“Sod the wine, I want to suck on the writing. This man White is an instinctive writer, bloody rare to find one who actually pulls it off, as in still gets a meaning across with concision. Sharp arbitrage of speed and risk, closest thing I can think of to Cicero’s ‘motus continuum animi.’

Probably takes a drink or two to connect like that: he literally paints his senses on the page.”

DBC Pierre (Vernon God Little, Ludmila’s Broken English, Lights Out In Wonderland)

Winner: Booker prize; Whitbread prize; Bollinger Wodehouse Everyman prize; James Joyce Award from the Literary & Historical Society of University College Dublin

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21 November 2012

GOAT'S CHEESE AND CHENIN BLANC

Dowie Doole Chenin blanc and exquisite bright acid goatsmilk cheeses from Alison Paxton at Kangarilla Creamery ... anticlockwise from top: Soft Goat, Ash Goat, Funky Goat and what may become Billygoat Milk ... photos by Philip White



Top Night With The Neighbours 
Dowie Doole Chenin Blanc Hits 
High Notes At Kangarilla Dairy  
by PHILIP WHITE 

Sometimes you get lucky.

I just happen to live about halfway between Alison Paxton’s new Kangarilla Creamery cheese dairy and the seventy year old Tintookie Chenin blanc vineyard of Lulu Lunn and Drew Dowie.  Actually, I’m a bit closer to Alison’s – on a still night she says she can hear me laughing. Being over the ridge in the sandy vale of Blewett Springs, Drew and Lulu are spared such sonic intrusion.

Alison was a horse nut until one deposited her rather too abruptly, so she began to make cheese, full-time.  Instead of asking why or how, concentrate instead on the fact that this wasn’t simply a crossover from equine to bovine interests, but this determined lass extended her curiosity as far as things caprine.

So smitten is she with that Pan-like aroma of goat, she goes to the extent of buying her goat’s milk warm from the udder, a little detail beyond the capacity of most cheesers. 

“It’s important that it’s warm and fresh and not cold and sanitized,” she says. “I grew up on a dairy farm at Yundi, at the top of Willunga Hill, and I loved the cow shed.  Mum used to get goat milk from a local farmer for allergy reasons. I reckon I started to think about cheese when I was in kindy. As I grew up I’d make a few cheeses and take them to dinner with friends and then I married into a wine family and the whole wine and cheese thing really took off. I just love the production process, turning that raw product into everything you can turn it into.  I eat it and dream about it and now I make it full-time.”

At the risk of upsetting Lulu (who makes her own goat cheese and works in that Central Market Holy of Holies, Smelly Cheese) and indeed the extra risk of irritating Ben Paxton, Alison’s husband, (who runs the cellar sales business at the Paxton winery), I had long planned a quiet liason of Drew and Lulu’s Chenin blanc with Alison’s goat cheese. 


Kangarilla Creamery proprietor and cheesemaker, Alison Paxton, right, with shotgun rider Annika Berlingieri, wrangler of the wood oven and proprietor at Settlement Wines, where Alison's works sometimes deck the weekend pizzas.



A good excuse for this was a visit by that venerable Bacchus of Australian cheese, Richard Thomas, who has more than a thirsty wine entanglement of his own.  He was working at winemaking at Chateau Reynella in the seventies.  This interest led him to Italy, where in his own personal bucking off moment he ate some gorgonzola and promptly became a cheesemaker.

Most great Australian cheeses are one way or another entwined with this grand wizard.  King Island Cheddar, Gippsland Blue, Milawa, Tarago River, Bruny Island, and Yarra Valley Persian feta are only a few of the cheesey delights which Thomas invented, assisted, inspired or curdled.

He says that in 1984, he made all of the blue cheese in Australia, “and I wasn’t working very hard, either.”

He’s obviously loving what Alison does.

As we settled at a table decorated with Dowie Doole Chenin blanc and several of Alison’s goat cheeses, the sage made a remark which covers most of his obsessions.

“It’s more complicated than love when you mix wine and cheese together,” he said. 

“You can put some of the greatest wines ever made with some of the greatest cheeses ever made and you get shit.  There’s an incredible mob of little molecules running around together; a lot of very complex shit going on in there.”


Which reminded me of the mindlessness with which many Australian wine show judges eat soapy mousetrap cheddar to "freshen" their palates in wine shows, when green olives would be the most appropriate cleanser.  

Or apple.  The canny cellar sales wag will serve you cheese that'll kill your palate with fat and salt til you've bought a case of the dodgy wine being flogged, then give you green apple as you leave, so you're much more critical and demanding about the next wines down the track.

Chenin blanc is a high-acid white grape from France’s Loire Valley, where goat cheese is omnipresent.  The earliest planting I know of in South Australia was at Highercombe, next to the Paracombe vineyard I wrote about a few weeks back. Upon visiting the vineyard there of the Hon. G. M. Waterhouse in November 1861, my fore-runner at The Advertiser, the irascible Ebenezer Ward MP, reported a white blend made there of “the Verdeilo, the Riesling and the Stein”.

It would appear that the Dutch East India Company delivered the first Loire cuttings of Chenin blanc to Jan van Riebeek in South Africa in 1655, where the grape became known as Steen, or Stein.  From there many early Australian white settlers collected cuttings en route to New Holland, and of course South Australia.

Dowie Doole had given me three brilliant Chenins.  The first, the standard steel tank crisp 2012 lovely -- which was insulted by the award of a lowly bronze at the recent McLaren Vale Wine Show -- sells at a snippy $16.  Then came two much more complex Tintookie Chenins (2008 and 2012; $30), made with wild yeast, and plenty of lees contact in old oak.

