Tag Archive | Australia

Say cheese! Or kaas…

I love cheese. There. I said it. I wouldn’t be much of a Dutchman if I didn’t… my country produces the best cow-milk cheeses in the world. Keep your cheddars, your Gruyères and your Emmental… it’s Gouda that wins it for me every single time. Preferable an aged Gouda, almost as crumbly as Parmezan, with crunchy salt crystals locked inside its yellow insides. There is nothing more delicious and rich than that. Kaas, that’s what we call it.

Old Gouda, the best cheese there is

Old Gouda, the best cheese there is

Chances are you have never had a proper piece of Dutch chees (unless you are in Holland).That has many reasons, the main one being that we keep the best stuff for ourselves. The Dutch cheese we export is, well, awful. Especially Edam. I have yet to meet a Dutchman who eats Edam cheese. It may be pretty-looking, those cute red bowling-balls, but we Dutch consider Edam for tourists only. Gouda is king, and the best Gouda doesn’t even come from anywhere near that city. Anywhere in Holland will do, actually. Rich pastures enough! But even exported Gouda is horrible; soapy, orange and cheddar-like. Avoid! And come to Holland to try the real stuff.

Edam: pretty but only for tourists

Edam: pretty but only for tourists

Anyway, enough with the chauvinism. Every country has its own wonderful cheeses in Europe. France has got thousands even, made from milk from cows, goats and sheep, and sometimes a blend of these. You have big hard yellow cheeses, soft fruity white ones, pungent orange ones with a sticky rind, and fragrant blue cheeses. A rainbow of cheese, literally. And I love almost all of them.

France, cheeselover's heaven

France, cheeselover’s heaven

Whenever I travel, I go out of my way to try the local cheeses. Not from the supermarket, but from the farmers, or from little épiceries. And I have made wonderful discoveries that way, plus quite a few disappointents. To start with the latter… I have yet to find a cheese in the Czech Republic that has some flavor to it, and the Turkish cheeses are also a delicacy that is entirely wasted on me. But a real fresh Greek feta cheese, eaten on a terrace overlooking some deep blue expanse of Aegean, with a crisp white wine on the side… that’s truly the food of gods.

Feta cheese in Greece... heavenly

Feta cheese in Greece… heavenly

And then there is Australia. Oh dear. Australia. In Australia you can either have fantastic, artisanal farm-made cheese, for which you pay absolute fortunes… or you buy cheese in the supermarket like 99% of the people, and then you have the most awful factory-made stuff you can imagine. Australia loves processed cheeses, like Americans do. Cheese that basically has melted and resolidified in square blocks, which is then sliced and individually wrapped in plastic (!), and which melts in ten seconds when shoved in a toaster oven. It’s the same sort of ‘cheese’ that fastfood restaurants slap on top of their cheeseburgers. It’s yellow, it’s gooey… and that’s where the resemblance to proper cheese ends. I was utterly disgusted, and to my dismay the producer of this cheese-travesty had had the gall to call it ‘Tasty Cheese’. Tasty? No sir, it is not. ‘Bland’ is the kindest adjective I can find, but ‘Revolting’ is more truthful. America is -as always with food- even worse. There, processed cheese is very much the norm, in all kinds of light varieties even. I prefer to stick a Post-It memo on my sandwich. Yellow, square and even fewer calories! Worst is cheese that comes in an aerosol, called ‘Eazy Cheeze’. Because it’s so difficult to cut a slice of cheese, apparently. Nuff said.

You might as well eat Post-Its...

You might as well eat Post-Its…

My partner knows how particularly spoilt I am when it comes to cheese, and he was wise enough to whisk me off to a farmer’s market where I was delighted to buy an Australian Brie that was very similar to a proper French one, as well as a nice aged Pecorino-type that would not have been booed in Italy. For two chunks of cheese, weighing about 400 grammes together, I paid something like 30 euro’s. That’s Australia for you. Either you pay through the nose for something truly delicious… or you buy substandard industrial crap and still pay more for that than you would for a proper cheese in Europe.

I hereby declare war on Tasty Cheese and all its disgusting brothers and sisters. I am so glad you can’t buy that sort of industrial filth in Holland. Long may it remain so. Because there is simply nothing better than a proper Dutch Gouda.

 

Cucumber wine, bring it on!

