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Monday, February 11, 2013

King Island Dairy cheese launch and Sydney by helicopter

figs with blue cheese canapes at margan restaurant, hunter valley

Cheese and a helicopter ride. Could there be a more exciting invitation to receive for a Friday? The event was the launch of two new cheeses by King Island Dairy - the first in seven years - to be held in the Hunter Valley. Forget the three hour drive. We'd be flown by helicopter! And so I found myself in one of three choppers with seven other food editors, journalists and bloggers last Friday on a glorious Sydney morning.

Bondi Helicopter at Mascot
Our helicopter (a Bell 206?) for the day

I'd never been in a helicopter and was ridiculously excited. I still let out a little whoop in my head whenever a plane makes its steep ascent during take-off.

Flying in a helicopter is a completely different experience. There's the whir of the blades overhead that increases to a deafening drone and blades of grass start billowing in the distance. We were given headsets to speak with each other, and as the chopper lifted off the ground into a hover, it really did feel just like a movie.

Bondi Helicopter flight from Mascot Sydney to Hunter Valley
Taking off from the Bondi Helicopters helipad at Sydney Airport

I usually have my nose pressed up against the window during a flight, but seeing Sydney from inside a mobile bubble gives you much more of a birdseye view. Watching the Sydney sprawl unfold before your eyes, seeing the splashes of blue from backyard pools and catching glimpses of familiar landmarks makes you feel just like a kid again.

I could not stop taking photos.

Bondi Helicopter flight aerial view over Sydney city
The Lakes golf course with the Sydney central business district in the distance

Bondi Helicopter flight aerial view over Waverley Cemetery, Sydney
Waverley cemetery

Bondi Helicopter flight aerial view over Bondi Icebergs, Sydney
Bondi Icebergs against the backdrop of the city

Bondi Helicopter flight aerial view over Dover Heights, Sydney
Cliffs at Dover Heights

Bondi Helicopter flight aerial view over Sydney Harbour
Watsons Bay with the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House in the background

The three-hour road trip to the Hunter Valley would only take us one hour in the helicopter, with our chopper averaging speeds of about 180 kilometres per hour (and no traffic!).

Bondi Helicopter flight aerial view over NSW National Parks
National Parks in the Central Coast hinterland

View of other two helicopters through our window
View of the other two helicopters through the window

Helicopter landing at Margan Wines in Broke, Hunter Valley
Landing at Margan Wines in Broke

Dining table at Margan Wines in Broke, Hunter Valley
Our table at Margan Wines 

We arrived at Margan Wines in Broke and revived ourselves with sparking wine and canapes before moving to the cellar room indoors for the official cheese launch.

Canapes of fresh figs with blue cheese at Margan Wines in Broke, Hunter Valley
Canapes of fresh figs with blue cheese 

Canapes of gnocchi with porcini mushrooms and parmesan at Margan Wines in Broke, Hunter Valley
Canapes of gnocchi with porcini mushrooms and parmesan

Naomi Crisante leading our tasting of new cheeses by King Island Dairy
Naomi Crisante leading our tasting of the two new cheeses by King Island Dairy

Naomi Crisante led our cheese tasting, accredited cheese judge and creator of the Australian Grand Dairy Awards (which she managed for nine years).

There are few things more thrilling to a food lover than finding someone else as easily excited as you are. Naomi does a little celebratory jig when she cuts into the double cream and its ripe centre oozes forth.

King Island Dairy Furneaux double cream and Black Label Huxley washed rind
Furneaux Double Cream and Black Label Huxley Washed Rind

We're led through a brief backgrounder on King Island Dairy - how the cows graze on a unique blend of European grasses that were populated by a shipwreck from Europe hundreds of years ago. The herd is a mix of Fresian and Jersey cows, blended so it is very creamy with plenty of flavour. King Island milk is very high in minerals, and theories abound that the windswept island affects the grass and makes it slightly salty.

The Furneaux Double Cream is the first cheese we taste and Naomi encourages us to closely inspect the coat, its core, its texture and smell before we finally taste it. It's a rich and creamy cheese (34% fat) with a lustrous glossy centre and buttery appearance. There's a distinct sweetness from the Jersey cream and a nuttiness that Naomi says reminds her of creamy cauliflower.

One of the distinct differences with this cheese is the use of geotrichum candidum to create the white layer of mold on the outside. Whereas most bries and camemberts use penicillin candidum, King Island Dairy's head cheesemaker Ueli Berger uses geotrichum for a softer and more velvety surface. It grows very slowly, which is why most cheesemakers avoid it, but it gives a distinct smell and flavour of hay and even cauliflower.

