Australian Whisky is quickly developing a reputation amongst the best in the world, in no small part because the lack of any traditional whisky making practices has freed up new distilleries to employ their own intuition in creating boundary-breaking whiskies. We went to Melbourne and spoke to brand ambassador Paul Slater of Starward distillery. We believe Starward are amongst the pioneering distilleries in establishing Australia’s reputation for brilliant whisky, having created groundbreaking whiskies, at the heart of which are local ingredients and our Australian climate, itself about as far from the conditions relied upon to age Scotch, as can be.
Starward began production in 2009, and their first product Solera hit the market in 2013. "In hindsight it’s great to look back, but it was hard in the early days,” says Paul, "we buckled down making a lot of whisky, and tried not to get distracted in white spirits and things like that.”
Following Solera, Starward released their Wine Cask release in 2015, and in 2016 they outgrew their original site in Essendon Fields and moved to their current site in Port Melbourne.
Starward distillery produce spirits under two brands. Amongst the two staples which make up the Starward label: Solera and Wine Cask. Single releases are produced under the New World Spirits label, including single barrel releases, a white whisky, and a gin.
“Ninety percent of our output is under the Starward banner,” said Paul, "last time I checked, we’re near five thousand barrels."
Starward’s initial Solera release is aged in charred Australian apera (previously called sherry) barrels. It takes it’s name from Starward’s solera system, a system modelled after sherry and port systems which are blended amongst ages and vintages to ensure consistency. For Starward, this is implemented by way of a five thousand litre tank between the barrelling and bottling of their whisky. The modern solera system ensures consistency in all bottles of Starward, and also means that every apera barrel used in the production of Solera is present in some form, in every bottle produced.
“We take a small amount out of each barrel, do a mini blend to get the right combination of barrels, and we get it pretty consistent. Consistency is a big thing for us.” Said Paul.
"From the early days, we’ve learned how to get the same result using different barrels. Filling to different capacities and for different amount of times can give a similar flavour profile. There’s no formula or spreadsheet, it’s just using your nose."
Starward’s second expression, Wine Cask, takes advantage of the distillery’s proximity to great Australian wine in Victoria and South Australia. Paul said that the Wine Cask expression was originally based on “Barossa shiraz, as the archetypal Australian wine,” but over time they have been able to branch out and grow their inventory.
“If it smells good, the whisky should take on that character. As we add more different barrels, the more colours we have for the whisky.” Paul said.
Whiskey in Melbourne
The conditions under which Starward Whisky ages could not be more different from the Scottish whiskies it competes against. Harsher, hotter and less predictable Australian climates contribute to more batch variation and a higher rate of evaporation called ‘angel’s share’. They do not consider this a disadvantage, however, as the more complex conditions enable their whisky to be aged quickly and to a great deal of complexity.
In order to further take advantage of their shorter ageing time, Starward’s whiskies are watered down to 55% ABV before going into barrels, considerably lower than the Scottish standard of 63.5%. Since the vast majority of spirits are further watered down to between 40% and 50% ABV before bottling, the resultant Starward spirit has had much more barrel contact than its Scottish counterpart.
“There are a lot of water soluble sugars in oak, and the lower ABV across a short maturation time means more sweet stuff out.” Said Paul, “A higher barrel entry would be a whole lot cheaper to mature, but this yields a better result for us.”
Starward are able to further distinguish their product by taking advantage of a great deal of Australian provenance. Locally sourced Barley is malted off-site and local rainwater runs as mains throughout the distillery.
While each of Starward’s expressions have had their share of international acclaim, Paul says it’s also important to them that their product can remain a product for the Australian population. This includes striving for consistency amongst their products so that, “someone can try a bottle now and then in two years pick it up from a bottle shop and get the same product they remember enjoying.” and this ethos also continues into their pricing, which has remained stable and accessible throughout their production. "We want to make whisky people won’t be shy about drinking.” said Paul.
It’s no secret we’re pretty big on cheese here. But from the outside, it all looks pretty complicated. We wanted to know what makes Stilton different from Roquefort, what makes brie so soft and blue so, well, blue. So we spoke to Geoff, the owner and operator of Little Cheese Shop in Bayswater, to talk about how cheese is made and how it all gets so different along the way.