We all know plenty of foods with wine flavour. Winegums, to name but one, but what about sherry trifles, or port-marinated Stilton cheese? To find wine that tastes of food is a more challenging task. Or at least: it used to be. Because lately, and especially in summer, the shelves at the bottle shop are suddenly stacked with all sorts of fruity newcomers.

Sangria in a carton...

Sangria in a carton…

Now of course: flavor-infused wines are nothing new. The ancient Greeks already flavored wine with honey and herbs, and everyone who goes to Greece should at least try a Retsina, the resin-infused national wine that really only tastes nice on a Greek beach, but turns into cat pee once drunk back home. And of course there’s sangria from Spain, the notorious cocktail of cheap red wine, fruit and lemonade that is reponsible for so many holiday hangovers, not to mention teen pregnancies… Sangria has been on sale ready-made for decades, usually at the bottom of the wine section, in large bottles or convenient cartons. Cheap fruity summery plonk for the undiscerning palate, great for when you throw a garden party but don’t really like the guests well enough to spend money on it. I’m not saying Sangria is awful. In Spain I drink it all the time. But in Holland it just seems daft to drink the stuff. Our weather is never good enough for it, and really… it’s a childish sort of drink.

Years ago, I discovered a little known traditional infused wine in Belgian Luxembourg, where around the unpleasant town of Arlon every springtime ‘Maitrank’ is drunk. This ‘may-drink’ consists of a blend of the very uninteresting local wine with a wildflower called Gallium Odoratum, or woodruff in English. It adds a perfumed, honey-like flavour to the wine and especially the first sip is completely bewitching. It’s served over ice with a twirl of orange peel and drank as an aperitif. Hard to get outside the Ardennes/Luxembourg area but worth looking for if you’re ever in the area! I fondly remember Maitrank as one of the first alcoholic drinks (low alcoholic, okay) that I actually liked enough to get drunk on…

Maitrank should be more popular

Maitrank should be more popular

I guess because of those experiences I have never been against the idea of combining wine with other flavor-adding ingredients. I love wine, but I am not a vinofundamentalist! So I was thrilled to discover very grown up-looking infused wines in Australia a few years ago. No country in the world is more irreverent when it comes to wine, and therefore more innovative. Aussie winegrowers plant grapes from across the globe side by side, and have no qualms whatsoever blending Portuguese with Austrian grapes if that gets a result. Of course there are heroic failures, how else does one learn. But there are also lovely inventions. The way Australians blend verdelho with riesling for instance, or how they use viognier to add a kick to pinot grigio… wonderful.

Elderflower and lemon wine from Rosemount

Elderflower and lemon wine from Rosemount

But lo and behold, searching for a nice and refreshing wine during a Perth heatwave, I stumbled across a new range from Rosemount. White wines, infused with mint, green apple, lime and even cucumber! So bizarre, that I felt compelled to buy them. Well… let me tell you one thing: Australians do not do bad wine. If Rosemount thinks it’s good enough to sell, you can bet your backside it’s good enough to drink. And that cucumber infused sauvignon blanc… my, what a delicious little quaffer that was! Especially with oysters, absolutely terrific. To those who balk at the idea of cucumber-flavored wine… have a Pimms, and see how that tastes without cucumber in it. Nuff said.

Sadly, the cucumber wine is no loner available but Rosemount has launched new ‘botanicals’ with slightly more conservative additves like lemon and elderflower. Quite nice, but not as exciting as that greenish cucumbery one. Lately, the French have picked up on the wine-plus-fruit craze too. they already added lemonade to beer and call that Panache. A lovely refreshing summer drink that’s a third of the price of what Dutch brewers only launched last year under the German name ‘ Radler’. Wonders never cease. Anyway, in France we bought grapefruit-infused rosé and granny smith-flavored sauvignon blanc, that were delicious and perfectly drinkable with a picknick or a barbecue.

Grapefruit rosé

Grapefruit rosé

And what will the next trend be? I already discovered weird oddities like lavender-infused sauvignon (fabric softener?), and even weirder: marijuana wine. I predict it will not be very long until someone -probably in the Napa valley- invents a bacon-flavored shiraz. Hm. I don’t think I am adventurous enough for that.

Marijuana wine anyone?

Marijuana wine anyone?

Sour grapes at Brown Brothers

Amazing wines from across the globe, all in one place: Brown Brothers.