“Salt and acid and cheese are the friends of this wine – they’re equivalent,” Richard  gurgled as we slurped the first with Alison’s Soft Goat, a one week old curd which was creamy, acidic and dry, with that tantalising illusion of grainyness.  The liason was indeed perfect. 


Practice it up for the summer.

Next came the Ash Goat.  Alison puts vine cuttings in a charcoal burner and then grinds it to coat this bone-dry week-old cheese.

“Ash is alkaline, with potassium and stuff, so it neutralises acidity and you get more rapid growth of microflora -- moulds and yeasts and bugs -- which preserve the cheese,” Richard explained. “Most cheesemakers buy charcoal from the chemist.  No bloody good. Chemically it’s quite different to Alison’s.”

This cheese overwhelmed the unoaked Chenin, but worked just swimmingly with the 2012 Tintookie, which is due to replace the 2008 in 2014.  The wine was sufficiently complex, fresh and viscous to enhance the cheese with both counterpoint and harmony.  The blend of flavours gave the surprising taste of an adults-only dry vanilla ice cream.

“That’s a great cheese, Alison,” Richard murmered through his chew.

Then came the Funky Goat, a matured rinded cheese of four weeks maturation. 

“What I like about this mix is the spectrum of pH and texture,” Richard said. “No question the goatiness is glowing through – it’s accentuated by the wine. A good thing.”

Complex, gamy and fatty, but with sinuous appetising acid, the cheese played a bonnie duet with the unoaked 2012, but with the more complex Tintookie it made a stunning gastronomic adventure.  

“White mould cow’s cheese doesn’t go nearly so well with cold white wines,” Richard suggested, “this is bloody lovely.”

Alison presented a more mature, runnier rinded cheese next.  “We called this the Holy Goat at first, but we discovered there are too many out there called that, so we’re looking for another name.”

I suggested Billygoat Milk.  It is that goaty. This highly complex, almost acrid cheese had the beginnings of ammonia, which seemed to work a little with the softer 2008, and a lot more satisfactorily with the taut 2012 Tintookie, but once again, our sage wrapped it up neatly when he said “it’s quite alkaline, it’s thin.  The ammonia dislikes white wine.  It’d be better with the soft tannins of an aged red and a bit of sugar”, a suggestion which made me yearn for rich fruitcake to spread it on and a vintage port to send it on its way.


At which point I couldn't decide whether to eat the cheese or simply drink Chenin.

To finish, we demolished a Besace du Berger Le Chèvrefeuille from Périgord in the Dordogne.  Amongst its myriad triggers, this stunning, complex, soft cheese had a feeling, as much as the flavour, of candlewax about it, and while it went perfectly with all three wines, I came over all pervy, as pervy as Pan himself, when I squashed it around my mouth with the 2008. Funny thing: in blind tastings of unoaked Chenin, I often recognise it by its unusual waxiness.  It’s not a fault, or disagreeable, but something like copha.  Another mystery to unravel.

“The French have an advantage here, because they don’t have to kill off all the fantastic range of tiny cheesery bugs," Alison said, almost to herself.  "While we’ve got to chlorinate the walls of our cheese factories every day, we’ll never get the quality the French get.”


Like chlorine? In a place we make beautiful food?

This conundrum is reflected in the current trend amongst the more adventurous of the best Australian winemakers to revert to older oak, wild yeasts, and less obsessive disinfection and sanitation in their winemaking.  The wines are better.  The same philosophical counterpoint lay there in our glasses: test it yourself by cruising by the new Dowie Doole cellar door at 276 California Road in McLaren Vale to collect the unoaked Chenin and its 2008 grand aunt.  You can get Kangarilla Creamery cheeses at Blessed Cheese in the main street of the Vale, at the Paxton cellar door, or at the Willunga Farmers’ Market on Saturday mornings.


You'll never regret getting in with this bright and delicious business from the start. On the night, Alison may have been respectfully quiet in the presence of a guru like Dicky-T, but you trust me: Alison rocks. 

Sometimes you get lucky.  And if it’s not too windy you might hear me laughing.


Master Cheeser Richard Thomas rides shotgun too. He's more of a sawn-off man, black peppercorns in one barrel, rock salt in the other.

9 comments:

Gavin Duley said...

I'll have to look out for both -- hard to find a good Australian chenin blanc, or a good Australian goat's cheese. I've tried a few French chenins that I've really enjoyed -- I'm one of the few people who actually like Savennières -- so it'd be good to try this for comparison.

Last time I was in France, though, I heard a whisper that the EU is considering bringing in stricter hygiene laws for cheese producers, similar to the regime complained about here. Because hypothetically you could get undesirable bacteria growing which could be a health hazard. It's never happened in practice, but since you can imagine it you must legislate for it... I hope it doesn't happen.

Micha said...

Great article uncle Phil, as I said before no one writes like you. Passion, just zone out and you can smell the cheese & wine

Kellermeister BV said...

Funky table cloth! Perfect for cheese. Even if it's Goats and not Cows milk :)

Annie Cedar Farm said...

oh you have great neighbours :D

Blondie Atlanta said...

terrific article. I can taste the wine and cheese

Bonds Cnr. Fine Wine said...

written by the countries premier Chenin pusher?

last tango butter said...

Philip, the stars of the tasting were in fact, Alison Paxton & her cheeses, a great student & cheesemaker, if even so early in her craft. The Chenin, a long time admirer of Goat cheese, both of which need an observer.. that'd be you. It was an informative time for me.
Richard Thomas

Kaya said...

Thoroughly enjoyed that post... “It’s more complicated than love when you mix wine and cheese together"... damn straight! K

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