“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)





02 November 2009



Australasian Alfresco Cheese Festival Show Judging
Kris Lloyd Runs The Perfect Competition


If you took all the badges off a new Jaguar, and gave it to a motoring writer to review in the presumption that the writer would not recognise the car, and review it fairly, you have motoring’s equivalent of the wine world’s blind tasting. No doubt there’s a peanut somewhere who wouldn’t recognise that the car was a Jaguar, love the free drive, and write a thousand words about it before the badges were glued back on, but what credit could the reader afford such a critic?

Regular readers know this writer’s attitude to the wine show circuit: if a winemaker doesn’t recognise his or her own wine, then they shouldn’t be a wine judge. If they fail to give their own wine style high marks, they shouldn’t be making it. Similar is the judge who fails to recognise a rival’s wine style.

There are winemakers who, appreciating the last category, think such judges need prompting to give a mate the odd gong. In shows where the masked bottles are not revealed to the judges, it was common to ask for a second pour, so the judge could get a quick glimpse of the neck of the bagged bottle. I recall two winemakers who habitually entered their wines in heavy burgundy bottles, so the very shape of the bag or unlabelled bottle was a good hint at who’d made the wine.

Similarly, a glimpse at the capsule of a screw-capped bottle is always a good start to help the dodgy judge decide how to regard it points-wise. Good show stewards will always pour the second glasses in another room to avoid this provision of clues, but this fails to solve the conundrum described in paragraph two.

Like a courthouse, it all comes down to your selection of judge. And then, trust.

Last week, with two dozen others, I was pleasured to judge the Australasian Alfresco Cheese Festival Show at Penfolds' beautiful Magill Estate restaurant. The management and stewardship of this show were utterly professional, and exemplary, under the direction of the remarkable Kris Lloyd, of Woodside Cheesewrights, and the chairmanship of Regency Park’s esteemed Derrick Casey. Every attempt was made to disguise the brands of the entries, like removing all labels and packaging, but cheeses are impossible to properly judge without thoroughly appraising their appearance. We look for inappropriate moulds, poor colour, bad physical condition and whatnot before even sniffing the fromage.

Whilst there were respected judges present who could no doubt recognise most of the cheeses in the show – that’s their business – even this relative novice found himself identifying several entries on their appearance alone.

There’s an enormous amount of faith involved in such a competition: the cheese eater must have a certain amount of trust in the honesty and fairness of the judging. Given all this, the Sumptuous cheese show was judged in the most thorough manner. Teams of three judges worked through a couple of classes each, picking their favourite, and nominating, say, five or six runners-up. After this initial judging cycle, every judge examined all these runners-up, awarding points. So every judge got to have an opinion on every finalist, and the cheese with the highest points through this whole rigmarole won the gong. There is no better way of doing it. Then you depend upon the buyer’s trust. Which, in this case, would be well deserved.

Tasting cheese is a little like judging wine: it’s a matter of balance. The aroma, the fats, the acids, the piquancy must provide a harmonious effect. Some cheeses even suffer the dreaded trichloranisole corky taint that spoils many wines: chlorine used to clean the vats and sanitise the wrappers can react with the moulds in the cheese, just as occurs on dodgy cork.

The huge National Foods, now a subsidiary of Kirin, the giant Japanese brewer, took the Champion Cheese of Show award with its Heidi Raclette, a handsome critter from Burnie. It had my middle going runny without even being heated. The comparitively tiny Denmark Farmhouse Cheese of Great Southern, Western Australia won the Winemakers’ Award with its Scotsdale, made after the gouda style. And the Media Award went unanimously to King Island Dairy’s gorgeously sinful Seal Bay Triple Cream: a perfect white rind log of wickedness. I wanted to stroke its soft snowy fur. But not for long. The pace at which it vanished into the stewards reflected everyone’s overwhelming desire to devour it. Get yourself down to Smelly Cheese immediately.

One thing. At a wine show, mild cheese is provided to ease the erosive effect of acid and tannin on the judges’ palates. At the cheese show, in the midst of a couple of hundred mouthsful of delicious fat and salt, I craved a cleansing sauvignon blanc.

Which just goes to show that red wine with cheese is not always the way to go.

1.Champion Cheese of Show
National Foods, Burnie - Heidi Raclette

2.Wine Makers Award

Denmark Farmhouse Cheese, WA - Scotsdale

3. Media Award

King Island Dairy - Seal Bay Triple Cream

Gold Medal Winners

Class One - White Mould Cow
King Island Dairy - Discovery Ash Brie
King Island Dairy - Seal Bay Triple Cream

Class Two- White Mould Goat
Woodside Cheese Wrights, SA - Vigneron

Class Three - Fresh Unripened Non Textured
La Vera Cheese, SA - La Vera Ricotta

Class Four - Fresh Unripened Textured
National Foods King Meadow, TAS - South Cape Tasmanian Feta

Class Five - Lactic Fresh
Udder Delights, SA - Ash Chevre
Udder Delights, SA - Goat Curd

Class Six - Lactic Matured
Woodside Cheese Wrights, SA - Edith

Class Seven - Washed Rind
King Island Dairy - Black Label Brie
King Island Dairy - Stormy

Class Eight - Blue Vein
King Island Dairy - Endeavour Blue
Apostle Whey Cheese, Vic - Blue Vein

Class Nine - Semi Hard Eye
National Foods, Burnie - Heidi Raclette
Denmark Farmhouse Cheese, WA - Scotsdale Pepper
National Foods, Burnie - St Clair
Denmark Farmhouse Cheese, WA - Scotsdale


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