My Life in Cheese

Hello, dear readers! Had you given up on me? I’m sorry I’ve been away for so long. I’ve been starting a food writing course at the University of Adelaide, and also starting a new job! Sadly I don’t think I’ll be able to post very often over the next few months as I have so much study to do, but I will put up here the pieces I’m writing for my course. So, here goes with the first one…

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“There’s just bread and cheese for lunch,” my mother would say apologetically every Saturday when I was growing up. Often there was, in fact, something else too: a few slices of ham or salami, a pork pie, or a pot of fresh crab meat. But ‘bread and cheese’ was short-hand for a picnic at the kitchen table, and those two items were central.

I can tell you the story of my life through cheese, from early childhood around that table to adulthood far from my parents’ home. As I grew and matured and moved on, so did my taste in cheese.

It all started with foil-covered Kraft Dairylea triangles. They were impossible to unwrap; the only solution was to squeeze the glossy, cream-coloured gunk out of a tiny hole in one corner. Soon after, I ‘progressed’ to another great insult to the honour of cheese: square, shiny, bright-yellow Kraft Singles, best enjoyed in a floury white roll smeared with margarine. My father referred to them contemptuously as “plastic cheese”, but I wasn’t perturbed.

In my ‘tweens, my Aunt would collect me after Saturday ballet class and take me back to her lovely neat flat for wholemeal toast, a cut-up apple and Jarlsberg, or ‘holey cheese’ as I called it. It was reassuringly always the same balanced lunch and I am very fond of Jarlsberg to this day. Gruyère was first encountered molten and bubbling on top of scalding hot onion soup at L’Experience, a favourite French restaurant for special occasions.

There was always a brick of tangy, bitey Cheddar (known as ‘mousetrap’) in the fridge. It was equally satisfying with my mother’s apple chutney or in a sauce blanketing cauliflower florets and browned under the grill. Powdered parmesan on top of our spaghetti bolognaise was replaced, once we were old enough to appreciate it, by real Parmigiano Reggiano that we grated ourselves.

Through my mother I learned to enjoy pungent washed-rind cheeses like Port Salut and Chaumes, and to glimpse the travelling and life abroad I, too, hoped to undertake one day. A flirtation with the mild, sweet soft blue Dolce Latte lead to a love of the more daring Gorgonzola and eventually, when I worked in France for three months post-school, a full-blown affair with the king of the blues, Roquefort.

It wasn’t until I moved to London, after university, that I properly discovered goats cheese. I still remember those musky, tart discs perched on top of a perfectly dressed salad, at an elegant West End lunch with colleagues from my first real job. And despite growing up in Europe I didn’t have my eyes truly opened to the joys of Italian buffalo mozzarella until recently in Sydney. The newly-opened mozzarella bar my husband and I discovered in Darlinghurst air-freights these magical, milky pillows from Naples three times a week.

Despite all these years of cheese adventures, I feel I’m only really beginning to get the hang of what’s out there. With so much yet to learn and love, I can only hope it continues to be a case of life imitating cheese imitating life.

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Nom Pizza, Marrickville

I’m going to say it – Nom Pizza is now my favourite pizza in Sydney. Hell, I even like the crusts! Opening in June this year on the corner of Sydenham and Victoria Roads in Marrickville, a handy (and dangerous) five-minute walk from our house, Nom is the real deal. They make ‘la vera pizza Napoletana’, or true pizza from Naples, characterised by a thin, crisp base, sparsely topped with a few simple, fresh ingredients and cooked in a brick, wood-fired oven. At Nom they make the dough once a week and if you’re really lucky you get it a few days old (as we did on Thursday night) when the flavour and texture is fantastic: chewy, slightly salty and… oh, I don’t know what the flavour is, it’s just delicious!

Prior to this week I had tried the pumpkin and feta (roasted pumpkin, feta, pine nuts, rocket, truffle oil), the prawn (buffalo mozzarella, garlic prawns, chili) and the BBQ meatlovers (BBQ sauce, buffalo mozzarella, double smoked leg ham, salami, chorizo, pepperoni). They were all divine, although the BBQ meat lovers is clearly a bit of a concession to Australian tastes and would no doubt be considered an abomination in Naples!

