Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Cheddar Down Under

There it was, in the place I least suspected it, a big block of tasty cheese in Nina's mom's fridge.

Just as Foster's is Australian for beer (or so their adverts tell us; you don't see Foster's anywhere in Australia, mate), tasty is Australian for Cheddar. I have no idea how this name came about, but English friends in Australia joke that tasty is anything but.

I'll give you two reasons why I was surprised to see an unopened hunk of Cheddar in Mrs. Kourea's fridge. First, I had pretty much abandoned my hunt for Cheddar on this trip to Australia. The sun and surf have seduced me off its trail, and on top of that, I was beginning to accept that Cheddar isn't the cheese of Australia, like I had thought it was; feta, halloumi, and ricotta are. As a result, I wasn't looking out much for it anymore. Second, Nina's family is Cypriot. As I opened the fridge in their newly remodeled kitchen in residential Sydney, I wasn't thinking Cheddar. I was just looking for a spot to put the bottle of juice I had taken with me from my flight from Brisbane that morning. If I was thinking cheese at all, it was the Greek cheeses listed above.

What was it doing in her fridge, front and center? I had to ask Mrs. Kourea. She laughed, not at my question, but at my calling her block of tasty big. "You call that big?" You should have seen the kilo package I had at the holidays!" Tasty is no stranger to her Greek fridge.

"Greek cheeses are strong, so tasty is good when you want something else. It's good with fruit, or with marmelade on toast or with whatever. Also, my granddaughter is on a special diet and needs to eat lots of dairy, so we grate it into as many dishes as possible.

"When I make anything savory with cheese, I usually use it, like in quiches. When I make a spinach quiche, I always use Cheddar. And I use it in Greek dishes, too, along with halloumi. I grate a whole lot of it at once and store it in the freezer so it doesn't go moldy."

There were several other cheeses in the fridge, mostly Greek. On a saucer with three cheeses, covered with a paper towel and saran wrap: Bega's Strong and Bitey, a Camembert-style cheese from Tasmania, and halloumi. To me, that's Australia on a plate: the English cheese pointing to its colonial origins; the Greek cheese highlighting the strong culinary influence of its immigrants; and the Camembert showing that most countries think French when they think cheese.

That block of tasty has put me back on track. Well, not completely. I did go to the beach today, at Austinmer on the South Coast of New South Wales, to escape the heat and then had a surfing lesson at Thirroul, two beaches to the south. At least I'm closer to it than I was two weeks ago!

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