I thought I knew wineries, before I went to Australia. Dank caves and musty cellars in rural France, where even the air was 12 percent proof and where devious old ladies would pour you so much free tipple that you’d find yourself happily drunk and in possession of sixteen bottles of Chateau Whatever. A wine that seemed awfully delicious in Saint-Lunatique but that, at home, has lost all its charm and barely makes it into a stew. Or is only useful as a gift to people you don’t really like that much.
Don’t snigger: we’ve all done it! And most of us who have done wine tastings in Europe will recognize the experience. Although I must say that there are many, many wonderful and lovely winemakers with charming tasting rooms and great wines. But about them I will write another time.
Wine tasting in Europe is a very down-to-earth sort of thing, but then, in countries like France, Italy and Spain, wine isn’t seen as something to be snobbish about. I had heard horror stories from friends who had ‘done’ the Napa Valley in California though and found it to be impossibly snooty, overprices and really no fun at all.
So it was with a sense of trepidation that I entered the tasting room at Brown Brothers, in rural Victoria, a mere three hours north of Melbourne. Australian wine could for me, up until then, be summarized in one word: cheap. And quite frankly, I was quite sick and tired of the thick buttery Aussie Chardonnays from the supermarket. So, I was not really expecting much, yes I apologize for that.
Imagine my surprise when I was confronted with the massive, massive range of wines at Brown Brothers. It seemed as if every single grape that had been cultivated in Europe, had found its perfect new home in Australia. Grapes you did not find in one and the same province, let alone country, happily grew side by side. And -shock! horror!- were BLENDED into ungodly, unholy mixtures!
I just could not get my head around it. Who would blend a noble Riesling from Germany with the zesty Verdelho from Portugal? What crazy mind stirred Viognier in with Gewurztraminer?
Of course, the proof of the pudding was in the eating, and I took my first sip… And another… and another…
Long story short, it wasn’t even 10:30 am and I was happily tipsy already. I chatted with the lady behind the counter, who kept on pouring me delicious wine after heavenly nectar, and apparently I came across as this savvy bigshot European wine connaisseur. Which I really am not, I just happen to know what I like and what grape to expect it from, that’s more than enough oenology for me!
So, I got invited for a special occasion: they were about to uncork the first batch of their brand new Nebbiolo range. Yes, Nebbiolo, the noble grape that creates the black and seductive Barolo wine. Another emigrant that thrived in the Victorian climate.
And now you expect another euphoric paragraph about how wonderful that Nebbiolo was. Well… it was awful. Like licquorice drenched with vinegar, it was sour and astringent and just yukky. Which winedrinkers know of course: a young Nebbiolo is just undrinkable, it takes ten years or more to become rich and velvety and delicious.
So I left Brown Brothers, head spinning with new knowledge and certainly the equivalent of a bottle of wine in tastings… with a bag full of desert wine and a nasty taste in my mouth from that very young Nebbiolo. And that was 12 years ago… and I am just kicking myself that I did not buy some Brown Brothers Nebbiolo back then. Because right now, it would have been absolutely gorgeous.

Fayonnaise… or Fail-o-naise?

Look in any Dutchman’s fridge or pantry, and you will probably immediately notice it: a large jar of mayonnaise. We are besotted with the stuff! We consume mayonnaise in artery-clogging quantities, especially on fries.’Patat mét’ (Fries with) is the essential Dutch street food, the snack of choice for millions. And no, I am not referring to the thin limp lukewarm travesty that you get at fastfood chains (who do not deserve to be mentioned by name in this blog!) No: proper ‘patat’ is thick, chunky, made from fresh potatoes that have been twice fried. Piping hot in a pointed paper bag, with a generous dollop of mayonnaise on top.

Sidebar: of course the Dutch have -along with the Belgians- invented countless ways of eating fried potatoes. Our colonial Indonesian heritage introduced us to peanut sauce (as is eaten with satay) and somewhere in history and enterprising Dutch gourmet apparently discovered that warm spicy peanut sauce is simply gorgeous with ‘patat’. Later still, even more avant-garde snack lovers combined the peanut sauce with mayonnaise ánd chopped onions to create the most delicious -or vile- snack ever: ‘Patatje Oorlog’: ‘War fries’. Which turn every stomach into a battle zone!

‘Patatje Oorlog’: the infamous Dutch ‘War Fries’.

