Melbourne cheese favourite Maker & Monger has moved into a larger, brighter and shinier location at the Prahran Market, with its own kitchen, maturation room and seven-metre cheese cabinet to boot.
The new location is the realisation of owner Anthony Femia's dreams of opening an "all-encompassing cheese shop". From the outside, the stall is almost unrecognisable from its humble beginnings as a cheese cart back in 2015, when Femia would serve raclette and grilled cheese sandwiches to market-goers before setting up his first permanent market stall a few months later.
Maker & Monger 2.0 is located around the corner, and it's all marble benchtops, sage terracotta tiles and walnut joinery. Plus, there's a wraparound cheese counter that can hold up to 50 types of cheese.
"Our selection will be a bit more seasonal. Right now, in winter, we'll have a few more washed rinds and less goat's cheese," says Femia."We want to showcase what you should be eating and when."
At the moment, he's especially excited about the Marcel Petite Comté Reservation. Femia travelled to the famed Comté fromagerie in Fort Saint-Antoine in France's Jura region to handpick his favourite wheel of hard cheese.
"We went through 28 different styles of Comté, until I found the one that I believe best represents Comté for me," says Femia. "It has that initial front of palate sweetness, cashew and floral-honey notes, a little bit of moreish umami, and pretty much zero bitterness at the back of the palate," he says.
Cheese maturation is Femia's area of expertise. He travelled to France, United Kingdom and the USA to study the subject on a Churchill Fellowship in 2015, and has installed a custom-built cheese maturation room at Maker & Monger. The room simulates a natural cave – coils of running water cool the room to 10 degrees and maintain the humidity at 95 per cent, creating optimal cheese-maturing conditions that also prevent the growth of bad bacteria. The first products to enter the vault include young cheeses from Yarra Valley's Stone and Crow and L'Artisan from North Geelong.
There are also plans to produce mozzarella and burrata on site, in collaboration with Victorian cheese brand That's Amore. "We want to show how incredible these two cheeses are when they're freshly made, still warm and melting in your mouth," Femia says.
The beloved grilled cheese sandwiches will remain, but they've added cheeseboards and a mushroom soup too (with mushrooms supplied by the market's resident "mushroom man" Damian Pike). A new alcohol licence means you can match your cheeses with a glass of natural wines or sake, too.
Once a month, starting in August, Femia's parents will fly in from Sydney for a Calabrese menu takeover. "It will be arancini, lasagne, all the recipes my grandparents pass down to them," says Femia. "I'm proud of where I come from and the way my parents raised me and encouraged me to get into food."
For Femia, it's the stories behind his beloved dairy products that make his stall so special. "Our cheeses have a history and a family or friendship behind it," he says. "That's why we call it the chapel of cheese."
Maker & Monger, Shop 98, Harvest Hall, Prahran Market. Open Tue, Thu, Fri and Sat 7.30am–5pm; Sun 8.30am–3pm.