There are a few other interesting things going on, however. Ruth Ritchie has resigned her Mouth column; apparently the foccacia are too much to bear these days. She's still going to write features, though, so the effect on the cheese count is not quite clear (no cheese in this final outing, oddly enough). The fact that she thinks of Newtown and Bondi as villages says a lot.
In a substantive case of misplaced ethics, the cover story, 'Boy Talk', looks at five men who have recently published cookbooks. Not once, though, is it mentioned that one of these men, John Newton, is a former Short Black editor and still writes for the Good Living section, while another, Terry Durack, contributes the restaurant review and Best column every week. Hello, Mr Littlemore?
Durack is also guilty of this sentence, which beats down all previous efforts at pretentiousness in this part of the paper and will probably get a prize as soon as Gusworld can think of one:
There is a gentle low-key hubbub that flows gently over the room like an audible vinaigrette.
Instead, we have the standard parcel of miscellaneous cheese references. Long Black tells us that Stephanie Alexander will open a food store next year which will include "a temperature-controlled cheese room inspired by Neal's Yard Dairy in London. Ruth Ritchie samples "a salad of roast beetroot with beanettes, spinach and Roquefort cheese croutons", which she has the nerve to describe as "simple, clean food". And Jill Dupleix goes nuts for salad dressing, including not just the traditional parmigiano in the Caesar but also a blue cheese dressing for particularly butch lettuces.
The only pleasing development in this issue is the announcement of a contest to find cafes in Sydney which serve decent tea, which makes a nice contrast to the coffee obsessions this mob normally indulge in. But don't be fooled. The following sentence is all the evidence you need that pretentious isn't dead yet around here:
Even the good old Caesar, Nicoise and Greek look as fresh as this year's asparagus, poached egg, fried haloumi and garlic-toasted breadcrumb salad.
Excuse me, I'm off to make a milkshake.
Proving, though, that cheese isn't everything, inner-city urban snobbery reigns supreme throughout. Witness this comment from Ruth Ritchie:
Drinking coffee has become such a public experience that the sight of a coffee cup in a home looks nearly as foreign as a parking meter.
Last time I checked, I had something like 30 coffee cups kicking around the place, and I live on my own. I wonder if Ruth knows how to plug in a kettle?
To promote this venture, Good Living gives over its main feature to a celebration of cheese. Adding 80s-centric insult to injury, the article is entitled 'The Culture Club'. We can't give you every cheese reference, obviously (as well as the 31 already cited, the word 'cheese' alone appears another 52 times in the main body of the article); to do so, we'd have to type in the whole thing. But just a few select sentences will give you the flavour:
Deep down, all of us are looking for the perfect cheese.
These are exciting times for Australia's small quality cheeses.
Most of Australia's small cheesefarmers [farmers?] have a very personal vision of their product.
"I want to see a little cheese factory within a half-hour's walk of everyone." [First, find an Australian willing to walk for half an hour on a regular basis.]
Nor is the cheesiness confined to this single article. Ruth Ritchie squeezes in the customary references to tarts crammed with goat's cheese and pies featuring feta. And then Jill Dupleix's recipe column (heading: 'Curds and ways') gets in the word cheese another 29 times while savaging the concept of a mornay. It's enough to make your stomach curdle.
With the release of the Herald's annual Good Food Guide, the air of smug self-satisfaction is even more palpable than usual. The paper goes so far as to credit the new guide with increasing attendance at one restaurant, a remarkable claim considering it was written before the release of the book. In amongst all this, though, the cheese was lost. Even with an extra four pages to spruik the new tome (news values? yeah, right!), all we get is one solitary reference to Simon Johnson, a providore who has encouraged Australian cheesemakers. At least now we've got someone to blame.
This week only manages a paltry reference to grated reggiano on the cover, and a couple of scoops of the compulsory "really good" grated parmigiano with Jill Dupleix. It's nice to see her acknowledging the virtues of spaghetti bolognese, but still, after the excitement of last week, we confess to being a tad disappointed.
In cheese/sex terms, Good Living has gotten past the foreplay and is on to the regular thrusts of the main event. In this week's issue, we have Short Black crunching its way through "an imported cheesebread made from manioc flour", Ruth Ritchie chowing down on nachos and then gorging herself on a "lavash roll of tuna, tomato, fetta cheese, basil, lemon and shallot". Huon Hooke's wine guide pairs various reds with hard cheese, aged cheese (my fridge is available) and "washed rind cheese, such as Milawa Gold". Mentioning Milawa in these pages is a sure sign that the explosion can't be far away. We await the inevitable outcome with distaste.
Back at Short Black, though, it's business as usual. First, under the heading 'Spring In Their Step', we get this:
Is this the first sign of spring? Having been out of action since May, the sheep on Kangaroo Island have started providing enough creamy milk for their exquisite sheep milk fetta, haloumi, manchego and kefalotiri again. Manchego is a traditional Spanish hard, white salty cheese with a caramel finish which is terrific for stuffing ravioli; fetta is that lovely crumbly, salty cheese often baked into dishes, and kefalotiri is a harder, salty cheese with a nutty finish.
