Cheese and a helicopter ride. Could there be a more exciting invitation to receive for a Friday? The event was the launch of two new cheeses by King Island Dairy - the first in seven years - to be held in the Hunter Valley. Forget the three hour drive. We'd be flown by helicopter! And so I found myself in one of three choppers with seven other food editors, journalists and bloggers last Friday on a glorious Sydney morning.
Our helicopter (a Bell 206?) for the day
I'd never been in a helicopter and was ridiculously excited. I still let out a little whoop in my head whenever a plane makes its steep ascent during take-off.
Flying in a helicopter is a completely different experience. There's the whir of the blades overhead that increases to a deafening drone and blades of grass start billowing in the distance. We were given headsets to speak with each other, and as the chopper lifted off the ground into a hover, it really did feel just like a movie.
Taking off from the Bondi Helicopters helipad at Sydney Airport
I usually have my nose pressed up against the window during a flight, but seeing Sydney from inside a mobile bubble gives you much more of a birdseye view. Watching the Sydney sprawl unfold before your eyes, seeing the splashes of blue from backyard pools and catching glimpses of familiar landmarks makes you feel just like a kid again.
I could not stop taking photos.
The Lakes golf course with the Sydney central business district in the distance
Bondi Icebergs against the backdrop of the city
Cliffs at Dover Heights
Watsons Bay with the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House in the background
The three-hour road trip to the Hunter Valley would only take us one hour in the helicopter, with our chopper averaging speeds of about 180 kilometres per hour (and no traffic!).
National Parks in the Central Coast hinterland
View of the other two helicopters through the window
Landing at Margan Wines in Broke
Our table at Margan Wines
We arrived at Margan Wines in Broke and revived ourselves with sparking wine and canapes before moving to the cellar room indoors for the official cheese launch.
Canapes of fresh figs with blue cheese
Canapes of gnocchi with porcini mushrooms and parmesan
Naomi Crisante leading our tasting of the two new cheeses by King Island Dairy
Naomi Crisante led our cheese tasting, accredited cheese judge and creator of the Australian Grand Dairy Awards (which she managed for nine years).
There are few things more thrilling to a food lover than finding someone else as easily excited as you are. Naomi does a little celebratory jig when she cuts into the double cream and its ripe centre oozes forth.
Furneaux Double Cream and Black Label Huxley Washed Rind
We're led through a brief backgrounder on King Island Dairy - how the cows graze on a unique blend of European grasses that were populated by a shipwreck from Europe hundreds of years ago. The herd is a mix of Fresian and Jersey cows, blended so it is very creamy with plenty of flavour. King Island milk is very high in minerals, and theories abound that the windswept island affects the grass and makes it slightly salty.
The Furneaux Double Cream is the first cheese we taste and Naomi encourages us to closely inspect the coat, its core, its texture and smell before we finally taste it. It's a rich and creamy cheese (34% fat) with a lustrous glossy centre and buttery appearance. There's a distinct sweetness from the Jersey cream and a nuttiness that Naomi says reminds her of creamy cauliflower.
One of the distinct differences with this cheese is the use of geotrichum candidum to create the white layer of mold on the outside. Whereas most bries and camemberts use penicillin candidum, King Island Dairy's head cheesemaker Ueli Berger uses geotrichum for a softer and more velvety surface. It grows very slowly, which is why most cheesemakers avoid it, but it gives a distinct smell and flavour of hay and even cauliflower.
The Black Label Huxley Washed Rind is one of the milder washed rinds I've encountered which makes it quite an approachable cheese for even the wary. I was intrigued to learn that washed rinds were originally developed by monasteries in France to sustain them during Lent when meat was not allowed to be eaten. Washed rinds are notoriously whiffy but usually taste far milder than they smell. The cheeses are made with bacteria and cloth washed over the surface of the cheese to try to create a sticky rind. The result should be deep and earthy barnyard aromas.
Braised lamb shoulder with chickpeas and spiced eggplant; and
Roasted spatchcock with mushrooms, fregola and currants
Back on the verandah, we progress onto our main courses for lunch, quite heavy dishes given the 30C heat outside but cooked well nonetheless. The braised lamb shoulder has been shredded and then re-rolled into a neat column, and the roasted spatchcock has a crisp skin that works well with the sweet burst of currants and pearls of fregola.
King Island Dairy cheeses: Furneaux Double Cream; Cape Wickham Double Brief; Surprise Bay Cheddar; Black Label Huxley Washed Rind and Roaring 40s Blue
After mains there are more cheese, including my favourite Roaring 40s Blue. I love eating this on ginger thin biscuits (either from Ikea or Anna Thins from the supermarket) for supper.
King Island Roaring 40s Blue and the Black Label Huxley Washed Rind
Chocolate delice with salted peanut brittle
Desserts continue our descent into decadence: a quenelle of sinful chocolate delice on chocolate soil with smithereens of salted peanut brittle and a banana tarte tartin with crisp pastry, toffee-glazed bananas, rum and raisin ice cream and a thick puddle of butterscotch sauce.
Banana tarte tartin with rum and raisin ice cream and butterscotch sauce
We're all several kilograms heavier for our flight back to Sydney, but amazing they all manage to take off successfully!
Watching the other helicopter hover before takeoff
Heading back to Sydney
Central Coast quarry
Sun, sand and skies of the Central Coast
Here a couple of cheese tips from cheese expert Naomi Crisante:
- Always take cheese out of the fridge for at least two hours before eating so they can soften and flavours can develop.
- The best way to store cheese in wrapped in the original paper in a large Tupperware container. If you don't have the original paper, use baking paper.
- The best way to store cheese is to eat it! Cheese is hard to keep for more than a week or two once it's been cut.
Grab Your Fork attended the King Island Dairy launch at Margan Wines as a guest of King Island Dairy.
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2/11/2013 01:48:00 a.m.