It's knives and crackers at the ready as the country's best are named.
Australia's tastiest cheeses have been singled out from a field of roughly 200 at the 2018 Australian Grand Dairy Awards, held in Melbourne last night. The winners are a mixed bag of small-scale and industrial producers and family-owned businesses, but two small producers in particular, Berrys Creek and Section 28, cleaned up, winning four out of nine categories.
Berrys Creek, in South Gippsland, specialises in several varieties of blue cheese, so it was only fitting that one of their cheeses, Tarwin Blue, was crowned best in the blue field. They followed up with another win, their buffalo milk Riverine Blue taking top spot in the goat, sheep and buffalo milk category. Adelaide Hills producer Section 28 led the pack of semi-hard cheeses with its cave-matured Monforte, a cow's milk cheese, and also won the top gong for flavoured cheeses with its Monte Diavolo, which is infused with native pepperberry.
"Talking to smaller producers, their passion to produce the best possible product they can is what carries them through in a competition against bigger producers," chief judge Russell Smith says.
The washed-rind cheese that most impressed the 12 judges came from the Sunshine Coast's hinterland, where the family-owned Woombye Cheese Company have been creating a range of mostly soft cheeses since 2013.
Judges include chefs, retailers and qualified cheesemakers who together blind taste the entries in a single day. Similar to how wine-tasters approach wine, the judges are required to spit out the cheese to preserve their appetites, and to cleanse their palates between tastings, for which they use plain crackers, sparkling water and slices of apple.
"With the winning cheeses, you think 'I want to swallow this, I don't want to spit it out'," Smith says. Thankfully, the rest of us don't have to.
The full list of winners is:
Fresh Unripened Cheese: Montefiore Ovoline
White Mould Cheese: King Island Dairy Discovery Ash Brie 175g
Semi Hard/Eye Cheese: Section 28 Monforte
Cheddar Cheese: Bega Heritage Reserve Vintage Cheddar
Hard Cheese: Mil Lel Superior Parmesan
Blue Cheese: Berrys Creek Tarwin Blue
Washed Rind/Mixed Rind Cheese: Woombye Blackall Gold Washed Rind
Flavoured Cheese: Section 28 Monte Diavolo
Goat's/Sheep's/Buffalo Milk Cheese: Berrys Creek Riverine Blue