Opened in early 2013, Milk the Cow is final word on cheese in Melbourne and can be found toward the quieter end of Fitzroy Street in St Kilda. For those on the wrong side of the river, there is no need to huff and puff; there are plans to open a second site within a fixie’s throw of the northern suburbs in 2014.
Knowing that I love cheese – particularly aged Gouda, which I’ll get to later – a friend of mine introduced me to Milk the Cow. It was love at first sight… With the cheese cabinet, that is. My second visit was all business, so while we indulged in the occasional knowing glance and sigh, our courtship took a back seat during this fact-finding mission.
Laura Lown, Milk the Cow’s cheesemonger (think cheese sommelier, not fishmonger), was my guide to the galaxy on this adventure and here are the REASONS3 we stumbled across.
1. The Wonka Factory of cheese.
2. Great on Sunday afternoon or first date.
3. The unique cheese tasting flights.
Price: Cheese tasting flight – $16 to $35
ONE: The Wonka Factory of cheese.
Milk the Cow’s cheese cabinet is like Willy Wonka’s factory. Hesitate and Willy, I mean Laura, is likely to poke your imagination for some guidance. Do you desire something classic or are you ready to live a little? There is no wrong answer, as the former will get you a creamy and potent Stilton. The latter could get you anything, like a light and fluffy Corsican Fleur du Maquis with an edible juniper and thyme crust.
I tell Laura about an aged Gouda that I sampled while travelling in Belgium many years ago. It had a deep orange hue, was rock hard and punched an intense flavour to every corner of my mouth before the crunchy salt crystals, which were scattered throughout, released a second onslaught. Since returning to Australia, I haven’t been able to anything that even vaguely imitates that brilliance.
Laura has a quiet word to Andrew, her six foot tall and nothing like an Oompa Loompa sidekick, and minutes later he wanders out with a Milk the Cow embossed cheese board. On the board sits a slice of seriously old and salt encrusted raw-milk Reypenaer Gouda (hereby known as ‘The Gouda’). Eureka!
Laura smiles and stirs some of her Geitost – a cheese byproduct that Scandinavians use as a sweetener – into her coffee. Next time I’m going to ask her for a rendition of Pure Imagination.
TWO: Great on a Sunday afternoon or first date.
A lot of thought has gone into the fit out of Milk the Cow. On a warm day, the staff slide all of the glass storefront to the side, which means you can get plenty of fresh air while keeping cool in the shade.
I suggest talking to Andrew on Days Like This, as he takes the opposite approach to Laura. He’ll start with a nice Pinot Gris or Sauvignon Blanc and then crunch the cheese matching numbers. So crank the Van Morrison because Milk the Cow offers the perfect setting for you and a few friends to chew the fat on a lazy Sunday afternoon.
At night, the venue is warmly lit and stays nice and quiet, thanks to the sound deadening properties of the produce that lines the walls. It feels intimate enough to be there on a first date, but not in an intimidating way.
Milk the Cow may contain traces of pretension, which is hard to avoid when the staff are so knowledgeable, but they do their best to cheerfully disarm it, even when an ignorant member of the public does his best to commit a faux pas.
After staring at The Gouda for close to five minutes, under the misapprehension that a cheese knife was nowhere to be found, I buckle. Coming out of my Gouda induced trance, I am mortified to discover Excalibur resting beside my elbow. Laura giggles, dismisses my red-faced apology and comfortingly insists that ‘the French use their hands all the time’.
THREE: The unique cheese tasting flight.
Over the past few years I have rehearsed and refined a monologue prophesying the coming of a new dining experience. Like all good prophets, detail was scant and the promised land plentiful.
Thanks to its cheese ‘tasting flight’, Milk the Cow is first past the post. Priced between $16 and $35, each of the flights – you can choose from wine, beer, spirits, sake, whisky and dessert wine – serves up four small wedges of cheese and four matched nips (10-30ml).
The tasting flight is designed to be a slow burn. Rationed well, each cheese provides three small bites, so use them wisely. Share one with company and, after taking time to savour the smell, texture and flavour of each cheese, you’ll find yourself conversing in adjectives.
Finally, make sure to grab a quick lesson from Laura or Andrew, while working your way through the flight. What did I learn? If Betsy the cow has been munching on summer pastures, your cheese will have an orange colour. Conversely, a diet of winter grazing will produce a whiter cheese.