A second lockdown has hit the hospitality industry hard, but some sectors are doing better than others. Cheesemongers including Anthony Femia of Maker and Monger in Prahran, and Emma Veale of Milk the Cow in St Kilda and Carlton, have noted a significant increase in sales, as locked in customers seek comfort in the warm embrace of soft cheeses and in particular, fondue.
Femia has seen a "massive uptick" in cheese sales. "We are going through over one wheel (36kg) of Comte Reservation a week at the moment, just in retail from our store, and have needed to bring it in via air freight just to keep up."
Veale also noticed a huge spike in orders when lockdown began. "Almost immediately people were looking to get their cheese fix while in isolation," she said.
While all cheeses have been popular, Veale says she has noticed people are looking for food experiences. "Customers are recreating our cheese flights at home and making their own 'quarantini hour' cheese boards for family Zoom calls."
Sales of Milk the Cow's at-home fondue packs are 12 times higher compared to the same period last year. "We usually would be running our Night in the Alps fondue events all winter with gluhwein and live accordionists," says Veale, "so it's a really heartwarming thought that people are recreating that at home."
On the one hand, fondue doesn't seem ideal for a pandemic. The staple of 1970s dinner parties, and a classic winter warmer in Europe's Alpine region, consists of gruyere and emmental cheese (or comte at Maker and Monger), melted down with white wine, spices, a whiff of garlic and a nip of cherry liqueur, kirsch.
The communal dish is eaten with chunks of bread (preferably slightly stale for better fork stability), meats and vegetables dipped into a pot, but Veale says individual oven-heated ramekins with a tea light candle can keep households safe, and if you are sharing, "the rules have always been the same since before Coronavirus – double dipping is not welcome."
But with the city's second lockdown coinciding with the coldest months of the year there also couldn't be a better dish. "Eating a pot of melted cheese for dinner is definitely decadent, comforting, and easy to do at home," says Veale.
This cheese craze has provided a bright spot for the hospitality industry. By starting its own delivery service, Milk the Cow has been able to retain its staff, who are now delivering to metro Melbourne six days a week. Femia has hired three additional staff for his store, some of whom come from Melbourne's top restaurants.
Want to fondue-it-yourself?
Maker and Monger sells heat-and-eat mixes, or can provide all the fixings to make a batch from scratch, including Australian cheeses such as Heidi gruyere and raclette from Tasmania if you want to keep it local. makerandmonger.com.au
Milk the Cow delivers fondue cheese kits containing comte, gruyere and aromats for $90, just add kirsch. milkthecow.com.au