A bit further down, the Meat Boutique (??) has this on offer:
. . . his superb handmade sausages such as boscaiola with porcini mushrooms, smoked massan cheese and fresh peas. Along with fresh ravioli stuffed with spinach and ricotta, smoked salmon and Maggie Beer pates, there is a small range of ever-fresh cheeses such as mozzarella, bocconcini and ricotta.
Yes, Good Living has announced the details of its 1996 Sydney Cheese Awards, which will be presented on October 13. At the Regent (which co-sponsors the awards), we can look forward to such 'treats' as public tastings, cooking lessons, cheesemaking sessions and matching classes for wine and cheese. In the meantime, we've got the first of what will presumably be an occasional series of cheese-related stories promoting the awards. This one concerns Edith goat cheese, which comes with a "striking black ash coat" and has already won the Arnott's Water Cracker Cheese of the Year, awarded by Gourmet Traveller. We can't bring ourselves to quote much of this article, but we will bring the following to your attention:
Will Studd, the cheese expert and organiser of the Arnott's awards, believes that while goat's cheese is popular at the moment, with an increasing number of more complex varieties like ash and matured, the next trend will be towards hard cheeses with natural rinds.
Everyone else chips in to break the recent Good Living cheese drought. On page 4, Huon Hooke comments apropos of all-champagne dinners (and aren't they a burden?): "By the time the main or cheese course arrives I'm always hanging out for a red." Must be quite a sight. Jill Dupleix adds some grated "Parmigano or pecorino" (so nice to have a choice) to her Orecchiette with Cauliflower, Black Olives and Chilli. Ruth Ritchie is somewhat subdued, but does manage to refer to nachos.
Annoyingly, a discussion of the resurgence of the local pub (translation: inner city pubs are turning into pretentious wanker zones) points out that "The beef may not be kobi but the cheese is a good Gruyere, not supermarket cheddar". I wonder when anyone on this rag last ate supermarker cheddar? It's worked for me, I'm telling you. It also hasn't done too badly for Kraft, who have an ad on page 2, proclaiming their success in the recent World Cheese Championships in Wisconsin. Oddly enough, it was these very championships that Good Living dissed out on back on May 28, on the grounds that too many American cheeses won prizes. Wonder if they'll dare do it again?
The menu includes such staples as vegetarian lasagne and goat's cheese souffle.
No prizes for guessing that this is Ruth Ritchie. We're a fickle bunch, aren't we? We berate them constantly when they talk about cheese and then attack them when they stop. I think it comes from a sense of fear, like the honeymoon period after a Liberal government before they start cutting off all the funding, stoning single mothers and migrants and reintroducing national service. If this is the quiet phase, who knows what horrors are ahead?
Spy actor Helmut Berger, director Lina Wertmuller and art critic and curator Joanthon Turner nibbling on tagliolini with fish eggs and chicory tips, roast piglet, and sweet, fried pastries filled with pecorino cheese and served with a hot honey sauce.
If you want something just mildly less pretentious, Terry Durack recommends "a mixed leaf salad strewn with emu prosciutto, fried capers, croutons, coddled egg and parmesan wisps". In a customary fit of psychosis, Ruth Ritchie plows her way through an "avacado, ham, English and cheese mustard melt". If you think this a surprisingly normal thing for Ritchie to be eating, you've spotted a trend: earlier on, she praises a place for producing precisely the kind of food she normally abhors:
The food - bagels, ham cheese croissants, melted cheese on Haberfield bread, Greek sald - is unambitious but a lot better than many "foody" cafes.
I guess the critic reserves the right to be inconsistent.
At last, though, we come to page six and the prize: an article headlined 'Say cheese, Florence'. The intro is even better:
Whey to go! A herd of buffalo from Italy is busy making history in Australia by producing the milk for our first buffalo mozzarella.
We could talk about this article at length, but we'd risk being physically ill. Suffice it to quote the one comment that's highlighted as a dropquote in the middle of the page:
Most of us know cow's milk cheese, ewe's milk cheese and goat's cheese. This is the final jigsaw piece in terms of milk sources for the Australian cheese industry.
So good to know they're dealing with the important issues, isn't it?
Will they come (retroactively) true? Time, or anyone who doesn't throw out their Heralds, will tell . . .
The dependably psychotic Ruth Ritchie is in a ricotta mood. In a three-cafe trip, she manages to make mention of how "Queen Street Deli is a great place to blow two or three hundred dollars on some baked ricotta and whole marinated artichokes", with a side comment on how "mixed plates can include anything from roast beef to dolmades, tatkizi, baked ricotta and eggplant" and a final order for "a rosetta roll of salami, ricotta, pesto, capsicum and caramelised onion". All that, and a "chicken avocado and brie sandwich . . . large enough to feed me and my dog". Why?
Ruth Ritchie manages the simplest cheese reference we've ever seen with a schoolgirl reminiscence of a "ham and cheese sandwich" (page 3), but quickly kicks back with "those delicious salmon cream cheese bagels".
