Ever since a Melbourne fan was spotted with a cheeseboard at a game at the MCG in 2017, Demons supporters have struggled to shake loose of the stereotype. But why not embrace it? After all, it's the Demons' first grand final in 21 years. We tapped cheesemonger Fiona Macali of The Epicurean at Queen Victoria Market for her tips on building a premiership-worthy cheeseboard. Drawing on 17 years' experience, she shared advice not just for Demons fans but Bulldogs, too, on creating a special platter for the special day.
Think before you shop
There are a few things to ask yourself before you head to the deli or cheesemonger to shop for your cheeseboard supplies.
"Is it pre- or post-meal? Is it a spread with other things or is it the main thing you're eating?" says Fiona Macali. These are the questions she asks all her customers.
She usually serves three or four different cheeses on a cheese plate. There's always a hard, a soft and a blue - what she calls the holy trinity - and then a fourth cheese that's a little more unusual.
As for exactly what cheese to buy, Macali says to trust your instincts.
"You can make it something frou-frou, but at the end of the day it's just cheese. Just buy something that you like."
How much to buy
If the cheese is going to act as your main meal, buy 150-200 grams of each cheese for every person. If it's a snack, go for 50-100 grams per person.
"But you need to know your people. My people like to eat," laughs Macali.
If those are also your people, then heed her advice and never buy less than 200 grams per person.
Four Victorian cheeses for a Victorian Grand Final
The game might be happening on the other side of the country this year, but that's all the more reason to get into the spirit with an all-Victorian cheeseboard. Macali would pick the following Victorian cheeses for her premiership line-up.
Hard: Milawa's David Brown Select Cheddar. This aged cheddar is quite crumbly "but it's not OTT," says Macali. "It'll make people who want that 'twang' happy, as well as people who aren't into that." Milawa's founder David Brown selects the cheese himself, before it goes into the dairy's maturing rooms in the High Country. Serve with caramelised onion, chutney or a fruit paste.
Soft: L'Artisan's Le Rouge washed rind. Don't be put off by what Macali calls the old sock smell. "It seems challenging but it's not." Cut inside to find an oozy, creamy cheese with a lovely, subtle flavour that reflects the Great Ocean Road dairy farm where milk is sourced.
Blue: Berrys Creek Riverine Blue. This mid-strength blue is firm to cut but extremely silky on the palate, says Macali. Made with only buffalo milk, it's a rarity for Victoria, where there are only two herds of buffalo. Eat it with super thin slices of sweet apple like Royal Gala or Pink Lady. Want to experiment? Try it with torn up chocolate brioche.
Unusual: Milawa Chevre (plain or ashed). "A lot of people add this to their cooking or to salads, but it's stunning on a cheese board," Macali says. The ash is a traditional method to preserve cheese but she reckons it also adds a little flavour. Plus it's visually striking.
What cheeses go with beer?
Chances are you and your viewing buddies might be cracking a few cold ones on Grand Final Day. Just like cheese and wine, there are different styles of beer that go best with particular varieties of cheese.
What cheese to eat with:
- Stout: Alpine-style cheeses such as comte, emmental and gruyere, which are usually firm and have a nutty taste
- Dark ale: washed rind cheeses like taleggio, vacherin or epoisses. These would also work with a stout.
- Amber ale: gouda
- Dutch or Belgian-style beers: Alpine-style cheeses
What cheeses go with sparkling wine?
Comte, brie or camembert-style cheeses are Macali's picks for those drinking bubbles (or chardonnay) on game day. Remember to bring the soft cheeses to room temperature to taste their full flavour.
Cheese works as well as anything with beer. Photo: Supplied
The best cheese to buy in spring
Spring is all about fresh cheeses, according to Macali. Get into mozzarellas, curds like sheep's or goat's, ricotta and chevre. Surface-ripened cheeses, such as brie, are another great bet for spring. Macali loves Milawa goat camembert, another Victorian option. "Some people think goat [cheese] is very strong but this is quite a clean flavour and quite light."
Cheese for Demons fans
Want to splash out? Macali has two very special cheeses she likes to serve for a big occasion.
For a semi-hard, she can't go past Beemster Royal Grand Cru, a 12-month Dutch gouda that works well on its own, with fresh fruit or on a cracker. "It works at any time of day."
Her special occasion soft cheese is Cremeux D'Argental, a proper French brie. Made by the same producers as Pave D'Affinois, this is just as lush in texture but has a lot more flavour and personality.
Give it a Bulldogs twist
Hot chips and hot cheese? Stay with us. Baked cheese is a springtime favourite for many European cultures, but you can make it Grand Final appropriate. Traditionally, soft cheeses are baked with a little bit of wine plus herbs or garlic cloves. When it comes out of the oven all gooey, it's ready for fresh bread or grissini to be dipped in.
Macali says you can make it footy-appropriate by swapping the bread for hot chips. "If it's a formal occasion, make it formal. But this is a fun occasion."
How to do it:
- Remove cheese from packaging and place it a ramekin.
- Score the top with a knife, add a bit of white wine or Champagne and, if you like, some herbs (like thyme).
- Bake at 150C-180C for 15 mins while you watch a quarter of the game.
- When it's ready, serve it with hot chips (or bread) to dip straight into the cheese.
Choosing accompaniments for your cheese
Having things that aren't cheese on your board is definitely a good idea, but they must enhance the cheese, not detract from it. Our expert's advice is to go for flavours or textures that will make your cheese shine.
Nuts are best if they're unsalted, so they don't overpower the cheese. Get high quality nuts and make sure they're fresh, not bags that have been sitting on the shelf for months. Stick to one or two kinds: almonds and walnuts are safe choices.
Dried and fresh fruit bring different things to a cheese board. If you choose dried, buy whole pieces of apples, apricots and pear, not things that have been chopped into tiny pieces. Pear goes with everything, according to Macali.
Crackers can be as plain or interesting as you want. "I usually have three different types of crackers on my board and I always have a bread stick," Macali says. Each cracker should add something different to the cheese.
If you're doing antipasto and charcuterie on the same board, put these in their own bowls or ramekins because they're oily. "I've even seen people use ornate old teacups, which is really pretty."
You're officially ready to cheeseboard with the best of them on Saturday 25 September.