Anyway, back to mayonnaise. A very simple sauce made of egg yolks, oil, salt, a drop of vinegar and some patient vigorous whisking. And yes, self-made mayonnaise really is nicer than anything you can buy in the supermarket. I make my mayo the easy way: everything together in a beaker -I use the whole egg, not just the yolks, that gives a much lighter and airier sauce!-, put in the immersion blender, a quick bzzzz, slowly pull the blender out, hey presto! But if you feel like doing it he traditional way by dripping in the oil drop by drop, go ahead and knock yourself out.

I have noticed that in the English speaking world, mayonnaise is well known and readily available… but just not used on fries. Instead people seem to prefer ketchup or tomato sauce, or vinegar or even worse: brown sauce. All the spawn of Satan of course to a real European food lover! When I was in Australia for the first time in november 2000, my partner and I were on our way from Sydney to Melbourne by car. An endless drive, and I was happy to stop at a roadside eatery and stretch the legs. And yum yum, they had nice thick chunky chips on the menu!

Foolish me: I then dared to ask for some mayonnaise with my chips. I knew they had mayonnaise, because they were selling sandwiches with chicken and mayo. The obese lady behind the counter looked at me as if I had just asked her to vomit on my chips. Baffled, she even got the chef out of the kitchen and asked me to kindly repeat the outrageous thing I had just asked for. Mayonnaise please. Yes, to go with the chips. I will even give you a dollar extra. The chef asked me if I did not mean to ask for tomato sauce instead. Or perhaps some mustard? No, I remained adamant: it was mayo wanted and I was not going to leave without it. After a minute of intense debate, the chef yielded and gave me a spoonful of the pale golden sauce I so craved for. But all the time I was eating, he, the obese checkout lady as well as several of the local clientele glared at me as if I was in the movie Priscilla and had just walked in wearing a dress made of slippers. I bet that to this day they regale eachother with stories of the Day That Strange European Guy Asked For Mayonnaise With His Chips.

Was that the worst mayo-related anecdote from Australia? It was until 2010, when we came over to Oz to celebrate Christmas with the inlaws. My mother in law, Fay, is a great cook. Nobody bakes a roast like she does, and her pork crackling is to die (or to kill -yes sister-in-law Kerry, I am referring to you!) for. So when I was helping out in the kitchen preparing a salad, I asked her if she had any salad dressing or vinaigrette. ‘Use mayonnaise!’, she chirped, ‘I just made a jar full of it!’. Yummm, home made mayonnaise, I prefer that any day over Hellman’s bland goo. I was surprised it looked slightly orange, and it smelled… well… sweet. Not like mayonnaise. Tentatively, I put a teaspoon in and licked some of Fay’s mayonnaise off it…

My tongue must have recoiled back as if it was springloaded! Fay’s mayonnaise did not just smell sweet… it was! It turned out she had used a recipe -chemical formula, more like- from the war, when apparently there were no eggs or oil around. She had made mayonnaise from condensed milk and vinegar, with a dollop of marmalade to make it even more inedible.

It was the most revolting thing I had ever tasted and I am afraid my face told Fay so. She was deeply insulted I did not approve of her Fayonnaise, as I called it. We did manage to patch things up over the following weeks, but secretly I think she may still not have forgiven me. Oh well. We’re going there again in a few months time, time will tell… I am almost tempted to give Fayonnaise another try. Not on fries, but as a cake frosting!

Welcome

Well hello there!

Here I am, yours truly, 12 years and many more kilos ago. Having a sip of rosé at the stunning Chateau Yering estate, just north of Melbourne, Australia.

I like this photo because it shows me doing two of my favourite things: traveling and enjoying great food and wine. I look happy in this photo, and that’s precisely what I felt like.

Why are so many of our greatest memories often tied in with food and drink as well as travel? Mine certainly are, and the more I talk about this with friends, the more they seem to have the same experience. Traveling the world introduces us to beauty, variety, adventure and amazement. And to combine all those visual delights with edible one is the shortest way to create life-long memories. With of course the addition of great company: I am one of those people who does not enjoy traveling alone. The best experiences are the ones I share with people I care about.

So picture me in a beautiful place, having a wonderful meal and enjoying lovely company, and you have my recipe for happiness. In this blog I want to share as much of it as possible in the hopes of enticing you all to go out, travel, open up your senses and invest in wonderful memories.

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