As you’re probably aware Australia is not particularly known for its cheese. That’s not to say we don’t love our cheese, we do, and we make damn good cheese. It’s just that where the French have Camembert, Brie de Meaux, Roquefort etc etc etc, the Swiss have Gruyère and the United States have “Swiss Cheese” (do we need to ask?) Australia, having stylishly appropriated and even adapted the cheeses of the world, never really needed to come up with its own.
Despite this, as I am Australian, and this is my first formal “cheesing”, I felt that I should post on an Australian cheese. If not Australian in invention, Australian in spirit.
Sadly my cheesing was scheduled in a frantic week of packing up the Little Lady (my Mother) and moving her from our family farm to a one bedroom apartment in the city. This involved a farm, a van and a 9 hour drive from Melbourne to rural NSW with a stop over in Gundagai.
Known for the Dog on the Tuckerbox and the perfectly catchy song Along the Road to Gundagai this mid-way stop-over was unlikely to be a font of all cheese, particularly at midnight. Similarly, my home town’s supermarket offerings were more likely to offer me wheels of cream cheese mixed with apricots and almonds than anything post-worthy.
This made my plan to source an iconically Australian cheese difficult, but not impossible.
Recalling the recent renovation of the Epic IGA of Laziness (its across the road) I decided to consult the Wall of Cheese prior to my departure.
As tempting as it was to select the Comté (for obvious reasons) my commitment to the cause was rewarded with: SWAG.
Whilst you could be forgiven for thinking this cheese was touting itself as THE cheese, complete with saunter and arrogant side-cocked head nod, this little roll invoked quite a different image for me.
For Australians, particularly those of us who are used to driving over 16 hours to attend a friend’s 21st birthday party or waking up next to a not-overly-familiar face after an intoxicating night at a B&S, a Swag is a portable, rolled up, waterproof bed. Swags have been called the “furniture of the bush”, “the traditional bedding for outdoor sleeping” and, not to exaggerate at all, as “standing for house and home and life’s achievement”.
Given the shape, colour and origin of this cheese I was confident that SWAG was the bush furniture of cheese, not the Kanye West of cheese (or Cheezus).
Made by South Australia’s Woodside Cheese Wrights, SWAG is an ashed fresh chèvre. The makers say it was developed to “showcase the freshness of our chèvre” and that the ash gives it “the perfect balance of creaminess and acidity”.
So, with my bags packed and SWAG bundled up in my neoprene cooler bag I hit the road through Gundagai.
Arriving at my Mother’s in the early evening of the following day I spent far too long arranging pear slices while hyping up the SWAG experience to hungry family members.
Finally, I was ready for that first bite.
Oh dear. This was not what I had expected.
There was an overwhelming acidity, almost vinegary, at the front of every mouthful. I tried to get past it to the thick creaminess being hinted at. I tried the pear. I tried the prosciutto. I smothered the quince paste, searching for an avenue of delight but there was none to be found. Family members looked at me with doubt, waiting before they cast aspersions on my cheese choice save I waxed lyrical but sighed in collective relief when I removed the platter from the table.
I was concerned though. SWAG had just been on a 24 hour journey, riding for 12 hours in the front of a van in the Australian summer, and sleeping over in a bar fridge that had seen a few rounds. What if this was my fault?
Keen to ease my conscience, I delayed my post until I had returned home and revisited the Wall of Cheese for another SWAG.
SWAG was delicious!
The creaminess I had been teased with at first was most definitely the star of the dish* and gone was the acid wash that opposed the goat. Instead, the familiar pungency of the chèvre was perfectly balanced by the unctuous texture and I promptly proceeded to eat half of it. In 3 minutes.
With quince, without quince; with pear, with apple, without either; with prosciutto, without anything. Gone.
I will most definitely be buying this cheese again: for cheese boards, salad sprinkling and tart topping.
It won’t, however, feature heavily (if at all) in dishes intended to be shared with chèvre-sensitive guests. This is not a conversion cheese. Whilst there is little pungency upfront, it kicks in later and lingers on the back palate. The response from The Mann, a chèvre-sensitive from way back, was to hand me the second half of his cracker. Quickly.
The moral of this story is – neoprene cooler bags are not made for cross-country Australia, and SWAG has swag after all.
Now, where did I put that other half?
* Apologies, shameful My Kitchen Rules reference.