At a ripe 25 years of age, Laura Lown might not strike you as an average certified cheesemonger. With a smile, she admits that her customers at St Kilda’s Milk The Cow fromagerie are often surprised to see the young dairy expert pop up from behind the counter in lieu of an imagined seven foot giant in a pinstriped apron.
But after several enjoyable years of training in the fromageries of London, Lown decided it was time to share her knowledge and experience with Melbourne. Lown likes to describe some of her finest work as “occasional cheese”, denoting luxurious rounds of cheeses that are stacked on top of each other to form a tower. Where sliced, grated or cubed portions of cheese are a happily accepted party snack, Lown’s individually constructed cheese towers are a turophile’s architectural and edible bliss.
“In the UK, cheese towers are very popular,” she says. “We used to prepare four or five a week in the fromageries I’ve worked at, varying from little custom towers for 10 people to humungous wedding cakes where you’ve got cheddar on top of blue on top of brie.”
Blending together the unique elements of flavour, age, origin, texture and form, it is Lown’s aesthetic considerations and her refined knowledge that make her something of an architect or a curator of cheese. “I eat with my eyes, and there’s not a day that goes by where I don’t eat cheese,” Lown laughs.
As fromageries across Melbourne begin to offer set cheese towers for weddings, Lown believes in taking the time to individually curate a cheese tower to suite the unique requests of her clients. As a general rule of thumb, Lown recommends balancing cheeses by including strong, medium and light variations, ensuring flavours and textures flow well and that all guests or devourers can enjoy an element of the tower.
“Some people just want all blue; some people just want all soft white cheeses,” she says. “Once I made a cheese tower for an orange themed wedding where we used all cheddar. Everyone has a unique idea of their tower and there are so many factors to consider.”
Approaching each cheese tower like a designer, Lown carefully considers themes, colours, accompaniments and garnishes, sometimes basing her decisions on the themes of her clients’ events. “Recently we curated a three-layered cheese tower for a couple with a purple-themed wedding. We used two white cheeses, a Brie De Nangis and a Yarra Valley Dairy Le Jack and then a beautiful blue marble cheese in the middle called Fourme D’Ambert, because the blue inside this cheese almost looks purple. We really wanted to make the cake their own, not anybody else’s, and this personalisation worked beautifully,” she says.
Lown admits that there are always going to be dairy enthusiasts who question what all the fuss is about when it comes to simply stacking a couple of rounds of cheese on top of each other. But the job requires plenty of engineering nous. “I had one couple who wanted a brie at the bottom and a cheddar on top of that, but you’ve got to consider the weight ratios. Sometimes you have to think of ways to support the cheddar, like putting little stands inside the brie,” Lown says.
In order to cover all the “serious stuff”, Lown recommends allowing at least two hours for an initial consultation of tasting and playing. Along with Milk The Cow’s large selection of dairy, Lown is also very happy to source cheeses she believes will pair particularly well with others, even if they are not available at the counter. “One of my suppliers has 700 different cheeses from all around the world,” she says.
And like any aesthetically considered design piece or work of architecture, there are always accessories and fixtures to consider. Lown’s towers can incorporate fresh flowers and of course cheese board accompaniments including muscatels, fig and walnut roulade, truffle honey, glaze figs and pears, homemade lavosh and bread.
“I wanted to share my experience from the UK and I’m very happy to see people considering the different forms and aesthetics of cheeses,” she says. “They are visually beautiful. I think people now realise ‘Wow, this stuff could look extraordinary to celebrate an occasion with’.”