we want to as well. So, for example, I will be saying something like: I welcome the change in code 4.2.4 to allow for a greater range of raw milk cheeses to be made in Australia. I also welcome any future plans to expand the range of raw milk cheeses that can be imported and made in Australia because I feel it is important step forward for consumer choice and for our industry to be internationally competitive. I will also include other comments about my support for raw milk cheese in Australia.

NB there are also guidelines for submissions provided on the FSANZ website here.

Why has the scope been narrowed to just Category 1 cheese? 

The small change is to provide consistency between approved hard and Swiss cheeses for import (eg, Sbrinz and Emmenthal) and locally made cheeses ie, – this gives local cheese-makers a ‘level-playing field’: if you can import it, you can make it (exception: Roquefort).

OK – so there are provisions in the Food Standards Code for making raw milk cheese – does that mean that all Aussie cheese-makers can make them now?

Well – yes and no. It is certainly permitted under the Code, BUT each state has its own ‘Food Safety’ enforcement agency – like The NSW Food Authority and Tasmanian Dairy Board. These state authorities are responsible for licensing cheese-makers and ultimately have the final say whether they can make raw milk cheese.

But Roquefort is made overseas and it is considered safe to import – why can’t we make a similar cheese here?

Europe has been making raw milk cheese for hundreds (if not thousands) of years. People making these cheeses are familiar with handling raw milk and there are also complex safety procedures in place that cannot simply be ‘cut and copied’ for Australia. Under a new proposal next year, FSANZ will start to work on raw milk handling and cheese-making procedures for local cheese-makers (HACCP plans etc) so we can make Category 2 cheeses (semi-hard).

I also asked Patricia about the risk of environmental contamination – especially listeria. Regardless of whether a cheese is made from raw or pasteurised milk, there is a risk it can be contaminated through poor handling and storage – so in theory, if the raw milk is clean and bacteria free, it should be as safe as a pasteurised cheese. Patricia acknowledged the risk of environmental contamination and said that there will be a new FSANZ proposal next year reviewing acceptable limits for listeria (among other things) in all ready to eat foods.

Yes – it is a small, tiny step, but at least a step in the right direction!  Remember – FSANZ is an agency that creates guidelines to make sure our food is safe. It is a big responsibility. They rely on processes and science – they aren’t going to just change the law overnight.

All I can say is - get your submissions in and keep pushing! Keep voicing your opinions. Every submission counts – be part of the raw milk revolution!

You have until 6pm, October 14th 2011 to make your views heard.

Patricia – thanks for your time.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

New York - A Cheese Odyssey 2011

Hi All

Wow - New York was a BLAST! There is so much cool cheese stuff going on there. Met so many inspiring people - retailers, cheese-makers, authors. We hit most of the 'top spots' for cheese - did a class at Murrays and Artisanal, enjoyed the accompaniments at Casellula, got a 2 hour private interview with cheese legend Max McCalman, watched the cheddaring at Beechers, visisted Jasper Hill and Consider Bardwell up in Vermont AND got a lesson in preparing the perfect cheese trolley at Picholine restaurant. A MASSIVE thank-you to everyone who helped us out and gave us their time.

The 'cheese-monger olympics' were another highlight - there was an energy there that I wish I could have bottled and brought back home for all my cheese-y friends to breathe in. 40 mongers competing, about 400 people in the crowd and a massive cheese party happening in the background. I got through the first 2 rounds OK, but didn't quite make the 'cut' during round 3 to get into the final 10 contestants.

Here are some pics of the highlights. Unfortunately we were so busy filming everything (fingers crossed for a TV show), that we didn't take as many pics as usual :( hope you enjoy anyway.

NYC Cheese Pics link


Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Cheese-monger Olympics

I am very excited to announce that I will be heading over to New York in July to compete at the Cheese-Monger Invitational - a type of competition for cheese-mongers. 3 Aussies will be competing: myself, Claudia Bowman and Anthony Femia. Challenges include blind tastings, cutting, wrapping, assembling cheese plates etc.

More details to follow soon.

New York - here I come!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Whisky & Cheese - a cure for winter chills

Hi All
Wow - buying a house and moving takes up A LOT of time...consequently I haven't posted any new blog entries for a really long time – sorry about that.

At the moment I am preparing for some upcoming cheese and whisky tastings – a couple of private events in the next month, then a couple of public ones coming up in October. 

Whisky and cheese matching is becoming really popular – and it’s really not surprising that they work so well together – whiskies exhibit notes of dried fruit, nuts, citrus, salty crackers and cured meats: all foods that are traditionally served with cheese. Whisky has none of the acidic tannins found in wine, which so often clash with the acidity naturally present in cheese.

On this note, I thought I would provide some cheese and whisky matching hints and tips – winter is a great time to stay in and experiment with your favourite drams and a great cheese board.

Goat’s Cheeses
Not necessarily the first food that comes to mind when thinking whisky, but goat’s cheeses are a delightful partner to delicate, floral whiskies such as Lowlands styles and also some Kentucy Bourbons. Look for semi-matured cheeses with a wrinkly mould such as Holy Goat La Luna from Victoria, or Brunet from Italy. Some harder styles also work well, such as Garrotxa from Spain or a Tomme de Chevre from France. This is a lovely combination to enjoy before dinner, because it creates such a light and refreshing sensation on the palate.

