A Must Have Cheese
Vintage this year has been fast and furious with many regions completing within six weeks of first picking. With McLaren Vale being one of these regions, this made my window of opportunity to procure grape must very narrow indeed. Our winemaker at Coriole, Simon White, queried, "what do you want?" I replied, "you know, pips and skins". He gave me a judgemental glance and stated, "you mean must, right?"
Then came an onslaught of winemaking information. Must is the first step in winemaking, it is the freshly pressed grape juice that contains skins, seeds and stems of the fruit. It is unfermented; sweet, high in glucose and is vibrant in colour and very fragrant. Given it is unfermented and contains no preservatives, all the natural bacteria is present. This means it needs to housed while fresh and in peak condition. White varietal grape must is greenish and tends to turn slightly brown as it ages. The red varietal grape must can vary in different shades of red, orange and purple depending on the variety of grape it comes from. Simon suggested using Shiraz must from the old contour vines at Coriole that were planted in the 70s.
As a child I remember my grandmother making a pudding from grape must (moustos in Greek) called moustalevria. This was a simple recipe taking the strained unfermented juice, heating it and adding flour, sugar, vanilla and minced walnuts. Must is also used to make traditional balsamic vinegar and some cheeses are also made incorporating must.
I took my inspiration for making a cheese containing must from the centuries-old custom of hiding cheeses in barrels of grape must, most likely to conceal them from soldiers during a time of war - or tax collectors. Many Italian villages still produce these cheeses in various forms. We named our seasonal offering The Drunken Goat, a sweet and delicate hard style goat milk cheese, embellished with jewels from the vine.
Once made, the firm pure white cheeses were submerged into the bright purple Shiraz must. It was a messy mass, which stained my hands and instantly coloured the cheese. We carefully layered the cheeses one by one making sure they were completely covered, then left them to ferment for around 15 days. During the fermentation process the cheese releases salt and absorbs sugar from the must. This leaves the flavour of the cheese delightfully clean and subtle. As the cheeses were removed from the barrels a handful of must was placed on top of each cheese, Simon suggested that each handful of must contained around 40 grams of sugar! The cheeses were then left to drain and dry for about 12 days. When taken out, the must gave each cheese a new, original appearance that can only be described as rustic.
What makes this cheese so distinctive is its rind. It's always a matter of choice whether you eat the rind of a cheese, however, in this case you would be missing out if you didn't. As the cheese matures and dries, the natural rind encases the pips and skins and develops a crusty and textural rind. The sweetness of the grape is pronounced on the rind, offering a complexity to this cheese that is unique and flavoursome, a contrast to the simple nature of the cheese. Another two months of maturing is required in our temperature-controlled caves to achieve the desired complexity before releasing The Drunken Goat - a limited edition seasonal cheese.
Cheese expert Will Studd commented, "it is great to see an Australian hard goat milk cheese, this cheese is deliciously clean in flavour and has a very interesting composite rind".
Several small batches have been carefully handmade made over a four-week period and taken through the process, while the must is fresh and fragrant. We are excited to offer a cheese like this to our Australian cheese lovers, which incorporates the grape must - a seasonal product, which is stamped with regionalism and characteristics of the terroir. Terrior is real; it is the word that describes all the weird, wonderful and special things of a place and region, which shares the same type of soil, weather and winemaking savoir-faire. The Drunken Goat is now exclusively available at the Smelly Cheese Shop in the Central Market and Woodside Cheese Wrights cellar door.
The Drunken Goat is a cheese that works well eaten on its own - due to its character. Serve it at room temperature to bring out the fresh, subtle and uplifting flavour. Take a moment to observe the rind, and the deep colour contrasting the milky white cheese. I suggest pairing with Pinot Noir or Moscato, it works brilliantly with a peated whiskey such as Laphroaig (10 year-old), but also try it with a glass of sparkling Prosecco - delightful!