Blessed Are the Cheesemakers!

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Anyone who knows me well, would be aware that I am a cheese lover. Pathological cheese lovers have an overwhelming desire to share their passion and so I have provided cheese tastings with all the trimmings for my children since they were quite young. These included palate cleansing, pear, cabernet, quince pastes and tasting notes.

Yes, I am the woman who scans the imported cheese case in Woolies every week hoping to nab a special and  yes, I am the woman who almost every week will have 8 or 9 cheeses in her trolley – camembert or brie, ricotta, haloumi, parmesan, mozzarella, cream cheese, gorganzola or goats cheese, feta, bocconcini or buffalo mozzarella.

The gift from my partner for my recent birthday was a Cheese & Wine Appreciation Experience at Fort Denison on Sydney Harbour. The regular experiences are run by McIntosh and Bowman Cheesemongers. Claudia Bowman was our hostess for the two hour event and it was truly a rapturous and memorable occasion for me. Think kid in a candy store….

We caught a bus from home to the city (about an hour) and walked quickly (ran) the 700m from Wynyard Station to Circular Quay to meet the Fort Denison Ferry. Claudia greeted us there and informed us of the sequence of proceedings. There were 23 of us in all – all couples but one lady with ages ranging from early 20’s to mid 60’s.

Claudia’s passion and knowledge of all things cheese just oozes from her like the heart of Normandy room-temperature Camembert. She is passionate without being over-the-top and shares her knowledge and opinion without pretentiousness or arrogance.

On disembarking our ferry we are served sparking wine to take up to the top of the Fort where the canon is and the wind was. Photos with the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House in the background were pretty much obligitory.

We then repaired to the tasting room which was beautifully decked out with our 10 cheeses, three wines, sour dough roll and later Coopers Ale and chocolate ganache.

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We had range of fresh, bloomy, washed rind, hard pressed and blue veined cheeses with Australian and European of the same type to compare. Cheese for tasting is arranged clockwise from 12 o’clock – mildest to strongest. We are encouraged to taste the effect that a dry fruity white, a bold red, a dessert wine and a Coopers Ale has upon the cheese and the effect the cheese has on the tasting of those beverages.

Some QI’s that stayed in my head after the event included:

  • There are no buffalo herds in Australia. All buffalo milk is imported from Europe to one of the 6 producers in Australia
  • Holy Goat Matured Skyla is an award winning Goat’s cheese of $240 per kilo from Sutton Grange, Victoria. They have only 68 milking goats and cannot keep up with local demand – thus the price.
  • Australian Camembert appearance and flavour bears no resemblance to the real thing from Normandy, France largely because we use food grade chlorine to clean cheese making equipment and different rennets etc and this radically effects the resultant product. French Camembert, when ripe, smells a little like cooked cauliflower or broccoli. This distinctive smell took me instantly back to my days in France as girl of 18.
  • There are 7 types of cheese: Fresh, Bloomy, Washed, Semi-Hard, Hard Pressed, Blue Vein and processed (everything else) from 4 types of milk: cow, sheep, goat and buffalo.
  • The highest fat cheeses are the hard pressed because, of course, any fat has been concentrated in them. This then is my license to gorge on buffalo and fresh goat’s cheeses.
  • Chocolate and blue vein cheese together taste amazing – seriously – you need to try it.

My partner who is not as big a cheese gourmand as I and who is quite particular, enjoyed this experience and felt it was excellent value for money.

Claudia let me take home a set of cheeses in a little container for my 13 year old daughter to try. I set up a simple tasting for son (22) and daughter. Son devoured them before I could finish the tasting notes on each one, but daughter, after telling him to slow down, savoured hers like a true gourmande. It’s good to know the cheese/brain washing has not been wasted on her.

The Quality of Service is Not Strained – On Cruises

I went on my first cruise in January – 10 days in the South Pacific. It was a most interesting experience. Not the least of which was the people-watching value.

Quite coincidentally my Y gen son decided to take a 10 day South Pacific cruise with friends on a different cruise line. While extracting any details about the cruise was impossible for the first three days, on the fourth day, in the five minute drive to drop him at work, he commented on some things that had impressed him about the staff. I wanted to draw life lessons out for him on the spot, but alas he had to go before I got the chance. (Methinks there is method to his madness). So I get the chance to tell you in my blog instead.

If the title of the blog sounds somewhat familiar then you may have studied Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice at school. The actual quote was, “The quality of mercy is not strained, it droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven…”

My son’s first observations were about the characteristics of the dining room maître’d. He said he felt special having a person dressed in a suit clearing tables and enquiring if everything was alright with the food. There were plenty of vest-wearing staff to clear tables, but the matire’d did it with dignity and grace. The way the maître’d carried himself was also noticed – smiling, chin in, chest out. “He reeked of professionalism,” was how my son described it.

He went on to explain that their dinner table head and assistant waiter’s were very experienced and had travelled the world on ships. They were always willing to have a joke and were not just like smiling robots. They did not seem like waiters, but more like friends. These are the examples he gave:
• One night the assistant waiter brought a guitar to their table and asked if anyone could sing. They volunteered one of their female friends and another waiter joined her with written lyrics and they all sang together with the guitar.
• The wait staff regularly asked how they were feeling. One night one of the girls said she was feeling sick, upon which the assistant waiter disappeared and reappeared with a green apple presented on a plate, neatly sliced through almost to the bottom so it stayed together in segments. He explained that green apples were good for sea sickness.
• The wait staff told us jokes and gave us brain teasers to solve between courses.
When my son first boarded and went to his stateroom, the room steward introduced himself, asked everyone their name and then asked if they all had their luggage. All did except my son. The steward went immediately to the luggage area and collected his luggage so he could unpack and get settled with the others.
I asked him in what other ways he was surprised and delighted by the service onboard. He said:
• “Everyone was so personal. The Cruise Director and his staff were self-depreciating, placed themselves at the same level as the guests by making fun of each other, which set us at ease and made us laugh. They wandered around onboard always smiling and very visible.
• It was happy to read in their posted profiles that the Executive Chef was world class. He had worked on the QE2 and some of the biggest ships in the world. He had been head-hunted as one the best.”
What can one learn from this experience about serving patrons?
• You can express your professionalism and pride in your role on the outside through uniform, posture, smiling, modelling the behaviours you expect of your staff.
• A personable, friendly attitude goes a long way
• Be truly human and show genuine care and concern , Caring is not just lip service, it is demonstrating you care
• Be engaging, warm and have an easy humour – don’t be stuffy or superior
• You can minimise a patron’s potential displeasure in delays by engaging them in conversation
• Anticipating a patron’s needs and going the extra mile is always noticed and appreciated – even if nothing is said at the time
• Be visible and available to help as much as possible. Don’t disappear when things aren’t going as planned.
• Smile often. This is the single most powerful non-verbal cue that you are genuinely pleased to be of service

None of these service gestures came across as forced or insincere. They were spontaneous, genuine and made my son’s cruise experience enjoyable on a whole other level.

The quality of service is not strained, it droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven…”