Write down the name Matthieu Megard.
He’s The Big Cheese – Le Grand Fromage – of artisan cheesemaking, whose organic milk cheeses are putting the little south-western town of Timboon and its cheese factory back on the map.
A third-generation cheesemaker from the Jura mountain region of eastern France near the Swiss border, Matthieu used to sell cheese-making equipment to Australia’s fromagères. Now, working with the Organic Dairy Farmers of Australia and the high fat organic milk of local dairyfarmer, John Smith – whom I recently wrote about here – Matthieu’s L’Artisan cheese is producing a range of typical handmade Jurassien cheeses, not from the mountains but near the Great Ocean Road.
Look for names like Comté, Fermier and Le Rouge which has a washed rind that takes on a reddish tinge as it matures. But there’s also evidence that Matthieu has developed an Aussie sense of humour as he also offers The Mountain Man (wink, wink say no more) and a triple cream style he simply calls The Extravagant. It is not only extravagant in taste, it requires very delicate treatment in the making, with each round gently manipulated as it is painstakingly hand-salted.
Matthieu talks of the local pasture and the organic herds as a winemaker would speak of the terroir – his product reflects the coastal influences, the quality of the land, the herbs, grasses and the Jersey herd – all organic. He is in the process of also having the cheese factory certified.
When we visited L’Artisan, Matthieu was maturing a range of organic cheeses, including a yet-to-be released Mousseron due in early 2013 in specialty resellers. We try our hands at skimming, separating the curds and whey and moulding the cheeses, gaining an appreciation of the time and effort to bring them to the cheeseboard…nothing this complex comes easily or cheaply, and we better understand that too!
A highlight of our visit was a traditional Jura lunch of local wine and Tartiflette – a potato, onion and bacon bake topped with a ripe Mountain Man cheese round – prepared by Matthieu’s French partner Naomi. It was eagerly devoured by your correspondent and fellow writers on a crisp rainy Western District day. Here’s Matthieu’s Tartiflette recipe, but I cannot imagine it without the rich, oozing, pungent topping that only a Mountain Man can deliver.
– Graeme Kemlo