The Black Label Huxley Washed Rind is one of the milder washed rinds I've encountered which makes it quite an approachable cheese for even the wary. I was intrigued to learn that washed rinds were originally developed by monasteries in France to sustain them during Lent when meat was not allowed to be eaten. Washed rinds are notoriously whiffy but usually taste far milder than they smell. The cheeses are made with bacteria and cloth washed over the surface of the cheese to try to create a sticky rind. The result should be deep and earthy barnyard aromas.

Braised lamb and roast spatchcock at Margan Wines in Broke, Hunter Valley
Braised lamb shoulder with chickpeas and spiced eggplant; and
Roasted spatchcock with mushrooms, fregola and currants 

Back on the verandah, we progress onto our main courses for lunch, quite heavy dishes given the 30C heat outside but cooked well nonetheless. The braised lamb shoulder has been shredded and then re-rolled into a neat column, and the roasted spatchcock has a crisp skin that works well with the sweet burst of currants and pearls of fregola.

King Island Dairy cheeses Furneaux Double Cream; Cape Wickham Double Brief; Surprise Bay Cheddar; Black Label Huxley Washed Rind and Roaring 40s Blue
King Island Dairy cheeses: Furneaux Double Cream; Cape Wickham Double Brief; Surprise Bay Cheddar; Black Label Huxley Washed Rind and Roaring 40s Blue

After mains there are more cheese, including my favourite Roaring 40s Blue. I love eating this on ginger thin biscuits (either from Ikea or Anna Thins from the supermarket) for supper.

King Island Dairy cheeses Roaring 40s Blue; Black Label Huxley Washed Rind; Surprise Bay Cheddar; Cape Wickham Double Brief and Furneaux Double Cream
King Island Roaring 40s Blue and the Black Label Huxley Washed Rind 

chocolate delice dessert at Margan Wines in Broke, Hunter Valley
Chocolate delice with salted peanut brittle 

Desserts continue our descent into decadence: a quenelle of sinful chocolate delice on chocolate soil with smithereens of salted peanut brittle and a banana tarte tartin with crisp pastry, toffee-glazed bananas, rum and raisin ice cream and a thick puddle of butterscotch sauce.

banana tarte tartin at Margan Wines in Broke, Hunter Valley
Banana tarte tartin with rum and raisin ice cream and butterscotch sauce

We're all several kilograms heavier for our flight back to Sydney, but amazing they all manage to take off successfully!

helicopter hover before takeoff at Margan Wines in Broke, Hunter Valley
Watching the other helicopter hover before takeoff 

helicopter taking off back to Sydney at Margan Wines in Broke, Hunter Valley
Heading back to Sydney

Bondi Helicopter flight aerial view of a Central Coast quarry
Central Coast quarry 

Bondi Helicopter flight aerial view of the Central Coast
Central Coast 

Bondi Helicopter flight aerial view of beaches at the Central Coast
Sun, sand and skies of the Central Coast

Bondi Helicopter flight aerial view of Sydney
Approaching Sydney

Here a couple of cheese tips from cheese expert Naomi Crisante:
  • Always take cheese out of the fridge for at least two hours before eating so they can soften and flavours can develop. 
  • The best way to store cheese in wrapped in the original paper in a large Tupperware container. If you don't have the original paper, use baking paper.
  • The best way to store cheese is to eat it! Cheese is hard to keep for more than a week or two once it's been cut.
Bondi Helicopter flight aerial view of Sydney city
Hello home!

Grab Your Fork attended the King Island Dairy launch at Margan Wines as a guest of King Island Dairy.
20 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 2/11/2013 01:48:00 am


  • At 2/11/2013 3:51 am, Anonymous Hannah said…

    Oh blue cheese blue cheese! And that's one way to make a chocolate dessert sing to me: stick some peanut brittle on it.

  • At 2/11/2013 7:00 am, Blogger The Life of Clare said…

    What a fabulous experience! I've never been in a helicopter either! I love cheese and these sound delightful.

  • At 2/11/2013 7:12 am, Blogger Unknown said…

    WOW! That looks SENSATIONAL!! Great views, ESP the ones of the National Park and central coast!.

