Cheese Slices

August 28th, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

Australian TV Series and DVD

Hosted by Will Studd 2006-2007

Review by Chris Thompson

          Cheese Enthusiast must admit to not having watched all 21 episodes of Cheese Slices yet, but we will.  It’s a great show.  The basic format for each episode is this:  a quick scenic travelogue of towns and gorgeous countryside in a place where cheese is made (Tuscany, Auvergne, Vermont, Roquefort, etc.), with a little local history and a ubiquitous parade of people in funny hats celebrating Saint Somebody’s day, or Our Great Victory over the Losers, scenic shots of the dairy animals in question at pasture, and then close-ups of cow, goat, or sheep faces (all handsome animals, as you know).  We then meet a dairy farmer and cheesemaker on their spread and see the milking facilities and hear about the critters and their milk.  Next, we get into the usual processes…vats of milk being inoculated and stirred (usually by the muscular arm of a cheesemaker—in cheesemaking “hands-on” means “hands-in”), close-ups of glistening, quivering curds (worth the price of that HD TV), curd cutting, draining, and forming, affinage, (aging rooms or caves are like churches to cheese lovers, and the camera seems to know that), and then usually the opening of a ripe cheese (you need several special knives to cut into a whole Parmigiano Reggiano…who knew?).  The end of the episode is often a meal, which we see prepared, and eaten with the cheesemaker at some hearty wooden table with local wine or cider.  So you get a travelogue, a where-it-comes-from, a how-to, and a cooking show all in one.  All is narrated by the pleasant voice of Will Studd.   We must admit that we expected Mr. Studd to be a sort of Steve Irwin of cheese…loud and perhaps a bit too enthusiastic given the gravity of the subject matter, and with a name like Studd….  Well, as it turns out Mr. Studd could easily be the narrator of the Australian Thomas the Tank Engine.  His voice is soft, kindly, and edges into little surges of enthusiasm when he has an amusing or unexpected factoid to deliver  (There are over 8 HUNDRED goats on this farm alone!)  As it turns out, Mr. Studd is a Brit who emigrated to Australia in the 1980s, and has been involved in many aspects of cheese entrepreneurship, including successful political advocacy for raw milk, for which he got an award in France. 

          Cheese Slices also provides us with some technical content—names of cultures, which kind of rennet is used, the effect of different methods of affinage, molds (plenty of close-ups), the nature of the cheddaring process, animal varieties and their milk quality, the problem of “buckiness” in goats’ milk, etc.  Mr. Studd also doesn’t just stay on the farms.  If a cheese is made industrially, he goes to the factory and we see lots of stainless steel, people in lab coats, and gleaming machinery.  He also takes us to cheese shops (including Murray’s in New York, a Cheese Enthusiast favorite), testing labs, tasting events, and so forth.  The episodes are generally themed by a place and the cheese that is made there, but we also get an episode on “Soft, Washed Rind Cheeses of France,” which is, obviously, themed from a characteristic more than a location.   We meet interesting characters along the way, such as Julian Temperley of the UK’s Somerset Cider Brandy Distillery, whose Friar Tuckish dishevelment is perfect against the backdrop of his ancient-looking, dark-stained cider vats.  Mr. Temperley lets us know that cider brandy is the correct beverage to accompany the local (i.e., real) cheddar cheese, and he proves his point to Mr. Studd, largely assisted by the effects of what looks to be the best grilled cheese sandwich in the world.  You sauté leeks, melt in the cheddar, paint it all on big slabs of local bread, and sauté it all up in local butter.  If you watch the introduction that runs at the start of each episode, right toward the end you can see one of these sandwiches being cut open (we at first thought it was baked fish of some sort, which made no sense).  One of the secondary messages you get from this and every other episode of Cheese Slices is that life in the vicinity of cheese and cheesemaking is very much worth living, perhaps more so than life in other precincts. 

          It was interesting to keep an eye on Mr. Studd from Season 1 through Season 3.  He pretty much sticks to his uniform of jeans and an open-necked white dress shirt, untucked.  He seemed a little nervous in Season 1, but by Season 3 he has relaxed, and is a little freer in interactions with the makers and sellers, without going Hollywood.  We did notice that in the opening collage that runs behind the theme music and credits, that in Season 3 Studd, instead of just standing in a field with cows or lifting a glass with a myopic old Frenchman, is walking city streets in a black leather sports coat with a lovely young lady on his arm, apparently pointing out interesting cheeses in a shop window.  We also see quick shots of other gourmet foodstuffs.  So it seems Cheese Slices’ marketers are trying to reposition the Studd brand a bit.  More power to them. 

          Cheese Slices in pretty expensive, around $30 a season, but it is worth it for the wholesome and informative entertainment…it would make a great gift for a real cheese lover with an inquiring mind, and we dare say it is exactly the sort of educational programming children ought to be watching.  You can even do the truly obsessive/educational thing by buying the featured cheese and having some as you watch the show.  When it comes to food, if hands-on is good, tongues-on is better.

You can order the DVDs, and a book that accompanies the show, at www.cheeseslices.com.  Be sure to get the right video format for your country (NTSC for the US, Canada, and Mexico; PAL Europe, South Asia, and Australia).

Originally appeared in Cheese Enthusiast 3

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