Anthony Femia is an internationally regarded cheesemonger, dedicated to the enjoyment and promotion of cheese. He understands the microbiology of cheese, and the maturation process in a way no other cheesemonger in Australia does. And this makes him Australia’s foremost expert on the art of the cheese toastie.
Femia runs Maker & Monger, a raclette and grilled-cheese bar at Prahran Market in Melbourne. From his cheese stand, Femia lords over an incredible range procured from around the world, and he works some of his products into toasties upon request. His deep well of knowledge also makes him perfectly qualified to know just what drinks his toasties pair best with.
“You’ll find grilled cheese becomes quite salty and coats the tongue,” says Femia. “If beers have a hint of acidity or bitterness to them, they can cut through that.” He claims stout is a particular favourite, which he pairs with Stilton. Wait – you can use blue cheese in a toastie?
“You definitely can,” says Femia. “But a lighter toastie. It can’t cook for too long or the cheese will become too liquid. Really, it’s a seasonal item, with fruit toast, fig, maple syrup and maybe some bacon. Toast up your fruit toast, warm the Stilton on top, then put the bacon on that and glaze it with maple syrup.”
For a fruity pale like a saison, Femia calls for a richer style of grilled-cheese sandwich. “We do one here called the Fondue Grill,” he says. “It’s got Swiss Gruyere, Comté, a little bit of wine, garlic and shallots. It’s our take on a fondue, but in a sandwich. We find you need that crisper, slightly sour style of beer, such as saison, to cut through it.”
With hops being the signature ingredient in so many of the most popular craft styles, such as IPA, Femia opts for spice. “With the pimenton [cheese] that we do, something with a bit of spice – whether it be cayenne pepper or roasted capsicum – you definitely need the hops of that big-flavoured IPA. When you’re matching beer to cheese and grilled cheese, it comes down to the weight of flavour.”
So, according to Femia, what’s the ultimate cheese toastie?
“If we had no limit on our food budget, it would be using the great alpine Swiss cheeses,” he says. “Things like gruyere VU, which is the old, old gruyere, proper old Comté – like 24-month-aged Comté. Or you could use an affordable alpine cheese like Swiss gruyere, Heidi farm gruyere from Tassie, and Comte from France. Then I’d have buttered leeks on top. It would be this incredible umami sensation where it just coats the tongue with all sorts of flavours from sweet right through to fat and the lingering umami. Just keep the condiments to a minimum so the sweet flavours of the leek and the fat flavours of the cheese take over.
Femia says the best beer match for his ultimate cheese toastie is something of a surprise: the gentle sweetness and cleansing bitterness of an all-malt lager or balanced pilsener such as James Squire’s Four Wives.
“You want something to lightly clean the palate between mouthfuls,” he says.
Here’s how to make Maker & Monger’s Ultimate Cheese Toastie at home.
Maker & Monger’s Ultimate Cheese Toastie
Makes four toasties.
2 cups grated gruyere cheese (at room temp)
2 cups grated vintage cheddar (at room temp)
1/2 cup finely chopped leek whites
1 finely chopped garlic clove
8 slices sourdough bread (toast cut thick)
150g salted butter, softened
Murray river pink salt
Preheat sandwich press. Mix the gruyere, leek and garlic together in a bowl. Butter one side of each slice of bread and place them butter-side down on a chopping board.
Put about 150g of cheese mixture on four of the slices (about 1cm thick). Place the other slice of bread on top, butter side face up.
Grill each sandwich in the press for about 4 to 5 minutes until the outside is golden brown and the interior is oozing. Pull out of the grill press, sprinkle with crushed pink salt, cut and serve.
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with James Squire.