Age and Culture
All cheese essentially sits somewhere on a continuum of its ageing: Cheeses like bocconcini, creme fraiche and buffalo mozzarella are known as fresh cheeses, and can only be up to a couple of days old. Bries and camemberts are known as surface ripened, the exterior having grown a mold coating over around three weeks of ageing. Hard and semi-hard cheeses like cheddar, gouda, parmesan, comte and gruyere are the product of anywhere from between two and eight months for semi-hard, and between six months and two years for hard cheeses.
Some cheeses along this spectrum are specially treated to create different styles, including washed rind cheeses and blues. "Washed rind cheese, is washed in brine or an alcoholic solution like beer, wine, cognac or fruit essences.” Geoff said, "With blue they add a blue culture to the milk. The curd is split, the cheese is folded into hoops like a mature feta, they wash that cheese, and around four weeks into that process they pierce the cheese with rods, and all of the dormant blue cultures, the penicillins, are exposed. The blue strains react to the air, moisture and humidity, and the blue starts forming at that point.”
Ageing hard cheeses is an art in its own right. The practice known as affinage uses specifically controlled climate or specially picked caves and cellars, ageing cheese to a required standard. Notably, cheese maker Rolf Beeler does not make his own cheese, but works as Affiner for young cheeses.
"A lot of artisan cheese makers will feel how it’s ripening. When I went to Stone and Crow cheese company we had six cheeses all from the same day, we put a cheese corer into each one and nearly all of them were different. Some had a really dry crust, some weren’t mature enough yet, one was a different flavour profile, they just needed to be balanced differently from there."
"Jack from Stone and Crow doesn’t just go ‘okay that’s nine months, out to the market,’ he’ll put them out when they’re ready.”
Milk and Livestock
Most cheese is made using either Cow, sheep or goat milk. Each milk type lends different qualities to the cheese, with goats cheese on the creamier, funkier end, and cows milk being generally conventional. Within cow’s cheeses, each cow species lends different butter fats, ph levels, protein and milk solids levels, leading to certain cheeses.
"Some cheeses, like cheddar, normally use only dairy or jersey cows. Comte is normally made using montbelairde and simmental cows.” said Geoff, “A lot also comes down to what the stock is fed, In Europe the new milk is very intense because they feed their stock such green grass.”
Food availability creates a harvest cycle of sorts. In Europe and many esteemed Australian dairies, cheese is made using spring milk, which is more lively and floral from the wide availability of green grass. Historically, hard cheeses are designed to be ready during the winter months when food becomes less available and creates a dip in milk production and quality.
Local Cheese Makers
"I think Australia is building a brand. The regions, like wine, are establishing themselves and their name. Along with all of the nuances of that region. During WA cheese week we aimed to expose people to what WA was doing from a cheese point of view.”
Geoff proudly represents a mix of local and international cheeses in the fridge at Little Cheese Shop. Local cheese makers Cambray Cheese, Yallingup Cheese Co. and Kytren Dairy are all well represented, and amongst them interstaters including Woodside Cheese and Stone and Crow.
"I keep it balanced between local and international.” said Geoff, "The cheese represents what the environment is doing. In winter you might prefer a curry or stroganoff over a light salad, and there’s more people wanting those big hearty, earthy robust flavour profiles in their cheese."
"It’s all about what you like, there are avid devotees to lots of different foods. Customers are often surprised that we have such a great range for such a small fridge. They’re often surprised too by how much local produce we stock. We like having those conversations and providing our knowledge as to why we’ve sourced those particular cheeses.”
On both a local and international level, Geoff is keen to stock cheeses which represent quality and craftsmanship, It’s about the belief in what they’re trying to create. It’s not just about putting it out.” he said, "There’s a process, how they manage their milking, what steps they do by hand from milking to ladling to packaging."
"True normandy has to be hand ladled in small barrels. Some camemberts are still put into wooden boxes by hand.”
What’s with all the names? And what should I get?
Many cheeses which seem very similar may have different names, and a large part of what separates a parmesan from a parmigiano reggiano are legally protected names which must hit certain qualifications of process, geography and result. In the case of parmigiano reggiano, the cheese must be from one of five Italian provinces, and must follow a specific set of quality criteria before it is aged. Outside of the European Union, the name parmesan can be used to describe any cheese made in the style of parmigiano reggiano.
So what cheeses should you put on your cheeseboard? The simplest answer is to pick one from each of the three largest categories: One soft cheese, one hard cheese, and one blue.
