Cheese reviews

How does a supermarket camembert stack up against one from your local deli?
 
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01 .Introduction

Lead_cheese

Close to four in 10 CHOICE members are self-professed cheese lovers, while a further four out of 10 like cheese and eat it on a regular basis. Whether you’re a cheese fan or not, with the holiday season looming you’ll no doubt be increasing your intake by nibbling your way through traditional party cheese platters. We invite four experts to guide you through the festive season by tasting your platter favourites – white mould (camembert/brie), cheddar and blue – and giving you the inside story on selecting the best.

Key finding

In our test, the best supermarket cheeses outperformed the deli-specialty cheeses – you just have to know what to look for.

Supermarkets vs. delis

Our online poll of CHOICE members found 67% of those surveyed buy gourmet cheeses from the supermarket. As our experts confirmed, supermarket cheese can range from very good to exceptionally bad. The following should always be taken into consideration when making your cheese selection:

  • Supermarkets demand products with a long shelf life to prevent wastage of stock. As one of our experts, Russell Smith, explains: “Bries, camemberts and washed-rind cheeses are almost always sold well before they are ripe, which means they have very little, if any, flavour.” Buying a prepackaged cheese as close to best-before date increases the likelihood of getting a ripe product.

  • Packaging can hide the cheese, making it hard to judge ripeness and quality, so buying from a supermarket can be a gamble.

  • All cheese deteriorates fairly quickly after it has been cut from the wheel. “The message for consumers is to make sure your cheese has not been sitting around too long after cutting,” says Smith. Make sure you choose a deli or specialty cheese shop with a good turnover.

  • Buying from a deli rather than a supermarket improves your chances of buying cheese cut directly from the wheel, or a piece that has been cut the same day. It may also allow you to try the cheese before buying.

How we test

Four experts taste 24 cheeses across three categories – white mould, cheddar and blue. As most of our members buy their cheese from supermarkets each category includes seven cheeses from supermarkets nationally, as well as a more expensive product available from specialty cheese shops and delis nationally. Cheeses are presented to the experts on plates, with no brand identification. They rate them on a 20-point system similar to that in cheese judging shows – a maximum of 10 for flavour and aroma, six for texture and four for presentation.

Meet the experts

cheese-testers-Russel_SmithRussell Smith is a specialty cheese consultant and educator, a national cheese judge and contributing editor to the Regional Food Australia website. He is also a passionate cheese lover.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cheese-testers-_SusanBSusan Burns is a cheese enthusiast with a passion for cheese judging. Susan has stewarded at the RAS NSW Cheese Show and contributed the cheese chapter for the 2011 Foodies’ Guide to Sydney.

 

 

 

 

cheese-testers_Peter_ComminsPeter Commins is the Senior Audit and Compliance Officer with NSW Food Authority. He is a graduate in dairy technology and has been a dairy product judge for the Sydney Show and Dairy Industry Association of Australia (DIAA ) for 25 years.

 

 

 

 

cheese-testers-Merve-MacdonaldMerv Macdonald is a qualified butter maker and cheese maker. He has worked for the Queensland Research Laboratories for 37 years and has judged dairy produce for the Royal Queensland Show (Ekka), DIAA and regional shows for 25 years.

 
 

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White mould

South Cape Mini Camembert SthCape-Camembert
Price: $3.99 (125g)
Score: 16.625

South Cape Mini Camembert came out on top, with Castello White a close second. Old Telegraph Road Triple Cream, the specialty brand in the category – also the most expensive – came sixth behind the pre-packaged supermarket cheese. However, this was the only triple cream brie in the category. According to one of our experts, Russell Smith, triple creams are difficult to make and in this case the cheesemaker had done a reasonable job. This does highlight that expensive deli cheeses aren’t always better than supermarket products. Having said that, Coles Camembert came dead last with a score well below all the other brands.

Cheddar

Mainland Epicure Cheddar Cheese-MainlandEpicure
Price: $4.92 (200g)
Score: 17.125

Mainland Epicure was the winner here, described by our experts as a “good, strong, robust cheddar”. It’s also one of the cheapest in the category. It did, however, show development of calcium lactate crystals (hard white lumps) on the surface and throughout the cheese, which produced mixed responses from our judges. The crystals result in a slight crunchiness and a sharp flavour. Clover Creek, the specialty cheddar cheese, came a close second, boasting a long, fruity taste. Jindi Vintage Cheddar came last. It claims to be cheddar, but on breaking the wax seal our experts discovered it is, in fact, a club cheddar – an example of incorrect labelling. It was rated as a cheddar though, hence its very poor score.    

