Sunday, 25 May 2008

Grazing, Mt Majura, Lerida, Cheese

I went to two fantastic foodie events this weekend. On Friday night, the bloke and I hopped on a bus out to Grazing at Gundaroo, where we were regaled with an amazing many coursed dinner, with matching wines from Mt Majura Winery. And today I went out to Lerida for a Slow Food cheese and wine tasting event. Details follow...

Grazing is out at Gundaroo, in an old pub that has been elegantly restored from its more decrepit 1970s days. I remember those for the bus tours, kitsch Australiana, damper and lamb on a spit, and underage drinking. Our bus tour was totally different! This dinner was a special event, rather than their usual menu, and we had some brief speeches from the winemaker and the chef. We were seated at large group tables - there was one for Slow Food, but I wasn't with them. In my first ever foodie professional perk, I got to go for free, and I sat with the winery table. They proved to be very convivial conversation partners, and we enjoyed ourselves enormously. Thanks to Julia at Mt Majura!

We started with the 2007 rosé and canapes in the main building. Our group was spread over a couple of rooms with open fires, where we could see glimpses into the small warren of dining rooms with silver service ready linen draped tables. The rosé was spicy and not too sweet; the canapes were very good, with the caramelised onion, dried tomato and fetta tarlets the standout for a powerful burst of flavour. I want to make something like this soon!

We moved on into the stables, where the tables were set with an almost daunting range of cutlery and glasses. Our first course was based on local organic chicken: a consommé with truffled chicken dumplings, a terrine, and a chicken liver parfait. The parfait was amazing - like a pate, but lightened in texture and enriched with butter. We had two rieslings with this: the 2006 and the 2003. All the courses came with two wines like this; it was very interesting. I usually found the older ones more rounded, less sharp. I seem to be developing expensive tastes. Damn.

Our next course was saffron pasta with prawns and scallops, accompanied with two chardonnays, the 2006 and the 2000 vintage. Terrific stuff; the seafood was beautifully fresh and sweet, the pasta silky, the wines buttery and well matched. A few too many capers, I thought, in this one - it made for an over-salty flavour. But that's a minor quibble.

The beef course was the most outstanding dish. It's served with root vegetables; a caramel, herb and garlic jus; a truffled parsely aoli and more. It sounds ridiculous: so many strong flavours must surely clash! But they don't - it's a stunning blend of complementing flavours. Chef Tom Moore likes to use local produce, and this beef is a local grain-fed variety, that is exported to luxury markets in Japan. The herbs in the jus and the aioli come from the restaurant gardens, too. We had a 1999 "merlot" with this, that is not available for sale. It was made from the grapes on what later came to be called "Dinny's Block" - actually a mix of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2004 Dinny's Block was the younger sibling wine; both were very fine and robust. A winemaker (from another winery) who sat with us said that the older one was too green and grassy, but we liked it.

The final savoury course was a crispy duck confit, with pancetta, choucroute, winter greens, and mustard aioli. We had a 2006 Shiraz and 2007 Tempranillo with this. Good stuff - crispy duck, strong flavours. Of course, with all that wine in me, everything was going to be good stuff by now. We finished with petit-fours: a little almond friande, a rum ball, a candied feijoa and a raspberry marshmallow. Lovely.

I had a look at the Grazing website, and their menu is posted there. Most of these dishes are on the current menu; with prices at $16 for entrees, $23.50-$28.50 for mains, and $14 for desserts. There are two choices for vegetarians, and a $10 kids menu. I should think this would be pretty good value for money, assuming the service is good. Each dish has a suggested local wine match, at $7.50-$10 per glass. I'd especially think of taking out of town guests there for a special meal - it's a good showcase for the region.

I wish I could say more about the wine, but I'm really not an expert. One day I'll get around to doing a course and learning all the vocabulary. This was something of an issue today at Lerida, too, although we did get tasting notes which may allow me to sound more edumacated.

Slow Food hosts a lot of events, and this was one of the educational kind. My friend Beth drove us out to Lerida Estate, on the edge of Lake George. It was a beautiful day, and it's a lovely site out in the country, with pumpkins growing randomly around the car park and edges of the vineyard. We sampled 11 cheeses, and six wines, and had a lunch plate of charcuterie, antipasti and dips to finish off. About thirty of us sat in the back room off the cafe, a little chilly in the high ceilinged room with its barrel-lined walls. The wine maker and a professional cheese judge gave us some talks about what we were sampling.
We ate roasted chestnuts while we watched a video about the production of one of the cheeses. We sampled; and we cleansed our palates between cheeses with bread, fresh green apples, and water.

The cheeses were a Milawa Brie, Small Cow Fetta, Edith ashed goat cheese, Jensen's red, Heidi Tilsit, and Small Cow Blue from Australia. We had Spanish Manchego, French roquefort, and Italian Gorgonzola Piccante, Taleggio washed rind, and Bitto. The Bitto is an aged hard cheese from the Lombardy region, made with mostly cow milk, and about 10% goat milk. It's special because it's one of the Slow Food Presidia projects, and was imported specially for this event.

Slow Food's Presidia began in Italy in 1999. Their aim is to protect products at risk of disappearing in the shadow of industrialised food production. They focus on a regional group of producers, helping them to develop production and marketing techniques to keep their product alive and successful in global market. There's cheeses, sausages, and even animal species included in the Presidia projects. And green eggs. Really.

The Bitto cheese is a firm and tasty one, with a slightly granular texture. It can be served lightly grilled, which softens the texture and adds wonderful toasty flavours to it. I bought some of that to take home, as well as some Gorgonzola, Heidi Tilsit, and Small Cow Fetta. I also bought a bottle of the Lerida Estate 2005 Merlot - at $30 it's not super cheap, but it is rather amazing with rich oaky fruitcake flavours, and smooth tannins. Not the flabby merlots you often find.

We were encouraged to try to find our own cheese and wine matches. All in all, nothing seemed really brilliant to me, and I felt I could have done with more guidance here. The general principle is either match or contrast. For an instance of contrast, the blue cheeses went well with the sweet and fragrant 2007 Botrytis Pinot Gris. I tried this with the Gorgonzola, and it was great. I'm not a big blue cheese fan and I found the Small Cow Blue far too rough and bitter, and the Roquefort also a bit much for me. We also tasted the 2007 Pinot Rosé, a pleasant berry-fruited drop which went well with the washed rind cheeses. The 2006 Pinot Noir seemed to go best with the goat cheese, the unusually robust 2005 Merlot went best with the likewise robust hard cheeses.

This sort of thing is really quite hard to describe. It was a lovely day; the wines and cheeses were lovely. The winery is doing another cheese tasting day later this year, that will be open to the general public, so if this sounds good, keep an eye on their events page. Though I think I'll skip the $200 a head dinner this coming Friday... There's a cafe menu on that page, too, if you just fancy a much cheaper unstructured visit. Meals go from $10-20, and cakes around the $6 mark. A weekend lunch and wine tasting would make a nice short excursion. I'll have to drag the bloke along for that sometime.

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