"Look at what you’ve enjoyed before and the brands producing those cheeses.” said Geoff, "Everyone’s different, but it’s great to push the envelope. You may have a really nice fortified wine at home, and try a blue cheese even if they’re not usually your pick. Or if you always have cheddar, we can look at changing that.”
Looking at your favourite producers may help too. If you really enjoy, say the Yallingup Cheese Co. St Julian, you may come to love their Ashed Brie. The ingredients may not be exactly the same, but each will be made along a similar cheese making ethos.
In short, there’s room on your cheeseboard for experimentation, and trying out a washed rind brie or a rubbed goats cheese doesn’t mean you can’t also have your go-to cheddar.
Little Cheese Shop also hold regular events which show just how beautifully cheese can pair with spirits, beers and wines. Their events can become a great starting point for ideas to build your cheese board upon.
Visit Geoff and Little Cheese Shop at 89C Whatley Cres, Bayswater WA 6053 from Tuesday-Sunday, or stay up to date with them on their Facebook.
Australian craft beer is a wild and seemingly impenetrable world of new styles and breweries. The recent surge of craft beer in cans has led to lower packaging and transportation costs, meaning better and more widely available beer at your local bottle shop, but some beer is so special, so small batch, or from such a young brewery that it might not make it to packages at all. From special keg-only releases to great prices on your favourite brews, we spoke to Elliot Moore of Mane Liqour about how growlers can open up a new and exciting side of craft beer.
Growlers, much like craft beer, can be daunting at first glance. They require an initial outlay for the purchase of the growler, the unit size is significantly larger than a standard bottle of beer, and the alcohol percentages and price points of many tap offerings can feel prohibitive. But it’s exactly the things which make growlers impractical for day-to-day drinking which make it exciting for special occasions. Many growler fills are of keg-only beers, which you may never get to try again, and make a great alternative to a bottle of wine at parties.
So What are Growlers?
Growlers are reusable beer bottles which can be brought to certain bottle shops and breweries to be topped up with draught beer. Most come in 2 litre sizes alongside 1 litre ‘Squealers’, and should be finished the night they are opened. How long a growler lasts in the fridge is dependent on where it’s being filled: Many bottle shops now purge their bottles with carbon dioxide, allowing the beer to last up to several months, however from breweries and bars which simply fill straight from their taps, the growler should be consumed within a few days.
Growlers at Mane Liqour
Mane Liquor were the first bottle shop to start a growler station in a retail space. Elliot recalls a trip to New Zealand for the Beervana beer festival as the genesis of Mane Liqour’s growler station back in 2011, when he and co-owner Josh saw local bottle shops filling up plastic bottles with beer off tap. "We asked why they did it and they said that a lot of smaller breweries were producing beer which was keg only. It made sense since it can get very expensive to package your smaller runs as a brewer. They wanted to do a different brew every couple of weeks, and keeping it in kegs is even more profitable.
“It really impressed us, we were trying to get into that game as well. We'd wanted more unique stuff in our shop and thought that would be a great way to do it. We went back to Perth, approached racing and gaming, because nobody was doing growlers back then, and explained the concept. Racing and Gaming said that as long as the department of health agrees, we’ll let you do it. Which surprised us. We were expecting it to be more difficult.”
Mane Liqour’s initial growler station filled 740ml plastic bottles, starting with two taps of Feral’s brewpub exclusives. “People seemed to love it. We quickly decided that we needed a more professional system, and upgraded to our current system.” Says Elliot.
Now, six years later, they run six taps and fill one and two litre glass bottles, which can be bought in store, or brought from other breweries throughout Australia and the world.
"The idea is to bring beer to people which is usually unavailable anywhere else. Blasta is a brand new brewery, when he hadn’t even finished his brewery yet and was making beer out in different people’s breweries while his came online, the only way to get his beer was to go to a few different pubs. Our system let people check out his beer, buy it, and take it home."
Filling your Growler
Elliot says one of the great advantages for Growlers is that you can try before you buy, which is especially helpful for esoteric beers and special releases which can become polarising or expensive. Knowing that you’re going to love a beer before committing to an unconventional sour, or a $40 per litre barleywine is a great way to open up craft beer and make new styles and breweries less daunting.
