More cheese please

As you put together a cheese board this festive season Ellie and Sum Studd are aiming to provide a little more to think about.

The Australian brother and sister are the children of cheese specialist Will Studd so grew up being taught how to taste, understand and appreciate cheese.

While they both had very different careers in hospitality and healthcare before they decided to join the "family business", they are now committed to saving and promoting artisan cheese makers.

"Cheese gets under people’s skin. Its consumption ignites an intriguing combination of unabashed pleasure and grounding nourishment in our bodies, our hearts, our beings."

They have passed the American Certified Cheese Professional exam, one of the few recognised certificates for cheese professionals and now aim to get people more educated and enthused about cheese.

"Cheese can be complicated but it doesn’t have to be. It can be expensive, but there are ways to enjoy it without overly stretching the budget. It can also be an intimidating topic if you don’t know where to start, but all you have to do is take that first step."

It has a rich history — it transformed a perishable product, milk, into a nutritious, preserved food source — but also involves culinary artistry.

But many of those ancient artisan practices used to create cheese are under threat and in need of preservation as big businesses buy out small producers, complicated regulations and increasing costs all challenge the small guys, the siblings say.

"Artisanal cheese, both traditional and contemporary, is becoming rarer and rarer."

So their book The best things in life are cheese takes a dive into how cheese is made, how to buy and store cheese (the vegetable drawer in the fridge), how to taste cheese, as well as interesting notes on flavour theory — taste, mouthfeel, aroma and your mind together make flavour.

There is also a handy section on what goes with what types of cheese. Nuts add crunch but also have other flavour-enhancing properties bringing bitterness, sweetness and richness to the fattiness of cheese particularly with aged cheeses while with fruit and vegetables it is their acidity, along with their crunchiness and sweetness, that goes with cheeses. Pickles go well with the funky profiles of washed rind cheeses while raw veges act as a palate cleanser.

When it comes to the sweet — they recommend honey be at the top of your list as honey loves the fat and salt that makes up cheese. They also recommend trying dark chocolate and cheese, especially one with a high buttermilk component as the chocolate can enhance the roastiness, fruitiness and milkiness of cheese. Jams and pastes on the other hand go well with hard, dry or crumbly cheeses.

Other tips

 - 14°C to 16°C is the optimum temperature for serving cheese

 - Remove cheese from its packaging and sit at room temperature at least one hour before serving covered with a damp linen cloth or tea towel.

 - Blue cheese only needs 30 minutes at room temperature, covered again.

 - Start compiling your cheese board one hour before serving adding charcuterie and condiments 15 minutes before.

 - Choose your surface — large plates or surfaces are best and dark surfaces make white cheeses pop.

 - Make cheese the star of the show by adding it first then adding the pairings one at at time followed by bread or crackers.

 - An odd number of cheeses looks best.

 - Vary milk type, country and textures of cheeses if serving a few.

 - Arrange cheeses from "mild to wild" either in a circle or a line.

 - Select a few pairings, including in-season produce, for each cheese but do not go overboard.

 - Add bread or crackers in a bowl beside the cheese board.

 - Garnish to reinforce the theme of the board using fresh herbs or edible flowers just before serving.

THE BOOK

The best things in life are cheese by Ellie and Sam Studd, RRP $49.99

Bread: It’s a match

Created using natural fermentation, bread and cheese have long made a delicious union.

While both are simple foods in terms of ingredients, it’s the quality of these ingredients and the skill of the maker that transforms these products into something incredible. And, of course, they go exceptionally well together, with the crunch of bread crust, soft interior and toasty aroma and flavour a wonderful foil to cheese.

Our general rule is to match the strength of the bread with the strength of the cheese, but if ever in doubt, you can’t mess it up with a baguette.

Crackers, too, are a classic friend of cheese (despite us being raised as bread purists). They’re not just for ferrying the cheese to your mouth: they also bring qualities of crunch, saltiness, sweetness and even bitterness, depending on the type.

Crackers work best with spreadable, soft and semi-hard cheeses for textural contrast.

Again, reach for a neutral-tasting cracker 95% of the time, so as to not detract from the taste of the cheese box.