On Thursday night as I’m walking home from the station, two of the guys are standing out the front of Nom with freshly made pizzas on wooden boards, offering slices to passers-by and trying to drum up a bit of custom. I’m drawn in by a cheeky smile from the other side of the junction and I avail myself of a slice of the ‘funghi’ with thinly sliced mushrooms, fior di latte cheese (like mozzarella but drier), a scattering of dried chili flakes and a drizzle of olive oil. It’s so damn good I decide right there on the spot to put the defrosted snags in the fridge for another day and persuade Mr T it’s a Nom Pizza night. It doesn’t take much to twist that rubbery arm so we’re back an hour later for more. We can’t decide what to have so the manager Ryan’s advice is to let the two Neapolitan pizzaiolos (trained artisan pizza makers) ‘go freestyle’ and create something unique for us. Alfredo stays fairly traditional with tomato sauce, fior di latte, salami, marinated aubergine, black olives and anchovies.

Tomato sauce, salami, marinated aubergine, black olives, anchovies and fior di latte

Tomato sauce, fior di latte, salami, marinated aubergine, black olives and anchovies, Nom Pizza

The other guy (whose name I missed, unfortunately) lets his imagination go wild and we watch in amazement as he forms two mini calzone (Ryan calls them ‘mezzaluna’, or half moon) on opposite sides, one filled with feta, the other with assorted meats. Down the middle he puts tomato sauce, fior di latte and rocket which, with a slosh of olive oil on top, wilts in the oven. Once cooked he drapes three generous slices of prosciutto on top and some shavings of parmesan. And another drizzle of olive oil for good measure!

Freestyle pizza with feta, assorted meats, tomato sauce, fior di latte, rocket, prosciutto and parmesan

Freestyle pizza with feta, assorted meats, tomato sauce, fior di latte, rocket, prosciutto and parmesan, Nom Pizza

Following much banter and taking of photographs with our new best friends, we race home as fast as our legs will carry us to engage in an absolute orgy of overeating. The pizzas are both to die for, the first one a perfect example of great quality, proper, simple pizza, the other an extraordinary piece of sheer theatre. Mr T cuts it into thick slices as if it were a loaf of Turkish bread. We could really do with a knife and fork but it’s so much more fun to slurp the wet, oozing, salty goodness into our mouths direct from the plate!

Nom don’t deliver as they don’t want the pizza sitting around deteriorating in cardboards boxes any longer than necessary, so you’ll have to collect it yourself. But they’re such a charming bunch of blokes that you’ll enjoy the interaction – and seeing the amazing wood-fired oven that dominates the shop. They do have a few tables and chairs outside on the pavement (make that old giant cable spools and hessian-covered milk crates) but no alcohol license, not even BYO, as yet. Here’s hoping! In the mean time they do have 1.25L bottles of brightly coloured, old-fashioned Saxby’s fizzy drinks in flavours like creaming soda and toffee apple. I’m not going to say any more except go there, and don’t spare the horses!

    Tomato sauce, fior di latte, salami, marinated aubergine, black olives and anchovies

Tomato sauce, fior di latte, salami, marinated aubergine, black olives and anchovies, Nom Pizza

Freestyle pizza with feta, assorted meats, tomato sauce, fior di latte, rocket, prosciutto and parmesan

Freestyle pizza with feta, assorted meats, tomato sauce, fior di latte, rocket, prosciutto and parmesan, Nom Pizza

Nom Pizza
Shop 2, 205 Victoria Road, Marrickville
Visited 18 October 2012

My Marrickville: favourite food shops

Such is my love of living and eating in Marrickville I’ve decided to do a series of pieces entitled ‘My Marrickville’, where I’ll write a little bit about each of my favourite food shops, cafés and restaurants in this marvelous suburb. This one, as you’ve probably surmised already from the title, is going to be about food shops.