Mane Liqour list their current beers and prices on Facebook and Untappd. They also keep a consistent range of styles across their taps: "We’ve broken up our taps to different styles, tap 1 and 2 are more approachable, easy going styles. Things like Nail MVP, Northbridge Brewing Co., affordable, really easy drinking. 3 and 4 are usually a step up, more aggressive IPAs or really cool saisons and brown ales. Tap 5 is always sour, and tap 6 is always something big, a big barley wine, a huge stout or porter. We’re trying to give every drinker something to choose from."
Visit Mane Liquor at 237 Great Eastern Hwy, and check our their tap list on Facebook.
South by South West
The spark which grew to become South by South West came during a post vintage road trip between Napa Valley and Lake Tahoe. Liv and Mij had decided to get "on-the-ground experience to learn about unusual varietals and different practices in wineries all over the world,” culminating in a trip around America, Canada and Italy to see and partake in each region’s style of winemaking.
"We had a loose plan to learn about the lifestyle of wine while we were doing vintages overseas, with the aim of being able to come home to Australia and begin our own label. With a lot of hard work, we've been able to make it happen.”
Liv and Mij
Liv and Mij are, respectively, a chemical engineer and graphic designer. Bringing their unique skills to their wine label, Liv’s background compliments winemaking, and Mij is involved with viticulture and designs the visuals of their brand.
"One of our differences is that by having jobs outside winemaking, it ensures that we can avoid shortcuts. We make what we want and how we want to make it, without compromise."
The two are friendly, charming, unpretentious and fun: A perfect embodiment of their wines.
South by South West wines are clean, crisp and friendly. They are not afraid to break rules when they need to, but don’t deny the regions from which they source their fruit.
"South by South West is all about making intentional wines which are unique to each vintage.” Mij told us, "We place emphasis on showcasing the region that the grapes are grown and what was specific about the vintage they were grown. We use minimal intervention practices and strive for maximum flavour and textural profiles that are balanced and made for enjoyment."
At this Grape To Glass we tried four wines from their Regional Classics range and a Petit Verdot from their One Tonne Projects range.
We started the night with a beautiful Sauvignon Blanc which blended four diverse subregions, moving on to a clean and fresh Chardonnay. Onto their reds, we tried a cooler-climate franklin river Syrah which Liv and Mij call a beautiful “proscuitto wine” and a Malbec Cabernet which riffed on the popular cabernet merlot blend, adding their own touch for a smooth and great drinking wine.
In Grape to Glass tradition, we finished with a surprise wine: The 2016 Greenhorn Petit Verdot. We personally couldn’t get enough of this strong, spicy wine Mij and Liv call the “big boy” of their collection. The Petit Verdot, amongst their other One Tonne Projects, comes from a single tonne of great fruit. The name Greenhorn comes as a reference to this project as their first time making 100% Petit Verdot, alongside a reference to their vintage in California travelling through the Greenhorn mountain ranges.
For this event we trekked down to the courtyard of North Fremantle’s Percy Flint, a beautiful dimly lit space warmed by great wine and company.
For a bit of a change from the usual format, this event was completely seated, with nibbles coming and going between tables throughout the night.
Lisa Richards started Knutsford Gourmet with a simple mission statement: To introduce new flavours to the cheeseboards of Perth. While Perth’s access to quality cheese has steadily increased, she noticed that people were more inclined to fill a plain cracker with spreads, fruits and nuts, than to look at upgrading the cracker itself. We spoke to Lisa about how she started making gourmet crackers, and her experiences as likely Perth’s only gourmet handmade cracker producer.
"I wanted to encourage people to eat a different flavoured biscuit with their cheese instead of a plain cracker or cheese on it’s own. People would add paste and fruit to a plain cracker, so why not have a flavoured cracker?”
Lisa began making biscuits when one morning, stocking up at The Grand Fromage at Kyilla Farmers Market, she noticed she couldn't get everything she needed to entertain guests that night, "I told him he should sell biscuits and accompaniments,” She suggested that she could make these biscuits herself, and showed up to the next market with her first batch, baked in her home oven, "He loved them, and became my first stockist.”
Starting with a Walnut and Honey Lavosh based on a recipe she learned as an apprentice chef, Lisa began expanding her offerings and building her brand.
"I think it helps having been a chef for 17 years. It helps to know your flavours. For example I don’t use raw fennel seeds, I toast them first which gives a more nutty, wholesome flavour. I have different styles of biscuit as base styles, and then any flavour can go on it, It’s all about experience and experimentation.
Her products now include graham crackers, lavosh, multi-seed crackers, shortbread and biscotti, each with suggested cheese pairings on their packaging.