Bries and Camemberts
A lot of people enjoy Bries and Camemberts with classic Highland styles, but for me it this combination can be a bit hit and miss. These types of cheeses mature so quickly, they can be very different from day to day, season to season. It is particularly important to make sure your cheese isn’t over-ripe, as sometimes the ammonia can combine with certain notes in whisky to create an unpleasant metallic hotness in the mouth. If you do want to try this match, find a good French brie and experiment with whiskies with soft fruit notes and a full, round mouthfeel. If you are finding unpleasant notes coming through, try just eating the soft interior of the cheese, and giving the rind a miss.
Washed Rind Cheeses (a.k.a ‘the stinkies’)
These pungent cheeses are a great match with most whiskies and Bourbons, particularly any with a well-developed sweet note – look out for mentions of vanilla, desserts, rich dried fruits or chocolate in the whisky tasting notes. Taleggio, Milawa King River Gold and Epoisses are all great choices. These cheeses will also match well with lightly peated and coastal style whiskies.

Full flavoured, matured cheddars are great matches with full flavoured peaty whiskies like those from Islay. It really is a case of the bigger the whisky, the bigger the cheese – you really need a well-developed cheddar tang to offset the rich peat and slight saltiness in the whisky.

Hard Cheeses
There is something divine about a sherried whisky matched with a good quality Parmigiano Reggiano which has been matured for at least 24 months – a heady mix of salty-sweetness, dried fruit and roasted nuts – the perfect aperitif! Simply put out a big wedge of parmigiano and let your guests chisel off bite-size chunks as you serve drinks. Dutch Gouda, French Mimolette (a bit like an aged Edam), and Gruyere are also great partners to any whiskies that have been matured in ex-sherry and/or bourbon casks and have a rich fruity and floral note.

Blue Cheeses
As a general rule, blue cheeses are firm friends with coastal and peaty malts. You could quite easily have an entire tasting session devoted to these partners in crime – there is something about the match of spicy blue mould mingling with salty smoke that just can’t be beaten. However, generalisations can be dangerous, and just as whiskies vary in their flavour intensity, so do blue cheeses – some are mild and creamy, and some will just about knock your socks off. This can be amplified further when you match a peat monster with a big blue cheese – the results can be literally breathtaking. To begin with try Blue de Laqueuille from France, or an Italian Gorgonzola Dolce (a milder style) – both cheeses are medium strength and have a nice balance of spiciness and cream. When you feel ready to ‘go all the way’ try Roquefort (a very strong French sheep’s milk blue) with Ardbeg Uigeadail – it lives up the old cliché of ‘an iron first in a velvet glove’ and is a match I never grow tired of.

Hopefully this gives you a few ideas to start with – you may even like to keep a little whisky and cheese diary with notes about your matches. Remember to have fun in your experimentations and always ask your local cheese-monger for help and advice when selecting your cheeses.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Gold Fever - Royal Sydney Cheese Show

 Now that the results for the Sydney Royal Cheese & Dairy Produce Show have been officially announced, I can blog about it.

I always look forward to the show – a chance to taste cheese all day long, hang out with other cheesey people, and see what cheese-makers around the country are up to – new products, improvements since last year etc.

However it is also a day of mixed emotions. It is particularly heart-breaking when some of the cheeses you love and sell all-year around are not at their best on judging day. It happened this year for both Holy Goat La Luna (first year without a gold medal), and Bangalow Nashua (only a silver this year, but a gold for their Triple Cream).

Also, I know a lot of people are critical of the whole show/judging system – with comments along the following lines ‘how can you judge a ricotta next to a hand-made, cloth-bound cheddar – it’s not fair’, ‘how can a show that accepts entries for commercial cottage cheese take itself seriously’ etc.

In order to throw my 2 cents in, I will briefly outline the Show for you:

The Royal Agricultural Society has been judging dairy products for over 150 years. Any dairy products made in Australia are eligible to enter – from small artisan products, to mass-produced, supermarket products.

All entries are split into categories: fresh goat’s, white mould goats, cow’s milk ricotta, mild cheddar, semi-matured cheddar, vintage cheddar etc – there are about 50 classes, so like is judged against like and there are particular expectations for each category.

All entries are scored out of 20 points:
4 points presentation
6 points texture
10 points aroma and flavour

16 to 17.9 pts is a silver medal, 18 – 20 is gold.

All judges are from the industry and are suitably qualified via experience and/or training via a specific dairy products sensory evaluation course. A small team of 3 or 4 judges are assigned to judge specific categories on the day. Judging is done individually and in silence, then scores are averaged at the end to get an overall score for each entry.

At the end of the day, certain high-scoring cheeses from different categories are pitted against each other for various awards such as Champion Fancy Cheese, Champion Cheese etc. In these instances, it is possible for a ricotta to be ‘in the running’ against a cheddar.

