Siblings Sam and Ellie Studd were destined to work in the world of cheese, but it took them a while to realise it. After leaving school, Sam rode motorbikes across India and worked in hospitality, while Ellie was a clinical nurse consultant at the Royal Children’s Hospital for 10 years. But since their father, Will Studd, has been the most influential Australian name in cheese for over four decades, they couldn’t avoid the family business forever.
“Dad does cast a very big shadow and I mean that in the nicest way possible,” Sam tells Broadsheet. “We spent a lot of our school holidays travelling around Europe, where Dad would deal with producers, and we’d be hanging out with the kids. So whether we liked it or not, the family trips were often orientated around cheese.”
We’re sitting in the kitchen of Ellie’s cute-as-a-button terrace house in Melbourne’s inner north, talking to Sam on a laptop from his home in Byron Bay. As his face glows on the bench, Ellie unwraps a wheel of Brillat-Savarin soft-ripened cheese imported by their family business, Selected by Will Studd. She fills a bowl with golden honey, slices a fresh baguette from nearby bakery Loafer Bread, fans out some fruit crackers, and opens a block of Le Gruyere bought on a recent trip to Switzerland.
Save 20% when you buy two or more Broadsheet books. Order now to make sure they arrive in time for Christmas.SHOP NOW
This is outrageously delicious cheese – the French triple cream fills the mouth with velvety luxury, the gruyere crumbles with lingering complexity. Ellie says she and Sam like to bring cheese to parties and station themselves near the cheeseboard to watch as the guests have their minds blown one by one. As party tricks go, it’s a good one.
When their dad started talking about retiring a few years ago, the siblings realised they had too much assumed cheese knowledge and weren’t ready to farewell fromage. They have an older sister, Fleur, who runs successful coffee business Market Lane. Sam is the youngest, Ellie is the middle child.
“To be honest, in the beginning [us working in cheese] wasn’t particularly encouraged, so we really had to go out and cut our teeth,” Sam says. He worked at artisan cheesemaker Jasper Hill Farm in Vermont, USA; Ellie picked up experience at Neal’s Yard Dairy in the UK and later got a job at Melbourne’s Spring Street Grocer. They both became members of the Guilde Internationale des Fromagers and passed an American-based exam to become Certified Cheese Professionals (CCPs).
Credentials in place, they were finally ready to join their father’s business importing cheese to Australia and the USA, sourced from family farms around the world. Ellie has a marketing role in their “day job”, while Sam is across sales. On the side they’ve launched the Studd Siblings platform to educate the public with masterclasses and media gigs. “Part of the reason we set up Studd Siblings was to curate our own voice, because we don’t just want to be ‘Will Studd’s kids’, as much as we love our old man and he’s done so much for the industry,” Sam says.
“It’s about honouring and respecting what he has done, but connecting it to our own voice,” Ellie adds. “And so much of [what we do] is the same message of preserving traditional cheesemaking methods.”
The siblings have published a recipe column in Delicious magazine for the past six years, and now they’ve written a book – The Best Things in Life Are Cheese – released later this month. The expansive, 304-page cheese companion took two-and-a-half years to complete and offers a crash course in how to buy, store, cook and wow guests with cheese.
It includes 70 cheesy recipes organised by occasion, such as Brunch, Mates and Dates, or Slow Sundays. “We based that on how we talk in real life. Like we say, ‘Do you feel like a Midnight Snackie?’ Or, ‘Is it Sweetie Treaty time?’,” Ellie laughs, naming two more of the chapters. “We have this language around food and it’s often what time of day it is and what we feel like.”
The siblings spent a whole summer on the NSW North Coast testing the recipes for the book, essentially experimenting on themselves. “We never thought it would be possible for us to OD on cheese, but we ODed on cheese,” Ellie admits. “Sammy is an intuitive cook, so I’d be chasing him around the kitchen asking, ‘How much is that, half a teaspoon?’”
Sam interjects: “But just to be clear, all the measurements are correct in the book!”