Bagels

spreadable rindless cheeses such as Galotyri or marinated feta, creamy bloomies

Baguette

all cheeses

Fruit bread

fresh cheeses, washed rinds, blues

Olive Bread

Creamy fresh cheeses

Sourdough bread

Bloomies, cheddars, Alpines, blues

Walnut bread

Cheddars, blues such as Roquefort or Stilton

Wholemeal, pumpernickel or rye bread

Washed rinds, firm Swiss cheeses such as Emmentaler, blues such as Roquefort

Charcoal crackers

Chvre

Crostini

Goat’s cheeses

Fruit or nut crispbread

Blues, washed rinds

Plain water crackers or lavosh

Most cheeses

Oatcakes

Blues such as Stilton

Eighties cheese straws

A twizzle of puffed pastry with cheese — a totally primo party starter circa 1985! These take two seconds to make. We mix and match our cheese topping for this recipe — it’s great for using up those off-cuts that are skulking at the back of the fridge.

Makes 24

Ingredients

2 sheets of frozen puff pastry, just thawed

1 egg, lightly beaten

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

100g (1 cup) Parmigiano Reggiano, finely grated

60g halloumi, finely grated

sea salt flakes

Chilli butter

50g unsalted butter, melted

1 tsp chilli oil

½ bunch of chives, finely sliced

Method

Preheat the oven 200°C conventional. Line a large baking tray with baking paper.

Brush the pastry sheets with some of the beaten egg and sprinkle over the paprika. Combine the cheeses and sprinkle over the top, then use a rolling pin to roll over the cheese and press it into the pastry.

Fold the pastry sheets in half and roll again with the rolling pin to firmly enclose the cheese layer. Cut the pastry sheets into 2 cm wide strips, then twist each strip and place on the prepared tray. Brush with the remaining beaten egg, then sprinkle with salt and bake for 15–20 minutes, until golden brown.

Meanwhile, to make the chilli butter, combine the butter, chilli oil and chives in a bowl. Remove the cheese straws from the oven, brush with the chilli butter and serve.

Gooey baked camembert

We recommend using the best camembert available to you for this recipe. We love ones from Normandy for their barnyard funk. Industrial versions of camembert will taste bland and don’t melt as well, and they’ll often ooze a pool of oil, which isn’t the sultry look we’re going for here, especially on those hot date nights.

Serves 4 as a starter

Ingredients

2 garlic cloves, peeled

250g Normandy Camembert, in its box

2 Tbsp cider

4–5 sprigs of thyme, leaves picked

freshly ground black pepper

crusty bread, to serve

Method

Preheat the oven to 200°C conventional.

In a small saucepan, blanch the garlic cloves in boiling water for 1–2 minutes, until softened. Drain and slice the garlic.

Remove the wax paper from the cheese and return it to the box, with the lid on the bottom. Pierce the cheese in six places with a small, sharp knife and gently push the garlic into the cheese.

Spoon over the cider, making sure it seeps into the cheese, and scatter the thyme over the top.

Season with freshly ground pepper, to taste.

Wrap the base of the box tightly in foil or tie with string to keep the box together.

Place the cheese on a baking tray and bake for 10–15 minutes, until hot and bubbling and the cheese centre is liquid.

Serve immediately, dipping the crusty bread into the molten cheese.

Quick bread and butter pickles

This is a satisfying creation to have in your fridge with little effort. We add a small bowl of these pickles to our cheese boards. They’re especially good with cheddar and stinky washed rinds as the acidity bounces off the meatiness of the cheese. They’re also great in a cheddar or Comte toastie.

Makes 1 x 1 litre jar

Ingredients

3 Lebanese cucumbers (about 400g), trimmed and finely sliced into rounds

1 small onion, finely sliced

1 Tbsp sea salt flakes

250ml (1 cup) white vinegar

80g (⅓ cup) caster sugar

¼ tsp chilli flakes

¼ tsp ground turmeric

¼ tsp roughly crushed black peppercorns

1 tsp fennel seeds

2 Tbsp chopped dill fronds

Method

Place the cucumber, onion and salt in to a bowl and mix well. Transfer the mixture to a colander and allow to drain for 2 hours.

Place the vinegar, sugar, chilli flakes, turmeric, peppercorns and fennel seeds in a small saucepan over medium heat and stir until the sugar dissolves. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat.

Squeeze excess liquid from the cucumber and onion and place in a clean 1litre glass jar. Pour over the vinegar mixture to cover and stir to combine. Cool completely.

Place the pickles in a bowl, sprinkle over the dill and add to your cheese board. Leftover pickles will keep in the fridge for up to 1 week.