On the day I judged the following categories:
-       ricotta (both fresh and baked)
-       cottage cheese (uncreamed, creamed and flavoured)
-       cow’s milk washed rind
-       cow’s milk mixed rind
-       cow’s milk hard cheeses (parmesans, pecorino’s etc)
-       innovation

I had many ‘judge’s conundrums’ on the day (particularly trying to judge Australian ‘parmesans’, when I usually only eat Parmigiano Reggiano – but that is a whole other blog post). Here is one example:

early morning session - Cottage Cheese class:
Gherkin-flavoured cottage cheese:
Presentation – as it should be, even surface, nicely presented etc
Texture – great, couldn’t really find any faults. Even curd pieces with a great texture, evenly distributed in a creamy dressing
Flavour – a beautiful cottage cheese, with a very good gherkin flavour that was true and very nicely balanced.

Result – gold medal for mass-produced, gherkin-flavoured cottage cheese

late morning session – Washed rinds
Bangalow Nashua:
Presentation  - good, no apparent faults
Texture – rind slightly grainy, interior good
Flavour – a little disappointing: more ammonia on the rind that you would expect, and a touch of bitterness on the palate, a few unpleasant flavours from the rind – minor faults, still a pretty good cheese overall, but not a gold medal entry.

Result – silver medal for Bangalow Nashua


This was disappointing, but all I can say is this: According to the scoring criteria, the gherkin cottage cheese was almost faultless, while the Nashua entered on the day had some small, but obvious faults. I spent a few years working for one of Australia’s biggest dairy companies, and believe me – the production team there took just as much pride in producing quality products as small cheese-makers do. Why shouldn’t they get a gold for an amazing cottage cheese? I honestly feel that excellence should be rewarded in any area appropriate, and constructive feedback given for all entries in an attempt to try and raise the standard for the whole industry. We won’t get anywhere rewarding mediocrity.

NB – not that I am saying Nashua is mediocre, quite the opposite – a silver medal is a great result, I happily eat and sell this cheese regularly... Trying to choose my words carefully here… some people think that we should support all artisan cheese-makers simply because they are small and artisan, even if they make a sub-par cheese, and I just don’t agree. The cheese has to be good. Full Stop.

OK. Moving on…cheese shows are so contentious!

Highlights of the day:
-       2 great entries in the fetta category – Small Cow Farm Fettice, and Highland organics Fetta
-       Generally a good standard in the washed rind category
-       Some great entries from Milawa this year – 3 silver medals for King River Gold, Capricornia and their goat camembert (I find Milawa to have variable quality, so it was good to see so many good entries from them this year – keep up the great work guys!)
-       Berry’s Creek blue cheeses – gold medals all around
-       Bangalow Triple cream – hopefully we will get some in store soon

-       Holy Goat cheeses not up to their usual standard, resulting in stunned silence from all judges on the day. I hope this isn’t a sign of things to come now that their cheeses are starting to be distributed to Coles supermarkets
-       No Barossa Valley cheeses – I would have loved to see the new Geo there
-       Unfortunately no golds for Woodside – but lots of silvers. Also a very mysterious entry in the ‘innovation’ category – described as a ‘leaf-wrapped triple cream’ which was not leaf-wrapped, nor innovative in any way that I could see…
-       A couple of entries with foreign matter – hairs, fibres etc

I also conducted some cheese & wine matching tutorials at the RAS Cellar Tasting on Saturday. The classes sold out quickly and everyone who attended was really attentive. The line up on the day was: Goat’s cheese & Sauvignon Blanc (a mix of Capra Allegro, Holy Goat La Luna and Woodside Edith), Milawa Capricornia with Pinot Grigio, Small Cow Farm Brie with Pinot Noir, Ashgrove vintage cheddar with Cabernet Sauvignon and finally Berry’s Creek Tarwin Blue with Moscato – which seemed to be the highlight of the class.

On a final note I would like to say congrats to everyone who entered and did well, and I really look forward to seeing new and exciting stuff at next year’s show.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Cheese & Wine matching tutorials - Saturday 19th February

To all Cheese & Wine lovers

I will be presenting a couple of cheese & wine matching tutorials at the 2011 Sydney Royal Wine Show Cellar Tasting, held at Sydney Olympic Park on Saturday 19th February (I presented a couple of classes last year and they were really popular).

The Cellar Tasting is a great event – tickets are $65 and include unlimited tastings of over 2,300 wines and FREE wine judging tutorials, as well as other classes and tutorials – like my cheese & wine matching tutorial, which is an extra $15.

Earlier that week I will be judging at the Sydney Royal Cheese Show, and will select some medal-winning cheeses and pair them up with some great wines from the Macquarie Group Sydney Royal Wine show.

During the cheese & wine matching tutorial I will talk about cheese judging, how to match cheeses & wine and also how best to prepare cheese platters and store you cheese at home etc.

For more details and to book tickets, click here.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Happy New Year!

A new year - that means 365 more days of cheese eating!

Having survived Christmas (the busiest time of the year for cheese retailers), I am having a short break but will be back with 2 new entries soon: a review of the RAW MILK C2 from Bruny Island, plus a review of Cambray Sheep cheeses from W.A. Stay posted later this month.