"Just like any food, a chef puts together a plate with flavours which all compliment each other. I’ve designed styles of biscuits which will compliment your style of cheese."
Each package contains just enough produce for an average cheeseboard without any waste, the crackers have a good shelf-life of 5-8 weeks depending on the product, even despite being handmade with no preservatives.
As her brand expands, Lisa has moved from her home oven to a commercial kitchen, with yet another move in the works. She plans to expand her range and distribution without neglecting the quality and bespoke nature of her produce.
“My home oven made everything up until about three months ago. It was on morning, noon and night. I would drop the kids to school, roll, bake, then pick them up with trays ready for the oven. I’d put them to bed and start again from seven to around midnight, then start again."
"Once I’ve got the new space I’m looking for I can get the product to a lot more people. I also want to start touching on the Eastern states.”
The success and positive reactions Knutsford Gourmet has earned have shown Perth’s trending interest towards more complex and nuanced food, "People don’t spend money going out to clubs so much any more, they spend money on food, something you can remember and talk about for the rest of your life.” said Lisa.
In closing, we asked Lisa how she sets up a cheeseboard at home. "I always have a lavosh, something long, then a stack, some nuts, olives and fresh fruit on your plate,” she said, "I like some sweet and some savoury, Three cheeses and the biscuits which best suit."
Order Knutsford Gourmet and find their stockists on their website.
Perth sometimes gets a reputation as a sleepy city, and we think we’ve found the reason: Great coffee becomes increasingly difficult to find in the late afternoon. While Perth had no shortage of incredible brews, many of our favourite stores shut before 4pm, leaving us coffee lovers who aren’t morning people stuck with a homemade or lacklustre fix.
We’ve searched Perth and found four spots serving up the goods well into the evening. And so whether it’s to steel ourselves for a late night of festivities, recover from a long day’s work, or just because coffee is fantastic, we head to:
The newest addition to our list is a collaborative space between Big El’s Latin American Fusion restaurant and The WKND, a specialty coffee space which is fast becoming one of our absolute favourites. When does Big El’s become The WKND and vice versa? We have no idea, but we don’t really mind because they serve great coffee all the way through.
After coffee try: Pulled Pork Mango Tacos
This quirky cafe filled with art and vintage furniture transforms into a bar and restaurants as the night goes on, but never turns off the coffee machine. Be sure to check out their art space upstairs and keep up to date with their regular live art and music nights.
After coffee try: a pork burger and a beer, or if you’re really raring to go skip straight on to an espresso martini.
In the beautiful state buildings, Petition Kitchen dim the lights and take on a slightly more formal vibe in the evenings, but they’re always happy to make lovely coffee. Stay for delicious food and fresh oysters after your coffee has perked up a bit, and be sure to check out their wonderful neighbours.
After coffee try: A couple share plates before a trip through to their wonderful neighbouring wine bar or beer corner.
The converted Gordon Street Garage now serves as a beautiful cafe/restaurant as well as home base for the mano a mano coffee roastery. While you won’t be able to peek at any coffee roasting (which often starts at 4am), you’ll still find fresh coffee served all throughout the night.
After coffee try: BBQ Salmon and a WA white wine.
Got a favourite evening coffee spot? Let us know in the comments!
As part of our ongoing series on the art of grazing we spoke to Tiffany of Tiffany Keal Creative Studio. Tiffany specialises in event styling and elegant and beautiful grazing tables. We caught up to discuss her favourite food board additions.
Could you introduce yourself and your creative studio
I’m Tiffany Keal, Creative Director of TKCS. I started my creative journey by intensive studies at WAPPA of set & costume design, followed by the move to Melbourne where I undertook a course in Visual Merchandising and Event styling. I embraced the knowledge from both courses and when back in Perth I started my own business specialising in Creative Direction and Styling. Grazing is our business and our passion, I have always been passionate about food and it seemed a natural progression to align both food and my styling to produce grazing feasts not only for the eye yet also for the palette.
When you set up a grazing station what are the things which people immediately jump on? What are your essentials?
People are always drawn to the beautiful soft cheeses. Depending on the visual scape we vary our parings to enable us to use seasonal produce. Dripping honeycomb and candied walnuts are a crowd pleaser.
What are your favourite inclusions and what are the sleeper hits which people might not think of but which go down a treat?
This often changes due to seasonal favourites. Often suppliers will let us know when they have something new and unusual, as we're always up for experimenting.