  • At 2/11/2013 8:37 am, Blogger Tina @ bitemeshowme said…

    We live in such a beautiful country. Glad we can call Australia home. Whilst taking all those snaps I hope you absorbed it all in. I'd love to ride on a chopper! And do you really have to speak in a headphone and mouth piece whilst up there? hehe

  • At 2/11/2013 8:41 am, Blogger Peter G | Souvlaki For The Soul said…

    Stunning aerial shots Helen! And cheese too! Sounds like a perfect day.

  • At 2/11/2013 8:57 am, Blogger Vivian - vxdollface said…

    this is so cool! was it really loud on the helicopter? great shots :) Syd so so beautiful! hehe all i can think about is cheeeeese now.. wish i had some in the work fridge..

  • At 2/11/2013 8:59 am, Anonymous Andrea @eattravelbliss said…

    What a fun day out! Such a variety of food to try along with the cheeses. mmm

  • At 2/11/2013 10:08 am, Anonymous chocolatesuze said…

    HAHA "The best way to store cheese is to eat it" i can't agree more!

  • At 2/11/2013 10:09 am, Blogger Jacq said…

    so much cheeeeeese :) and I love the photos you took from the helicopter, they're stunning!

  • At 2/11/2013 10:21 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    To be honest, to me the cheese pales in comparison with the helicopter trip, what a great experience!

  • At 2/11/2013 10:21 am, Anonymous The Food Sage said…

    An enviable trip ... particularly for a Friday. Great cheese descriptions and wonderful bird's eye shots of Sydney. Interestingly, yesterday i booked Margan for lunch later in March when we will be in the Hunter for the weekend ... i'm now awfully pleased that i did. Thanks for sharing.

  • At 2/11/2013 10:31 am, Anonymous MsBrulee (Kelly) said…

    Gosh you lucky girl Helen! Sometimes I'll have cheese and crackers for supper too, bang it together with some grapes and dip and it's kind of healthy too =P

  • At 2/11/2013 12:42 pm, Blogger Milktea Eats said…

    ive never been in a helicopter too! looks like you had a magnificent time!

  • At 2/11/2013 1:52 pm, Anonymous Eha said…

    Loved to know about the cheeses but absolutely adored the photographic series and hope you do not mind my sharing your blog with my friends!

  • At 2/11/2013 5:09 pm, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Hannah - I'm as in love with blue cheese as you are :)

    Hi The Life of Clare - The helicopter experience was amazing. Really makes you appreciate how beautiful Sydney is as a city.

    Hi Shanshan - Thanks. The National Parks were jaw-dropping from above.

    Hi Tina - lol it was a one hour flight but yes I was a bit snap-happy! So hard not to though! And yes you really do have to speak into the headset - the blades are super noisy so it's like trying to talk in a nightclub. lol

    Hi Peter G - It was a fantastic day :)

    Hi Vivian - Yes it's super loud but once you put the headset on, it's all muted (they're noise-cancelling) and you can hear and speak with everyone else quite easily.

    Hi Andrea - It was much fun. And cheese makes everything better too.

    Hi Chocolatesuze - lol. I thought you'd like that one!

    Hi Jacq - It was cheese galore but I still had cheese the next day. lol. And thanks!

    Hi lateraleating - I think the helicopter was just part of the adventure, but yes, definitely a highlight!

    Hi The Food Sage - It was certainly a Friday I won't forget in a hurry! And I'm sure you'll have a lovely lunch at Margan. I look forward to hearing about it :)

    Hi Ms Brulee - I do have to pinch myself sometimes :) And that's my favourite kind of supper too

    Hi milkteaxx - It was super awesome!

    Hi Eha - Would be happy for you to share the post :) So glad you enjoyed it!

  • At 2/11/2013 7:19 pm, Blogger Christine @cookingcrusade.com said…

    Wow what a stunning view. Absolutely love your pics - it looks so beautiful!

  • At 2/13/2013 4:58 pm, Blogger Unknown said…

    Oh What an amazing head spinning day! I can't imagine! I would have had a crazy smile on my face from start to finish.
    I love all of your air images. There is such a different perspective from a helicopter.
    Kind Island cheeses are so delicious, you have been spoiled, the blue is my favourite but I can't wait to try the two new varieties.

  • At 2/16/2013 9:22 am, Anonymous currybadger said…

    After reading this, whatever I was going to do today sucks in comparison.

  • At 2/20/2013 12:47 am, Anonymous Sara - Belly Rumbles said…

    What an awesome day! Plus cheese and wine, woot!

  • At 2/22/2013 3:08 pm, Anonymous Nic@diningwithastud said…

    Well jel right now!!! What a stunning view! The helicopter ride doesnt look bad either ;)


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