Anthony Femia is a man who lives and breathes his passion for cheese and derives great pleasure from sharing his encyclopaedic knowledge. After three years working his magic at the Spring Street Grocer, he’s about to strike out on his own with Maker & Monger, a collaboration with an as-yet top secret Melbourne artisanal cheesemaker.
“I’m really happy with what I achieved at Spring Street and with what the owners let me do there,” Femia says. “That shop’s going to be there for a very long time, but I’ve always wanted to run my own business and this year I’m going to do something fun.”
Likely to set up stall at South Melbourne Market early next month, there are already plans afoot for a bricks and mortar Maker & Monger retail and production hub six months down the line, either in Prahran or Collingwood. For the meantime, Maker & Monger will offer the age old Swiss delicacy raclette, a semi-hard cow’s cheese wheel cut in half and grilled, with the melty goodness scraped onto potatoes for hearty winter fare. OMG, yum!
There will also be a revolving grilled cheese sanger, kicking off with an American-style Monterey Jack served with tomato soup, followed hot on its heels by a French provincial offering. “In spring and summer, we’ll do lighter fair like grilled haloumi with watermelon,” Femia adds. “We’ll work our way ‘round the world with different cheese dishes that we haven’t really seen used to their full potential here.”
Femia hopes Maker & Monger will tempt people away from generic supermarket brands that describe themselves as “tasty” or “bitey” and offer nothing of the sort. “You’re paying for the colour of the wax,” Femia laughs. “When you introduce people to a real Swiss cheese and they experience nuttiness and other lingering flavours, it really blows their mind. It’s always fun when you’re around someone tasting it for the first time.”
As if he’s not already clued up enough, Femia’s off on a Churchill Fellowship that allows talented Aussies to seek out new ideas and innovations overseas. He’ll be visiting France, Neal’s Yard Dairy in London and Jasper Hill Farm in Vermont, with the view to boning up on cheese maturation and developing a national cheese society down under.
“I fell in love with the stories behind cheeses like Comté, Camembert and Roquefort and the traditions,” Femia says. “Just teaching people about them takes me to the next level. There are no one-dimensional flavours, there are all these multifaceted flavours on the palate that change and grow with the seasons.”
He’s a big fan of the city’s other cheesy ventures like Milk the Cow and Shifty Chevre as well as restaurants pushing a new appreciation, including Pei Modern, Merricote, Cumulus Inc. and Cumulus Up. He hopes to see a more collaborative approach in time.
“That’s what we’ve got to borrow from overseas, the unity of our industry. We’ll get nowhere if we just see each other as competition. The beer and wine industries have all these amazing collaborations.”
Once the bricks and mortar Maker & Monger venture arrives, he’ll be looking to showcase the joys of cheese and beer pairings too. “A lot of people don’t know that cheese is perfectly paired with beer because the fermented characteristics are very similar. Pilsner goes really well with Brie while heavy stouts for winter marry perfectly with blue cheese.”
While you can’t get Femia’s all-time favourite cheese down here, the unctuous Mont d’Or, wrapped in alpine bark in a little box, perfect for scooping out with a spoon, his everyday go-to is a Comté. Once Maker & Monger is up and running next month (keep an eye on their Instagram account for the cheesemaker revelation) he hopes to help many Melburnians discover their perfect bite. “We want to change the way cheese is retailed and get people excited.”
Image credit: Williams-Sonoma via Pinterest