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By Jackie McMillan

Last month I was lucky enough to be invited to the closing dinner of the inaugural Balmain Rozelle Food Week. The dinner, held at Restaurant Sojourn, saw three noted chefs from the area ‘ Vanessa Martin from Il Piave, John Evans from The Restaurant at 3 Weeds, and Paul Camilleri from Restaurant Sojourn ‘ combine their talents to produce a menu that showcased local talent, local produce and a local community working together. It was inspiring to see a small community combining forces to produce an interesting menu and sides that had quite a few highlights. While each of the courses was of a high standard, it was dessert that really sang. John Evans’ creation of layered raspberry jelly with vanilla pannacotta and a rosewater and vodka granita was sublime, and it left me with a hankering to sample his cuisine at The Restaurant at 3 Weeds in the near future.

The second extraordinary moment during the evening occurred during the cheese course, which was a collaboration between the Rozelle Fine Food Store and Aunty Pasto. The latter store presented Fromart (or Grand Gruyere Reserve) the first ‘official’ Australian appearance of an aged gruyere from Switzerland made from rich, unpasteurised cow’s milk, and matured for over a year. This firm, smooth cheese had a surprisingly robust flavour that far surpassed any gruyere I have tried to date.

To find out more about the (previously, and mostly still) forbidden delights of raw milk cheeses – indeed to find out more about cheese in general – why not spend an afternoon in the art deco surrounds of The Bayswater Brasserie’s private dining room with cheesemongers McIntosh and Bowman‘ They run cheese education and appreciation classes; and Claudia McIntosh’s enthusiasm for cheese (particularly single herd, farmhouse, small scale production cheese) is contagious.

The class I attended, ‘What Cheese is That’‘ was an entry level introduction to the seven types of cheese. Most of the attendees were couples, often with one partner being a complete cheese enthusiast and the other having been dragged along harbouring doubts about whether or not they wanted to be there. However after two hours of talking cheese, sipping a lovely flight of wines, and most importantly, tasting cheese from your own plate of twelve perfectly ripe imported and local cheeses, there wasn’t a person in the room who couldn’t name a favourite!

While you’re busy eating, Claudia also provides some background into contemporary issues about cheese production within Australia. By increasing the knowledge of Australian consumers about cheese, she hopes to encourage us all to understand why we should pay more for artisan cheeses; and why we should fight for the removal of the current bans on the production and importation of raw milk cheeses. If this sounds like something that might interest you, check out the upcoming classes at the McIntosh and Bowman website www.mcintoshandbowman.com or give Claudia a call on 0422 728 505.

Another way to stimulate your own appetite for consumption is to widen your food repertoire ‘ and what better way than to pick up a cook book’ This month I have been trying to move beyond the martini with my olives, with the aid of a new book called Olives (RRP $19.99) by Anver Laskin. Far from edible decorations (and the perfect garnish to a martini), Laskin points out that olives are ‘a staple ingredient in Mediterranean cooking and a wonderful ingredient in any cuisine.‘ I was quite taken by his recipe for Asparagus in Olive Dressing ‘ a pairing that I hadn’t thought of before, and one that worked a treat.

If olives aren’t quite your cup of tea, Anver Laskin has also released another title called Nuts (RRP $19.99) which contains more than seventy five recipes that involve a wide range of nuts. You’ll find everything from sides like Nut Chutney to salads like Tabbouleh with Pistachios and Almonds; to full meals like his Nut-Crusted Lamb Chops, and of course desserts like the perennial favourite, Pecan Pie. They’re all presented in clear, easy to follow recipes that are not overly complex. Both titles are available from all good bookstores. For wholesale enquiries, please contact Capricorn Link at sales@capricornlink.com.au.

For further food inspiration, you may want to mark down Sunday 6th July, 2008 in your diary, and head down to The Rocks Aroma Festival. Once there you’ll enjoy fresh coffee for just $1 a cup, exotic teas, luscious chocolate, fragrant spices and sweet treats. It’ll be the perfect place to taste test for your own favourite roast as there will be more than twenty five roasters, including Toby’s Estate, brewing up a storm. When you’ve overdosed on caffeine there’s also the Chocolatiers Boulevard where you can try chocolate shots and chocolate dipped strawberries; and the All Things Nice stalls where you can fill up on fudge, gingerbread and pavlova! If after all that you need a cup of tea and a lie down, pick up an exotic brew to take home from Emporio or Bondi Chai. For more information visit www.therocks.com

I hope these ideas have whetted your appetite for consumption; and while you’re thinking about food don’t forget to cast your vote in the Lifestyle FOOD Channel’s inaugural People’s Choice Award for 2008. Your vote will help to recognize the valuable contribution of one of Australia’s cuisine communicators; and by providing the reason for your vote, you also stand to win a prize of $1500 plus a set of cookbooks. Log on to www.foodmediaclub.com.au and follow the prompts to the People’s Choice Award to cast your vote before the 31st July, 2008.