(Incidentally, the ‘My’ of ‘My Marrickville’ is a fun little poke at Mr T who is constantly bemoaning the current fashion in advertising where everything is preceded by ‘my’, e.g. My Bank, My Insurance, My Healthcare, as if these two little letters were sufficient to kid us into thinking we’ve got any control, autonomy or choice! My Marrickville, however, is a different matter.)

No. 1
Bourke Street Bakery
2 Mitchell Street

The sourdough bread is our pretend reason for popping in here on a Saturday morning; favourites include green olive and rosemary (delicious slathered in taramasalata), fig and cranberry (divine with butter and honey) and the plain white sourdough. Often it’s hard to resist a little sweet treat – I’ll go for a sticky macadamia and honey bun, a perfect ginger brûlée tart, or a pain au chocolat, while Mr T prefers an apple galette or a rhubarb and almond tart. The sausage rolls (lamb, almond and harissa or pork and fennel) and pies (the beef and mushroom in red wine, especially) are fantastic too. Add to all that slices of rustic pizza, gourmet sandwiches, great coffee and fast, friendly service and this place is a winner every time.

Bourke Street Bakery

Bourke Street Bakery

Bourke Street Bakery

Bourke Street Bakery

Bourke Street Bakery

Bourke Street Bakery

Bourke Street Bakery

Bourke Street Bakery

No. 2
Lamia Super Deli
270 Marrickville Road

You’re hit by the aroma, when you first walk into this Greek treasure trove, of all things brined, cured and dried: a dozen buckets of glistening olives and peppers, whole salt cod and rib racks on hooks, and salamis, sausages and hams aplenty. As well as olives, Lamia specialises in Greek cheeses: kefalograviera, feta, haloumi and many more. Shelves groan with dried beans, pulses and seeds, pastas and polentas, imported bottled and tinned goods, and the fresh section includes trays of homemade moussaka and dense spinach and ricotta pie. Personal favourites are the fresh dolmades (drizzled with lemon juice and olive oil at home), taramasalata, and halva sliced to order from an enormous dome, swirled with chocolate and studded with almonds.

Lamia Super Deli

Lamia Super Deli

Lamia Super Deli

Lamia Super Deli

Lamia Super Deli

Lamia Super Deli

Lamia Super Deli

Lamia Super Deli

No. 3
Paesanella Cheese Manufacturers
27 Gerald Street

This award-winning, Italian, family run institution has been making Italian fresh specialty cheeses in Australia since 1956, but has 300 years of cheese-making history under its belt. These days they supply multiple delis and shops around the country, but it’s well worth getting to the factory and counter sale outlet in Gerald St (beware the opening hours of 6am to 1pm, Sunday to Friday); nowhere else will you be able to pick up a half kilo or kilo tub of daily made ricotta that is still warm! Also made on the premises are buffalo mozzarella, bocconcini, burrata (balls of mozzarella filled with cream), fior di latte, mascarpone and more. Of the many imported cheeses they stock, my favourites include pecorino pepato and gorgonzola.

Paesanella Cheese Manufacturers

Paesanella Cheese Manufacturers

Paesanella Cheese Manufacturers

Paesanella Cheese Manufacturers

Paesanella Cheese Manufacturers

Paesanella Cheese Manufacturers

Disclaimer:
Aside from the fact that these three shops are all objectively fantastic, I feel I ought to declare a sentimental attachment that I’ve just recalled. The meal at Mr T’s and my Australian wedding in 2010 (as opposed to the one we had in the UK) featured an antipasto course that was sourced almost entirely from these three places: a selection of breads from Bourke Street Bakery, prosciutto and salami from Lamia, and bocconcini, pecorino pepato and gorgonzola from Paesanella. Bottled olives, semi dried tomatoes, artichokes, aubergines and red peppers came from the also fantastic Oriental & Continental Foods in Artarmon.

What are your favourite food shops in Marrickville, or your suburb?