Milk The Cow – Melbourne
Many questioned Milk The Cow’s business model when they opened back in 2012. Matching cheese and booze was surely a short lived novelty with as much traction as a Kale vending machine. But one should never doubt the cheese – that sticky, chunky, tangy, veiny, smelly fellow that can accompany any culinary experience – even a cocktail (apparently). We spoke to Milk The Cow’s top cheese pedlar, Laura Lown, about life in St Kilda’s top fromagerie.
You’re an English expat – how long have you been in Australia and what made you come over?
I arrived in Australia at the end of 2012. My sister was already living here and I wanted a little change, but I wasn’t sure where I’d be able to find a job in cheese – there wasn’t much around when I looked online. Happily, I landed to live in St Kilda, Melbourne and that very week Milk the Cow advertised for a Head Cheesemonger position!
How did you get into Cheesemongery?
I was studying Fashion Photography when I took a part time job at a cheese shop. Being that I liked working with pretty things, I would rearrange the cheeses and do some merchandising. It was then I realised that people really eat with their eyes first. My employers noticed more cheese walking off the shelves and decided I had a knack for it. They sent me on a specialist cheese course that only a handful of people get to go on every year and it was there that I fell in love with cheese, in particular the stories behind it.
The cheeseboard a barometer of English class, from doorstop cheddar to highbrow stilton. Cheese is very much a staple in every circle and every occasion. Does cheese resonate as much in Australia?
Cheese culture is very new here in Australia – I was so surprised when I first learned that Australians like to serve their cheeseboards before their dinner and not after!
Cheese is resonating more and more, as Australians get to know the products. It’s taken a long time to get some of the really good French cheeses over here – Roquefort was banned up until just ten years ago and we’re still working to get the okay on a lot of other ones! The more the industry gets into it, the more access we get to different varieties, the more the Australian culture will embrace cheese. We’re already seeing the enthusiasm for it in our customers at Milk the Cow.
Are there any differences between the manufacturing of cheese in Australia and the UK?
A lot of the UK cheese houses have been operating for a very long time, with production passed down through generations. Like in wine, Australian cheese is a relatively new industry and that is exciting. Australian producers take what they know from international brands and adopt the parts of it they like and are just as likely to invent new, fresh ideas while they are here too.
So much of artisan production has to do with the terroir and environmental conditions you have to work with, so Australians will innovate as they go to get the best out of their milks.
I’m surprised that cheese hasn’t been adopted more by the hipster fraternity. Cheese has all the artisan hallmarks they so value, and a diversity that dwarfs the craft beer world. Do you think the cheese industry has missed a trick here?
I’d say it’s the hipsters that are missing something, not the cheese industry! Cheese goes remarkably well with craft beer too. If only they knew.
Are cheeses seasonal?
Absolutely. There are certain cheeses that are, for example, only made with the milk from cows that have grazed on summer pastures – and you can see a marked difference in the colour of the cheese too that comes from all the nourishment in the buttercups and lush grass they eat.
Tell us about your cheese and alcohol matching – and give us some surprising combinations?
One of our favourite pastimes at Milk the Cow. We match cheese not only with wine but with beer, cider, sake and whisky. We’ve also been known to do it with neat spirits and we of course garnish our signature cocktails with wedges of cheese.
What’s your desert island cheese (favourite)?
I’m really not at liberty to choose just one. And it changes weekly anyhow. I have a rotating top 10 but I’ve never admitted the full list to anyone.
Anthony Bourdain said “You have to be a romantic to invest yourself, your money, and your time in cheese”. We’ll assume your a romantic. Do you have a favourite cheese related proverb/quote?
“Cheese is milk’s leap toward immortality” – Clifton Fadiman
57 Fitzroy Street,
St Kilda VIC 3182
03 9537 2225