Will Studd with a whole lot of cheese.
Melburnians know Will Studd’s trucks: the delivery vans painted like Friesian cows. Television viewers in 18 countries around the world know him as the big-grinning host of the series Cheese Slices. Artisanal cheesemakers, from Normandy to Gippsland, Nottingham to the Jura Mountains, know him as a fierce advocate of their produce. I know him as the man who took me to pat buffalo.
Years ago, in a paddock in Victoria’s Western District, Will Studd introduced me to Bella and Ravenna, Sienna and Capri, Florence and Mira, the Italian migrant Riverine buffaloes who became the first buffalo to be milked in Australia. Their milk became Purrumbete buffalo mozzarella (now Shaw River) but, exquisite as the cheese was, I was more captivated by those massive gentle animals. I remember their big black-violet eyes behind long lashes; their great black bodies; their affectionate slobbering. And I remember scratching the muzzle of one who, with a deep sigh, promptly sank to the ground, rolled on to its side, and rapturously let me scratch its stomach and behind its ears.
I wish I could remember as clearly all the cheeses Will Studd has introduced me to. Australian farmhouse cheeses such as Gippsland Blue and Heidi Gruyère, Kervella goat cheese and Woodside “Edith” and French ones as runny as a Salvador Dalí clock.
Studd’s enthusiasm for his subject — think kid-in-a-sweet-shop enthusiasm — is evident in every frame of Cheese Slices, which over five series has visited the underground cellars of gorgonzola, witnessed the Nordic cheese resolution, discovered rare alpine cheeses in Piedmont and traditional Spanish quesos, and been to Vermont, Ireland, the Basque country, Greece, the Netherlands, Portugal and Corsica. His recent tweets give hints of what to expect in the sixth series: “Take scraps of goat and ewes milk cheese, grate, mix with olive oil & sweet #mistela wine & pack in a clay pot. its name is #Tupi fantastic” (May 24); “It's Mató de Montserrat today — once made with raw goats milk coagulated with cardoon it's now made from cow's milk” (May 21); “A lesson in butter making at home with Dominique Bouchait in the Pyrenees today. So simple when you know how” (May 18) …
China’s massive food conglomerate, Bright Food, now owns Studd’s Melbourne-based Calendar Cheese Company (as well as Simon Johnson) and Studd acts as a cheese ambassador for both businesses.
He has taken, he says, a “less is more” approach to the cheese rooms at Simon Johnson stores in Melbourne, Sydney and Perth reducing the number of cheeses carried to focus on the best possible of each variety that can be sourced.
I thought it was time he introduced me to a few more of those best-possible cheeses. But bear in mind, Studd has long tried to encourage people to understand the seasonality of cheeses, so the selection below (all made with cow’s milk) are among those he thinks are the best you can eat right now. And mozzarella from those beautiful buffaloes? Best wait for summer.
Jean Perrin et Fils Vacherin Le Duc: A soft-ripened cheese from the Jura region of France, traditionally made when the cows come down from the mountains in autumn. The cheese is matured wrapped in a strip of (inedible) spruce bark, which gives an unusual woody finish. Traditionally made with raw milk although Australian laws prohibit the importation of Le Duc in its raw milk form. Studd suggests baking it with blanched garlic and a tablespoon of red wine sitting in the hollow on the top for 20 minutes at 180 degrees or bake stuffed with fresh truffles. “Eat it just with a spoon and you’ll love it.” $14.95 each (250g)
L’Artisan The Mountain Man: This washed rind cheese is made in the old Timboon dairy in Victoria’s western countryside where, for years, Herman Schultz made his biodynamic cheeses. Schultz’s grandson now provides the cows milk for French cheesemaker Matthieu Mégard’s L’Artisan range. The Mountain Man is modelled on the French alpine cheese Reblochon, which was traditionally put in a pan and melted over a fire, then scooped out with bread and served with cured meats and pickles. $49.95/kg.
Jean Perrin et Fils Raclette: A semi-hard cheese from the Jura Mountains in the Franche-Comté. The word “racler” means “to scrape” and the cheese was traditionally held in front of a fire, scraped as it melted and served with potatoes, gherkins and pickled onions. These days, raclette machines are available to do the job. “It makes fantastic cheese on toast, is perfect for croque monsieur and is also a good table cheese,” says Studd. “When you cook it it lets off the most beautiful smell.” $69.95/kg
Gruyère Vieux AOC: A sweet and nutty Swiss Gruyère made with raw milk. “It was Gruyère like this that got me into cheese”, says Studd. It has tiny crystals formed by calcium lactate that add a textural component to the cheese. It’s the basic ingredient of Swiss fondue. $89.95/kg
Marcel Petite Comté Gruyère: Comté is the biggest-selling raw milk cheese in France and the most important AOC (appellation d'origine contrôlée or "controlled designation of origin) cheese after Roquefort. It’s made on a small-scale — none of the dairies make more than 25 wheels and a dairy’s average number of cows (the friendly Montbéliarde breed) is 45. The wheels of cheese are matured in an old underground fort. $89.95/kg
Colston Bassett Stilton: A Stilton from a small dairy near the village of Colston Bassett near the Nottinghamshire/Leicestershire border. The curds are given kid-glove treatment, hand-ladled to retain moisture and deliver a lovely creamy texture. “You lose all the subtlety of what Stilton is about,” says Studd, of machine-made varieties. “If you close your eyes with this cheese you can imagine green fields and the Vale of Belvoir.” $95/kg
Healey’s Pyengana: This is Australia’s oldest artisanal cheese, a stirred curd made by John Healey near Launceston in Tasmania. The dairy uses an original Victorian “bed-press” to press the cheese wheels, which are aged for 12-14 months. $59.95/kg.