In an article about country cooking on page 5, Jill Dupleix asserts:
OK, so we may not have a stream full of trout at the back door, spreading chestnut trees at the front door or an inspired cheese-maker just down the road - but city dwellers can still learn from their country cousins.
Dupleix argues that country folk are more resourceful because they don't have convenient shops. Considering that Good Living's idea of rural seclusion is Albury or Griffith, both of which have probably achieved their 24-hour Coles by now, and adding in the fact that I (a city dweller) don't personally visit a supermarket more than once a week, I'm not convinced. Their idea of "doing it rough" is the kind of place where "cheeses from nearby Milawa and Swissfield pop up in a thyme and Gruyere souffle, and layered raclette, spinach and olive pie". On the farms I've visited, a big chunk of Home Brand cheddar would be closer to the mark.
I mean, how am I supposed to pick on these people for being obsessed with cheese if they stop being obsessed? I mean sure I could pick on them for their general snobishness, their apparent conviction that there is some kind of people-less tundra between Leichardt and the Blue Mountains and their fashion column, but it's just not the same, is it?
How to cook duck, what to cook duck with, when to eat duck, why you should eat stuffed duck's feet . . . it's all here. The cheese count may be down, but the pretension levels are easily keeping up. We leave the last word to chef Tetsuya Wakuda:
We need 400 breasts a week. There's a duck breast crisis. I just can't get enough.This is cutting edge stuff, and I just need to find an edge to cut.
On page 4, Huon Hooke has a list of "Great winter wine & food combos" and, you guessed it, nearly half of them involve cheese. Specifically:
By Good Living standards, these are almost normal. But back on page 2 there's the kind of poncing about over cheese judging that gives cheese a bad name. To whit:
WORLDLY CHEESES? Without wishing to detract from the achievement of Victoria's Jindi Brie in winning the Best of Class soft cheese, "Brie", or Kraft for winning the Best of Class Hard Cheese, "Romano" (American for parmesan-style) and Second Award "Parmesan" cheese in the recent 21st annual World Cheese Championship at Wisconsin, it should be pointed out that 10 of the 15 judges were North American, that there no French or Italian judges, and 32 of the 60 awards went to cheeses from America - not renowned for cheese quality. A past judge of this show, John Setchel, said the French won't have much to do with it. So, no raw milk bries were entered thus knocking out the cream of that category, and no Italian cheese won a prize. Call it the Wisconsin Cheese Championship and you'll get no argument from us, but World?
Well, fuck me gently with a chainsaw. If the French can't be bothered turning up, surely that's their problem? And at least the Americans can get cheese together with hot dogs. It will be interesting to see if the same rigorous standards apply when Good Living does its own cheese awards later this year. There's no helping some people.
What's significant is where cheese isn't mentioned. The lead article is about the dangers of food poisoning, under the imaginative title of "Food Fiends". Every other imaginable type of produce gets a run-through, but nowhere is cheese, a veritable orgy of bacteria, mentioned. That is, until the last paragraph, where, despite the evidence of the preceding story, Ms Dupleix (again) shows her true colours:
So, will tonight's supper be your last? Let's say you gobble up your oysters, salami, reheated soup, rare meat, unwashed salad greens and gourmet cheesecake and wash it all down with a big glass of Sydney tap water. In spite of the headlines, I suggest that you enjoy your meal, and take it all with a grain of salt.
If you've got cheese, who cares about life?
The action kicks in on page 2, in John Newton's Short Black column. Firstly, we're told to "watch for the Bilson selection of farmhouse cheeses from Lactos - first out of the dairy a white mould, a washed rind and a fresh goat cheese." Then, under the heading of 'Heaven sent', we get this:
This Saturday from 10am-2pm, David and Anne Brown from Milawa Cheese will be at The Cheese Shop (797 Military Road, Mosman, 9969 4469) and on Sunday, 10am to 2pm, at Les Fromage (285 Darling Street, Balmain, 818 5529) for tastings and to answer all the questions you ever wanted to ask a cheesemaker - such as, why does Milawa Gold smell like hell and taste like heaven?
We'll save our cheesemaker questions for another time (although "Why?" seems the obvious candidate).
Over on page 3, Terry Durack is investigating pizza. Again, in what would seem to be a cheese-friendly context, the content's fairly minimal (see last week's discussion of hot dogs for another example). Terry's top tips are:
Ruth Ritchie (who should see a psychiatrist about her focaccia problem) is as giving as ever, making passing mention that "my tart of caramelised fennel and leek, blue cheese walnuts and thyme is light on blue cheese but very fine anyway". Just as well she hasn't been left to hold up the ship. Jill Dupleix also rhapsodises on the possibilities of cheese and beetroot in combination, pointing out on page 5 that "baby beets make a terrific salad with fetta cheese and spring onions" and providing a recipe for Hot Beetroot & Leaf Salad with Fetta Cheese & Walnuts. Truly. What an exhaustive (and exhausting) compendium.
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