Our focus is to hero the cheese, artisan meats, and seasonal fruit: always including glazed pears and fresh honeycomb. Our go to for honeycomb are Perth local bee gurus The Furious Bee.
You’re at home on a Friday night and just want to throw a few things on a board, what do you go to?
Manchego, Sicilian green olives, Halloumi with caramelised dates, Duck & orange pate from Poach Pear. And of course our candied walnut
Does your work with the studio extend to what you eat at home, or are you more inclined to just throw a few things on the board?
It comes naturally in everything I do. I can’t help myself, it must be styled! Yet always with a more relaxed approach at home.
What are the simplest things which step up your experience? Which are the most overlooked?
We always use the finest produce, aesthetically we want to create visual magic. More importantly it must taste as good (if not better) than it looks!
For us its about having a less is more approach: It's better to have produce that everyone is swooning over.
Check out more of Tiffany's work on her website and follow more pictures of beautiful events and grazing tables on her Facebook and Instagram.
No Mafia has established itself as a treat for wine lovers and a highlight among the William Street strip. Owned and Operated by Emma Ferguson and her partner, Dan Morris, No Mafia remains relevant and exciting in Perth’s wine scene for their ability not only to source amazing local wines, but also to play their own hand in creating new wines. We spoke to Emma about how No Mafia supplement their wine list with collaborations with talented local winemakers.
An Italian Approach
Emma was travelling around Sicily with her partner and Co-owner Dan, and the couple were struck by the correlation between Sicilian and Western Australian cultures. They both loved the seaside, had similar climates, and produced outstanding wine.
“We noticed you’d go to a restaurant and they’d have their favourite Etna rosso, and it would be at a really good price point,” Emma said. And when they came back to Perth to start No Mafia, they wanted their own house wine to be similarly delicious, while keeping a great price.
"We decided that the focus on our house wines would also be natural wines, always organic, hand picked, no additives, and always local. We've got a lot of friends in the industry who make wine, and do a little bit of winemaking ourselves.”
The great quality of No Mafia’s house wines come from collaboration with local winemakers, including Dormilona’s Josephine Perry, Blind Corner’s Ben Gould and Paul Nelson. The house wines sit beside other more premium collaborations, which have included Stormy Q, their collaboration wine with Josephine Perry, and an upcoming collaborative nero d'avola, zibibbio blend with Brendan and Laura of Unico Zelo.
"It's quite easy because these are friends of ours. We go down to the regions a lot, I’m a surfer so I'm always in Margaret River. When I'm down there, probably about once a month, we'll just say, 'hey are we doing a wine?'"
"Even with Unico Zelo, it was just a 'hey we should do a wine,' ‘awesome’. If it works for them, great, if it doesn't we won't push it.”
House Wines in Perth
We asked Emma if their high quality house wines challenged perceptions of house wines in Perth as low quality. While she agreed, she also noted that, now in their fourth year, No Mafia has established their house wine as both well-priced and delicious.
“People are actually coming in and ordering a bottle of our house wine, knowing that they love it. If they want to spoil themselves, they're more than welcome to. We've got wines at all sorts of price points. But if it's a tuesday night and they don't want to break the bank, they can come in and order a glass, knowing they’re getting something organic, vegan and made locally."
Emma and Dan always take some part in each of their collaborative wines: This year their house wines were made by Ryan O’Meara of Express Winemakers, and Emma had the pleasure of helping blend their semillon based house white, and stomped on the grapes of their shiraz house red.
"Kind of like it in in southern Italy. In Tuscany you have chianti, if Sicily you hve nero d'avola. It was important to us that we keep it local. Were always really proud of our house wines. It's not something that we're trying to sneak away from.” Emma said.
"We always have a little story to tell, and a bit of heart and soul in our wines.”
Charcuterie can feel a bit like meat plus alchemy. Originally made to preserve meat before the invention of refrigeration, good charcuterie is a great upgrade for your basic cheese platter. We spoke to Adam Bielawski who makes, sells and distributes charcuterie of all types for his companies Poach Pear, and The Black Pig Deli & Co. Adam helped us break down what makes charcuterie great, and how to tell you’re getting the best charcuterie you can find.
Adam says while they don’t tend to categorise much, what separates one piece of charcuterie from another is all in the process. The foremost distinction comes from whether a piece of charcuterie is based on ground meat or a whole piece of meat which has gone through a curing process.
