In A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge attributes his karmic apparitions not to any fault of his own but on, amongst other things, “a crumb of cheese”.
Cheese dreams – the perhaps dubious claim that eating cheese before bedtime can give rise to nightmarish visitations – are, depending on who you talk to, either a perilous pastime or one to be entertained ad nauseam. If a crumb of cheese were enough to trigger the events of a Dickensian masterpiece, imagine what great literary works the half-tonne of free cheese on offer at Bon Fromage might occasion.
After launching in the Melbourne suburb of Carlton last year, the three-day festival, a celebration of artisan European cheeses, will stage its sophomore outing next weekend in Sydney at Carriageworks. Free to enter, the festival will be staged with the assistance of the Centre National Interprofessionel de l’Economie Laitière, known colloquially as the French dairy industry, with the support of the European Union. That means all are welcome to sample over half a tonne of cheese at no added expense. There will also be a wine bar, as well as a series of free ticketed masterclasses with demonstrations helmed by some of the city’s most knowledgable purveyors of cheese. Sogna Ocello, proprietor of Formaggi Ocello in Surry Hills, says visitors to her stall at Bon Fromage can expect to sample fantastic cheeses from Italy, France and Switzerland, focusing on cow’s milk European cheese – a specialty of the providore.
“We’ll have a variety of different styles, [including] brie, Italian gorgonzola and some drunken cheeses, and some fantastic nutty Swiss cheeses as well,” Ocello tells GRAZIA. “Cheese is very seasonal so we’ll pick out things that are in the best condition and that the masses are going to like. We’re bringing out our favourites.”
Formaggi Ocello has been in the business of cheese for going on 16 years now, beginning as a stall at growers’ markets throughout Sydney before opening a flagship outlet on Bourke Street nine years ago. Today, they sell over 200 different varieties of cheese, amongst other products. To this day, involvement at the markets – wholesale distribution to restaurants forms another part of their business – remains crucial to their mission of sharing their passion with likeminded cheese lovers. “[After] we started with one cheese 16 years ago at the Entertainment Quarter [markets], we travelled to Europe and discovered these amazing cheeses, and so we started importing cheese about 13 years ago now.” Ocello’s husband Carmelo recently returned fromCheese, a biennial festival that brings together great swathes of European cheesemakers in the Italian town of Bra to compare notes on some of the world’s best cheeses. To her knowledge, an event the scale of Bon Fromage is the closest thing Australians with a love of lactose could hope to encounter this side of Bra.
The support of the European Union, however, means that the festival is staged to the exclusion of Australia’s own world-class cheese producers, including (but not strictly limited to) Holy Goat, purveyor of award-winning goats cheese; Pecora Dairy, a Southern Highlands manufacturer of sheep’s milk cheeses; Berrys Creek, a Gippsland region producer of a variety of blue cheeses; and two brilliant producers of cheddar, Bay of Fire and Pyengana. As such, visitors to the festival will not only be able to try rare, harder to procure European cheeses, but take them home to age gracefully under their own care (that is, should they make it to the fridge unscathed).
As for the festival itself, Ocello recommends keeping an eye out for the opportunity to sample the delights of comté, a hard French cheese aged for up to three years in an effort to underscore its nuttier notes. In that sense, Ocello recommends you think of cheese in the same manner you would wine, especially where those types of hard cheese are concerned. A masterclass at Bon Fromage that will teach attendees how to match their cheese with wine underscores the equivalence.
“The depth of flavour [increases] with age,” says Ocello. “The thing with raw milk and artisan cheeses is that [there is] a depth of flavour that you just can’t get in a supermarket cheese.” Sweet dreams.
BON FROMAGE WILL TAKE PLACE AT CARRIAGEWORKS FROM OCTOBER 13 – 15 AT CARRIAGEWORKS, WITH DOORS OPEN TO THE PUBLIC AT 11AM ON SATURDAY UNTIL 6PM.