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We're championing fresh food that packs a flavour punch, from salads and vegetable-packed bowls to grains and light desserts.

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Aløft

There's nothing new about Nordic interiors - blond timbers, concrete surfaces, warm, mid-century charm without the twee - and thank heavens for that. It's a style that augments the beauty of everything around it, in this case, gorgeous Hobart harbour, which makes up one whole wall. What is new here, however, is the food - by veterans of Garagistes, which once dazzled diners down the road, Vue de Monde in Melbourne and Gordon Ramsay worldwide. There's a strong Asian bent, but with Tasmanian ingredients. In fact, the kitchen's love of the local verges on obsessive - coconut milk in an aromatic fish curry is replaced with Tasmanian-grown fig leaf simmered in cream to mimic the flavour. Other standouts include a gutsy red-braised lamb with gai lan and chewy cassia spaetzle, pigs' ears zingy with Sichuan pepper and a fresh, springy berry dessert. While the food is sourced locally, the generous wine list spans the planet. 

Brae

Prepare to enter a picture of the countryside framed by note-perfect Australiana but painted in bold, elegant and unsentimental strokes. Over 10 or more courses, Dan Hunter celebrates his region with dishes that are formally daring (Crunchy prawn heads! Creamy oyster soft-serve! Sea urchin and chicory bread pudding!), yet rich in flavour and substance. The menu could benefit from an edit, but the plates are tightly composed - and what could you cut? Certainly not the limpid broth bathing fronds of abalone and calamari, nor the clever arrangement of lobster played off against charred waxy fingerlings under a swatch of milk skin. The adventure is significantly the richer for the cool gloss of the dining room, some of the most engaging service in the nation and wine pairings that roam with an easy-going confidence. Maturing and relaxing without surrendering a drop of its ambition, Brae is more compelling than ever.

Farro recipes

Farro can be used in almost any dish, from a robust salad to accompany hearty beer-glazed beef short ribs to a new take on risotto with mushrooms, leek and parmesan. Here are 14 ways with this versatile grain.

Grilled apricot salad with jamon and Manchego

Here we've scorched apricots on the grill and served them with torn jamon, shaved Manchego and peppery rocket leaves. Think of it as a twist on the good old melon-prosciutto routine. The mixture would also be great served on charred sourdough.

A festival of cheese hits Sydney

Kick off winter with a week of cheese tasting.

Secret Tuscany

A far cry from Tuscany’s familiar gently rolling hills, Monte Argentario’s appealing mix of mountain, ocean, island and lagoon makes it one of Italy’s hidden treasures, writes Emiko Davies.

2017 Australian Hotel Awards: The Finalists

This year's finalists across 11 different categories include established and new hotels, all with particular areas of excellence. Stay tuned to find out which hotels will take the top spots when they're announced at a ceremony at QT Melbourne on Wednesday 24 May, and published in our 2017 Australian Hotel Guide, on sale Thursday 25 May.

Discovering Macedonia

Like its oft-disputed name, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia defies simple definition but its rich diversity extends from the dinner table to the welcoming locals, writes Richard Cooke.

Cheesemonger Invitational

Mr Moo

Mr Moo

Each year in New York, cheesemongers slug it out in a world championship. Will Studd joins in the madness.

It's no secret that the finest artisan cheese begins with good milk, or that every batch is slightly different depending on the season. Creating interesting textures, flavours, and aromas depends on the skill, intuition, and dedication of the cheesemaker and, of course, patience as the cheese ripens. But that's only part of the story. If cheese is not handled with proper care after it leaves the dairy, all the hard work is wasted by the time it reaches the customer.

Shopping for cheese that's in optimum condition can be a hit-or-miss affair. In truth, the quality of the cheese depends largely on the enthusiasm and professional knowledge of the person behind the counter. This is particularly the case in countries such as Australia, New Zealand and the US where the convenience of the supermarket dairy section has traditionally dominated how and what cheese is available, and specialist cheese shops are a rarity.

But there are encouraging signs of change as a new generation of enthusiastic young mongers with a passion for cheese adopts the trade as their vocation. The catalyst for this new movement lies in North America and has parallels with the revolution in single-estate coffee and craft beer.

I recently attended the annual Cheesemonger Invitational on Long Island, New York (you'll see the trip in an episode of Cheese Slices). Inspired and hosted by Adam Moskowitz, a third-generation cheese broker, this unique event bills itself as "Fight Club meets Wrestlemania".

It's certainly no ordinary cheese competition.

You won't find judges in starchy white coats with sterile hats and serious looks on their faces as they browse rows of nameless cheese from behind clipboards. Instead, mongers from all over the country gather here to celebrate their mutual love of artisan cheese in a wild party atmosphere and duke it out for the title of world champion cheesemonger.

Day one is all about education: workshops focused on everything from mould types to maturation with some of the most respected names in the cheese world. Last year these included representatives from Neal's Yard Dairy, Stichelton, Jasper Hill, Rogue Creamery, Vermont Creamery, Cravero, and Marcel Petite.

The second day marks the beginning of the competition. It starts early with a series of highly charged preliminary rounds crafted by the author of The Cheese Chronicles, Liz Thorpe. These include a tough general-knowledge test based on the classes the day before, blind tasting, selling skills, and preparation of a perfect bite. As the day progresses the atmosphere becomes more emotional and tensions rise. It'll come as no surprise to learn this intensity is actively encouraged by Moskowitz who, around this time, adopts an eccentric alter ego known as Mr Moo, and starts demanding loud moos of approval from the contestants as they complete each round.

By late afternoon the judges have chosen the finalists and the grungy warehouse is transformed into a sweaty nightclub, replete with bar, pumping tunes, and (perhaps not so nightclubby) trestle tables groaning with wheels of cheese.

The doors are opened to a waiting crowd more than 600-strong, and Mr Moo, now dressed in cow suit, spins tunes and cracks jokes as he oversees the final rounds on a brightly lit central stage. Audience participation is strongly encouraged as the finalists struggle to cut the perfect wedge, wrap cheese in record time and pair it all with local beer.

Silly as some of it sounds, it also serves a great purpose. As Anthony Femia, cheesemonger from Spring St Grocer in Melbourne and a one-time finalist said to me, the atmosphere of camaraderie for anyone working in the cheese world is deeply affecting.

We joke that if baristas are the new DJs, then cheesemongers are the new baristas, and just as their coffee-obsessed brothers and sisters now sport ink of milk-flowers and group heads, so too are cheese professionals wearing the sigils of their trade tattooed on their arms. Expect to see me with a Manchego-inspired band on my arm or some sleeve-work detailing the history of cheddar soon.

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