Blue cheese

King Island Dairy Roaring 40s Blue Cheese-OTR-SapphireBlue
Price: $11.54 (208g)
Score: 17.25

Old Telegraph Road Sapphire Blue
Price $11.52 (186g)
Score 17.25

The King Island Roaring 40s Blue and the specialty cheese, Old Telegraph Road Sapphire Blue, tied for first place. These are by far the most expensive cheeses in the category − however, the rest scored significantly lower so, when it comes to blue cheese, it seems you get what you pay for. A decent budget option is Aldi’s Emporium Selection Smooth Blue, which came second with a score of 14.625 out of 20. Overall, many of the cheeses we tested in this category lacked blue flavour and had an uneven distribution of blue mould.  

Cheeses compared

Cheese_tablwe

Use the following as a selection guide to help you choose the best cheese to impress guests at your next party. Need some help choosing a wine to team with your cheese? Go to our story on the best drops to find out what our wine experts recommend.

White mould cheese

Characteristics

Brie and camembert are both soft cheeses covered in a white mould. Traditionally, they were made very differently, so their flavours were quite distinct. Today, this difference is less pronounced – sometimes even indistinguishable – and usually determined by the individual cheese maker. Double and triple cream bries and camemberts have a higher fat content than single cream ones and a richer, creamier texture.

Selecting

If you’re buying a white mould cheese from a supermarket, depending on its packaging you may not be able to determine how it looks or smells. In a deli or specialty cheese shop, where you have the opportunity to view and taste the product, you can use the following guidelines to help you make your selection:

  • A white mould cheese should have a velvety white rind and a creamy, glossy, golden interior with no dry edges or overpowering smell of ammonia.
  • The surface mould should not show any signs of breaking down.
  • The centre of the cheese should ooze or bulge when cut.
  • It should have earthy, mushroomy aromas and a full, creamy flavour.
  • Avoid a camembert or brie that has a chalky centre, as this indicates an unripe cheese.

In the case of a prepackaged supermarket cheese:

  • Choose a cheese as close as possible to its best-before date to ensure a fuller flavour.
  • If the cheese is completely obscured by its packaging, give it a gentle squeeze. Buy a product with some elasticity and avoid anything that is rock-hard.

Serving

Serve white mould cheeses at room temperature with a dry, sparkling white, or fortified wine, such as muscat, tokay or port.

Cheddar

Characteristics

Cheddar takes its name from the village of Cheddar in Somerset, England, which devised the process of “cheddaring”, whereby blocks of curds are stacked like bricks, releasing moisture. As cheddar ages, it changes from having a smooth texture to being dry and crumbly with a sharp flavour. The descriptions on the packaging indicate how old the cheese is and, therefore, how developed the flavour will be. Aged or mature cheddar crumbles and has a long, sharp flavour; semi-matured or tasty is slightly moister with a developed flavour. Mild cheddar slices well for use in sandwiches without overpowering the other fillings. Club cheddar is made from selected cheddar cheeses shredded and compacted together to make a block. Quality depends on the types of cheeses used and how well they are combined. A good example of this type of cheese is the Mersey Valley Original Club Cheddar, which, according to our experts, uses quality cheese.

Selecting

Selecting a quality cheddar isn’t as complicated as a white mould cheese. It can come down to personal preference regarding flavour profile.

  • Look for descriptors such as “mild”, “tasty”, “extra tasty” or “vintage” to gauge strength of flavour.
  • Look for a cheddar that is free from dryness or cracks in its surface.
  • The cheddar should have a lingering taste.

Serving

Serve at room temperature with a cabernet sauvignon or shiraz, or try a dry chardonnay.

Blue cheese

Characteristics

Blue vein is one of the smelliest cheeses and well-known for its distinct taste. It ripens from the inside out, unlike white mould cheese, which ripens from the outside in. The blue veins are created by inoculating the cheese with a mould, usually Penicillium roqueforti. During the maturation process, the cheese is pierced with metal spikes to allow oxygen in, promoting growth of the blue veins. Blue cheeses come in different styles, from soft and mildly creamy to firm, crumbly and strong flavoured.

Selecting

As with white mould cheese, packaging can obscure the look and smell of a blue cheese. To ensure it’s ripe for serving, make sure it:

  • has an even distribution of veining from centre to rind
  • is not grey or discoloured
  • is neither dry, nor wet and breaking down

Serving

Serve blue cheese at room temperature with an aromatic white wine such as sauvignon blanc or riesling. If you’re a beer drinker, blue cheese also goes down well with lager.

Did you know?

Milk wars

Unlike the European Union, the UK and most of the US, Australia still bans the home-grown production of unpasteurised or raw milk cheese. At the same time, some types of cheeses made from raw milk are allowed to be imported, leaving Australian cheese makers reeling. There is now an uprising among cheese makers, slow food groups, and foodies for Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) to lift the ban and allow the traditional artisan practice of using raw milk for cheese making. They argue that much of the flavours from milk are destroyed in the heating process. They also highlight that risks associated with cheese made with unpasteurised milk have not resulted in higher rates of food-borne illness in Europe.

FSANZ is currently reviewing the standards for the production and sale of raw milk products in Australia.

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