“It became a hardcore obsession deciding which recipe went with which occasion,” Ellie says. “Sammy would come clambering up the hill and say, ‘Ellie, I’ve got something to tell you, this can’t go in Midnight Snackies, it’s gotta go in Slow Sundays, it takes too long to make.’”
While there are plenty of cheese books on the market (including two by their dad, Chalk and Cheese and Cheese Slices, based on Will’s eight-season SBS TV series), there are none quite like this. “We’ve got hundreds of books that are information-dense, but unless you’re a ‘curd nerd’ or a geek like us, no one is going to pick them up,” Sam says.
He compares the cheese industry to that of fine wine. “There’s a mysticism or, for lack of a better word, a ‘wank factor’ to cheese. We wanted to demystify the wank and make it fun, sexy and accessible for people.”
Ellie agrees on their demystifying mission. “People get nervous about doing a cheeseboard, or when they go into a shop and see 50 million cheeses staring at them, it can be really intimidating,” she says. “We wanted to speak to that person who is first walking into a cheese shop or looking at the wall of cheeses at a specialty supermarket, give them those key knowledge points … and empower them to navigate a pretty complex and vast world.”
The finished manual is user-friendly, often cheeky, and gorgeously illustrated and photographed. And of course it’s a family affair: Ellie’s partner Kirsten Jenkins is a well-known food stylist who helped bring it all together. While making the book, Ellie was pregnant with their daughter Stella, to whom the publication is dedicated. As for Will? He was happy to let his kids do the book on their own. “I don’t even think he’s read the book!” Sam says with a wry shake of the head.
“He almost refused, but when it was going to print, I told him he couldn’t read it later and say there’s mistakes,” Ellie says, smiling. “So he did give it a quick glance.”
In the acknowledgements, Ellie writes that Sam is an island, while she is a wave – the brother and sister have somewhat competing energies but are ultimately compatible.
“There are obviously family dynamics that play out in business which makes things more interesting than if we just had a working relationship,” Sam says. “Me and Ellie have travelled the world together, spent time on farms together, have a shared passion and interest. There’s no denying there are disagreements – that happens with all siblings – but we have a collective goal and mission we want to accomplish. We’ve got a message to preach, which is that cheese is amazing. And we want to tell the world about it.”
The Studd Siblings’ cheese tips:
Seal of approval: Look for a protected designation of origin (PDO) stamp on the label. “That means it’s made within a particular region using a time-honoured technique and is a great place to start,” Ellie says.
Packaging: Buy soft cheese in a wooden box wrapped in wax paper. “Cardboard draws out moisture, but the paper doesn’t suffocate the cheese, and the wood acts like a maturation chamber,” Sam says.
Shop somewhere busy: The higher the turnover the better, Sam says. “If it’s a busy shop, the cheese will probably be better kept.”
Storage: Keep your cheese in the vegetable crisper of the fridge, with extra-ripe cheeses in a plastic airtight container to reduce stink.
Try different pairings: Ellie’s latest discovery is Normandy camembert with a sheet of nori. “There’s something about the funk and the crispness that adds this amazing umami,” she says. Sam likes Comté matched with a floral coffee, or aged gouda with dark chocolate.
What to put it on: “We were brought up as bread purists, but I like a cracker,” Ellie says. Sam adds, “The cheese should be the star of the show.”
The ultimate cheeseboard: Adhere to the catchphrase: something old, something new, something stinky, something blue. The book also features a “Rockstar Cheeseboard” – a wheel of Brillat-Savarin triple cream served at room temperature with chilled champagne. “Let the effervescence cut through the fat and it’s a party in your mouth,” Sam says.
Buy less, more often: Sam says to buy good quality cheese frequently. “You don’t need a cheeseboard with 10 mediocre cheeses on it. Pick one, two or three options.”
The Best Things in Life Are Cheese ($44.99) is out October 31 from Plum/Pan Macmillan Australia.
This article first appeared in Domain Review, in partnership with Broadsheet.
Feeling cheesy? Have a crack at this seven-ingredient Vegemite and cheese biscuit recipe.