Ground charcuterie goes through a mincing process before being cooked, cured, or both. The end result is determined by how fine the meat is ground, with terrine and salami on the coarse end of the spectrum, and mortadella and pâté at the finest end.
Ground charcuterie, also called Forcemeats, can be further broken down into cooked and cured meats. Mortadella retains its bright colour and shape from cooking in either water or smoke, whereas salami gets deep in colour and a little rough around the edges from being fermented and then air-dried until it loses a predetermined amount of moisture.
The other side charcuterie is cured whole pieces of meat. This includes prosciutto, jamon iberico and serrano. These meats are usually whole portions of a butchered pig which are salted and spiced before being air-dried for between six and twelve months. Much like with mortadella, similar cuts of meat can be smoked or cooked to create a familiar deli-style ham.
Levelling Up Your Charcuterie
Among his own salami and prosciutto Adam focusses on a less common level of charcuterie, making terrine, pâté and rillette for their Poach Pear brand. "They're all charcuterie which is made relatively quickly and are to be eaten within a month. It's not a long term process, whereas salamis and hams take months to prepare, and are made to last a long time.” Adam said.
At the Black Pig Deli & Co. Adam makes seasonal terrines, which are sliced fresh for the customer. "Terrine is named after the cooking vessel, which is similar to a bread pan. The meat which goes in is similar to a sausage.” he said, "Terrine comes from the farm. It uses everything, and whatever herbs and vegetables you have growing. It's really thrifty: I'll get a local pig and make that into three or four different products, then make terrine out of the trim, or the excess leftover meat. We also use local duck and heritage chicken, as well as lamb."
Pâté is a spreadable paste made of liver which is blended and then set in a jar with gel or clarified butter. Adam prepares Pâté using chicken and duck, with various different seasonings.
Rillette, one of the lesser known charcuteries, is slow cooked pork shoulder or neck, usually cooked in it's own stock with vegetables and herbs for six or seven hours and then shredded set in a jar back in with it's stock. Rillette is similar to confit, and employs a confit cooking process, but the charcuterie itself is defined by the meat being shredded before being set back in with the stock.
Where to Buy
We can’t recommend The Black Pig Deli & Co. in Inglewood enough. But if you’re scoping out your local, there are plenty of signals to look out for which can tell you whether they’re putting out great products. Adam says the quickest and best way to find out about a deli’s produce is to speak to the person behind the counter.
"We're a small family business, so it really matters to us that we source the best quality product, and that the customer trusts us that our choice is right. We get that trust and respect. When I'm slicing I can tell people where most of our stuff comes from. I can tell them that this is comes from a certain butcher, or that I've made it, but that I've selected from this particular butcher.” said Adam.
Good deli owners will only purchase charcuterie from butchers they are proud to support, and will often develop a personal relationship with those butchers and farmers along the way.
“There’s really no comparison between the role of small butcher or someone doing small batch charcuterie versus a supermarket.” Adam said, "The stuff made in-house in supermarkets is made for the masses, it's got to be the same flavour every single time, and has to be made exactly the same way. A small butcher can adjust the flavour, the salt content, they can treat each animal individually and taste, rather than recipe, dictates their process."
"A large scale supermarket may use caged meat or just one variety of animal, and often not the best quality. They don't have any personal relationship with that animal, it just comes in and gets pressed or made into that piece of meat. Whereas a small place will likely know the farmer and will build relationships. We have a really good relationship with Linley Valley Pork. We’ve seen and understand their process from start to finish. You have a sense of pride when you're working with something you've seen first hand."
Finding Quality Charcuterie
You can get a lot of information about a piece of charcuterie just from looking at the fridge. Adam notes to look for a small selection of whole pieces, ready to slice for order. Colour and size variations are actually an indicator of high quality, bespoke meats, as a perfectly shaped ham leg indicates that the product has been set in a mould.
A good deli will also have determined the best way to slice each meat which comes into their fridge. While Adam says he is happy to cut to a customer’s taste, he is also happy to make suggestions.
"I like to slice based on what the customer wants, but I do like certain ways of cutting certain meats.” Adam said, "A salami is better off a little bit thicker than say a slice of proscuitto or jamon, which will just melt in your mouth if sliced thin enough.”
Adam’s Picks for a Simple Cheese & Charcuterie Board
While charcuterie can get nerdy and complex, Adam recommends a simple, easy cheese and charcuterie board: two or three cheeses and two or three meats. He recommends mixing it up, so you don't oversaturate with any one sort.
