Eight things you'll learn on season eight of Cheese Slices
Author: Emma Breheny
Photography: Supplied (portrait), James Evans (Cabot), William Meppem (Mushroom soup)
1. Most of the world's benchmark cheeses are made with raw milk
Raw-milk cheeses are the focus of the latest season of Cheese Slices. It's these cheeses that are under threat from industrial-scale cheese-making, despite being household names. Parmigiano-Reggiano, Gruyère and Roquefort, to name a few, are made according to centuries-old traditions using unpasteurised milk and it's this element, according to cheese expert Will Studd, that gives them their superb flavour and enduring reputation. Raw-milk cheeses featured this season include clothbound cheddar, Camembert de Normandie and Ossau-Iraty.
2. Many of these cheeses aren't available in Australia.
Raw milk is highly contentious in Australia, with complex legislation surrounding what products can be sold or consumed. In 1998, there was an attempted crackdown on the importing of all raw milk cheeses, which was later wound back to make exceptions for popular hard cheeses such as Parmigiano-Reggiano, Comté and Gruyère. Later, two brands of Roquefort were also added to the list of exceptions. Most soft raw-milk cheeses, however, such as Brie de Meaux and Camembert de Normandie, cannot be sold here.
Cabot Clothbound Cheddar from Vermont
3. Will Studd once held a funeral for Roquefort
In 2002, changes to Australia's laws meant that it briefly became illegal to import Roquefort. Studd brought in a trial shipment of 80 kilograms, asking the authorities to test it for any pathogens. When they refused and asked him to destroy the cheese by "deep burial", he took them at their word and hired a funeral hearse for his blue cheese, draping it in a French flag and driving it across Melbourne's West Gate Bridge to the burial site. You can watch the whole stunt on the final episode of this season of Cheese Slices.
4. Most of the "camembert" you've eaten is probably not the real deal.
Just five per cent of the cheese going by the name Camembert is made according to the regulations of the French appellation system, which defines true Camembert as raw milk cheese, made with a minimum 50 per cent Normande cow's milk. The cows must graze in a strictly defined region in Normandy. The curds are then ladled by hand into 11-centimetre draining hoops and left to rest for an hour before the next layer is added. This happens five times. Once the cheese is ready to mature, it's placed in a wooden box that provides the perfect microclimate for the cheese to ripen over the next 21 days.
5. There's a cheese that looks like a UFO.
Ticklemore, a semi-hard goat's milk cheese produced by Sharpham, has a distinctive bulbous shape that can only be described as flying saucer-esque. Studd had never seen how the cheese was moulded before, so in season eight he pays the South Devon dairy a visit.
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6. America's artisan cheese scene is far richer than Australia's.
When you think American cheese you might immediately picture the most industrial yellow packet-cheese but with fewer restrictions on importing and producing raw milk cheese, cheese in the US is moving closer toward the benchmark standards of Europe. Vermont in particular is a hub of innovation, thanks partly to being home to the highest number of cheese dairies per capita in the US. Among the 70 dairies located in the state, Jasper Hill stands out for its unusual collaboration with dairy cooperative Cabot. Rather than operating as a traditional cooperative would - collecting milk from several local farms to make cheese on a large scale - Cabot collects cow's milk from a single farm in Peacham to produce the Cabot clothbound cheddar, returning the unripened cheese to Jasper Hill to be matured in their underground facility.
"They've really brought a 'rising tide lifts all ships' approach to their support of artisan cheese-making in this state," Jasper Hill co-owner Mateo Kehler says of Cabot.
7. Camembert and cider are a match made in heaven.
A dry farmhouse cider is the perfect accompaniment to Camembert de Normandie, with the slightly sweet cider balancing the highly savoury notes of the cheese. Genuine Camembert, according to Studd, has a smell similar to a cow's yard and tastes of wet straw and cauliflower (you know, in a good way). You can see how the cheese is eaten in Normandy, and how this differs to Paris and other parts of the world, in episode two.
8. The blue veins in Roquefort come from mould grown on loaves of rye.
Historically, Roquefort was made with the help of rye bread left in the Combalou caves in the town of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon, where it would capture the Penicillium roqueforti moulds that naturally occurred in the caves. Today, producer Papillon bakes loaves of rye in a bakery under the town, introduces mould to the interior of the bread, and then harvests the spores 60 days later, sprinkling these over the cheese curds in the early stages of production. On the show, you can see the mould-addled loaves of rye and Papillon's obvious pride at their traditional cheese-making process.
Season 8 of Cheese Slices is screening now on Foxtel's Lifestyle Food channel.