It is a good day in the cave when I get to crack open a wheel of Bay of Fires Cheddar. Carefully cutting through the tough but thin layer of cheesecloth rubbed with lard and then slowly pulling it off is like peeling the first mango of the season. It has the same sense of anticipation. The main difference is that it sends specks of cheese dust flying and fills the cave with an earthy musty smell before revealing a mottled rind imprinted with the texture of the cheesecloth.
Cutting the wheel in half leaves me with two half cylinders that smell like barn just filled with fresh hay. I cut it in half again before slicing off the point. Now the fun really begins. I get to taste it. But first I like to remind myself that this is the real thing, made by Ian Fowler who learnt the art of making cheddar from his father, who in turn learnt from his father. The knowledge has been passed, father to son from about the 1860’s when the men of the family put science to the skill and intuition of the dairy women of the farm.
Ian, who brought 400 years of family cheddar making to Tasmania, makes a cheese that challenges what we expect from a cheddar. It is not sharp or crumbly like mature cheddars we know. Instead it is subtle, grassy, earthy and creamy. Each wheel I pull from the shelf is distinctly a Bay of Fires Cheddar, but has its own character reflecting its age and the season it was made.
That’s the beauty of having a cave. It allows me to taste and sell cheese at different ages. As the cheese matures the flavours blend and it tastes nuttier with hints of caramel. Something you expect in Comté, rather than a cheddar. Some people like their Bay of Fires Cheddar like this, others prefer the meadow freshness of the cheese when it is about a year old.
However you like it, Bay of Fires Cheddar is another great Australian cheese that draws from European tradition and blends it with quality local milk to create something unique.