"I always recommend a pate or rillette, I try to incorporate a Poach Pear product, they're basically designed to go with any cheese board. I would always recommend a solid meat, so like a ham, proscuitto or jamon, a salami of some description, and something a little different."
When all of your types of meat are covered, Adam recommends balancing out your board with a range of flavours: Even if you're a fiend for spice, it's great to have one middle-of-the-road meat to give your palate a different flavour. The same can go for thickness. Finally, Adam recommends using the cheese and charcuterie board as a space to experiment with something new. You can, and should, get your favourites. But there's room on the board for one meat which you haven't heard of, and which might become your newest obsession.
"There's always something people recognise, but we also change the cabinet quite frequently. I always have about half a dozen things in the cabinet which are a little bit different, which most people haven't tried before."
Mash Brewing is a gem amongst West Australian breweries for their ability to put out approachable, easy-drinking beers amongst complex and exciting seasonals all from a brewery small enough to be tucked behind the bar of their Swan Valley brewpub. Today marks the release of Sarcasm, their annually brewed and oxymoronically labelled Session Imperial India Pale Ale. At once both easy-drinking and intensely alcoholic, the 9.5% beer is a bitter, boozy, citrusy and piney two-batch release. We spoke to Mash’s new head brewer, Damien Bussemaker about the challenges involved in the latest iteration of Sarcasm Session IIPA.
Coming from a brewing position as Elmar’s, Damien joined Mash as Head Brewer just four months ago, and relishes the chance to work with a new range of styles. “It’s very different from Elmar’s here.” Says Damien, "Down there everything is brewed to German Purity Law, and it’s restricted to German styles. It was a good opportunity to nail all of those styles, but Mash is great because nothing is off limits, and you can use way more hops.”
The German Purity Law refers to a real law passed in Germany in the early sixteenth century which dictated that beer should be made out of only four ingredients: Water, hops, barley and yeast. The law was intended to maintain quality and avoid dodgy additives, but modern brewers, Mash included, have begun to use the law more as a guideline than a rule, “There’s not much deviation here, most of the beers do use just those four ingredients. But we will occasionally a bit of extra dextrose and sugar to boost the alcohol when needed.”
Sarcasm, is a beer made by taking many such aspects of beer brewing to their extremes, using much more hops, barley and yeast compared to their standard releases, the result is a much bigger and more powerful beer. Brewing to 9.5% alcohol means enough barley to completely fill their Mash tun, which Damien says makes the necessary stirring particularly difficult. Once mashed, Sarcasm takes about a week longer than their standard releases to ferment, during which additional hops are added in a process called ‘dry hopping'. “Sarcasm is designed to be just super hoppy,” says Damien, “You’ve got 30+ kilos of dry hops between the two batches, which makes it a challenge for the accountant to cost it, too.”
“All of the old Sarcasm releases have been really good, it’s not just another IIPA,” says Damien, noting that this year’s release will show his particular brewer’s thumbprint with an update of last year’s recipe including some new hops and malts, "This year there are a few different malts and a few different hops. There are a few new-age hops which we didn’t have last year, a bit of vic secret and a couple of traditional American hops.” These new decisions are informed by Mash’s other seasonal runs, and from brewing test batches in their smaller sample sized equipment, “We can run a test batch of 20 litres and see what each new hop brings to the table, and we made a double ipa last year which we’ve based a portion of the Sarcasm recipe off, more for volume than for types of hops.” says Damien, “Some of the American hops are piney, citrusy and resiny, some are fruity, giving pineapple, melon, mango flavours, but using just one runs the risk of being quite one-note.”
The popularity of Sarcasm, plus the decision to can it, further adds to the production process. Mash put out roughly one seasonal release each month and in most cases these require “One brewing day, one kegging day, and just a bit of nurturing in-between.” However, the canning process and multiple batches of Sarcasm further slow down the release process.
All of the work involved has resulted in a uniquely delicious beer with a load of hoppy character. Due to the large amount of hops, Sarcasm greatly benefits from being drunk fresh, and its seasonal nature and propensity for being snapped up by beer enthusiasts, only serves to ensure it is shown off at it’s best. Sarcasm is now canned, kegged and shipping to bars and bottle shops throughout WA. Check out Mash’s social channels for where to get yours.