Current Issue #488

Cheese Matters: What’s in your picnic basket?

Cheese Matters: What’s in your picnic basket?

Who doesn’t love a picnic? Dining al fresco with friends and family has to be one of summer’s greatest pleasures.

My most vivid picnic memory was in the Piedmont region in Italy. My travelling companions and I stumbled upon a farmers’ market in the piazza of a little village near Turin.

There we discovered fresh seasonal produce beautifully arranged on long trestle tables. The food looked so stunning that it was hard not to buy one of everything. To my delight, a handsome young Italian man approached me and explained that the Buffalo Mozzarella was made stamattina (that morning).

I looked in food-lust at the large handmade balls bobbing in fresh milky whey. I could smell the sweetness of the milk and immediately the plan for a picnic materialised in my head.

To begin, the food.
The Mozzarella was the centrepiece to our outdoor gastronomic delight, but was in need of accompaniments to really make the picnic special. Luckily we had everything we needed and more in the stunning local farmers’ market. Wicker basket in tow, we set off through the stalls to find our ingredients.

Firstly, we needed a vessel, and a trip to the baker’s stall quickly remedied this problem. A few freshly baked panini loaves (still warm to touch) fell into the basket, followed by a variety of traditional sliced cured meats, adding a level of complexity to the meal. Next order of business called for some vibrant colour.

To me, nothing is livelier than plump ripe tomatoes – a trip to the grocery stall saw a handful of these local, freshly picked goodies liven our basket. To finish, our meal needed to have a good nose. For me I love the smell – and taste – of basil, and a bunch of fresh aromatic basil was added to complete the meal.

Next, the drink.
Local wines are plentiful and traditional to the region. We choose Barbera and Arneis to match our culinary basket of treats.

Both wines are exceptionally good food wines; the cool climate delivers elegance and sophistication, perfect for our afternoon.

Finally, the location.
Basket and bottle in tow we set off for the perfect location for our afternoon endeavour. It wasn’t long until we found a wonderful spot just outside a vineyard – a large shady tree was our hub and looked out on the rolling Turin hills as the sun moved into late afternoon.

The picturesque view, the fruity vino and the creamy centre of the Mozzarella, combined with the crunchy panini and herbaceous smell in the air, all added to the lasting memory of this glorious picnic. The beauty of a picnic is it can be as complicated or as simple as you like.

Like my Italian one, it can be spontaneous. It is so portable you can have one anywhere, especially when the weather is fine and mild. Head to the beach, park and paddock or even out in your own garden, to enjoy what we sometimes take for granted: our wonderful environment, climate and local produce.

Personally, my picnic basket is centred on cheese. It could be a large chunk of sharp Cheddar, a ripe wheel of Brie or a wedge of pungent Blue Vein Cheese. They all work well and are simple and no fuss. In a pinch all you need to add is a bit of bread and wine. It’s important not to forget the regional farmers’ markets for stocking up on your local produce; most operate on weekends.

There is luscious fruit in season this time of the year; try apples, pears and strawberries to finish your picnic basket. If you are travelling for long periods, ensure your basket items are chilled and add a few ice packs to eliminate any food spoilage. Whether you have a super duper picnic basket, or throw a few of your everyday crockery, cutlery and (shatterproof) glassware items into a basket along with a picnic rug, thermos and good bottle of wine – the picnic is accessible to us all. Some other useful items to consider are napkins/paper towels, trash bags, a corkscrew, plenty of water, a cooler fully stocked with ice or ice packs, folding chairs (although I prefer cushions or pillows) and sunscreen.

Each location will offer a little something unique, whether it’s the setting, local food or wine, so relax, take your time and enjoy the much loved picnic.

Kris Lloyd is Woodside Cheese Wrights’ Head Cheesemaker


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