“It’s a bit like being a mad scientist,” says Vincent chef and co-owner Todd Garratt. “You’ve got to find the cultures that give the flavour profile you’re after.” Garratt and fellow co-owner James Hird – both previously at The Wine Library and Buzo nearby – trained from last year at the Artisan Cheese Making Academy in Adelaide with their future French restaurant in mind. “We wanted to do something that was challenging us, and pushing us on into different fields,” says Hird.
Bringing their cheesemaking in-house meant an opportunity to substitute typically imported and hard-to-find products with a selection of French-style white mould cheeses made using cow’s milk from Picton and goat’s milk from Richmond. “Whatever you feed the animal will reflect in the milk, so we’re really hoping by using a local dairy we’ll develop a signature flavour,” explains Hird, adding that experimenting with combinations of specific yeasts, bacteria and moulds creates cheeses that are entirely their own.
Garratt carefully layers spoonfuls of curd into setting moulds to make Vincent’s interpretation of Saint-Marcellin, a soft, sharp-flavoured cow’s milk cheese similar to brie and typical in the south-east region of France after which it’s named. “If you were in France, the cheese would be representative of their place and terroir,” says Garratt, who’s fluent in French. “The purpose of these cultures is to give back to the milk, and produce flavours you’d find in a similar style of cheese.” Cloaked in a fine layer of mould, the finished products are laid out on wooden boards in the custom-built fridge tucked in the corner at the end of the dining room.
The process requires scientific precision, measuring out dried cultures to the decimal point, adding them with rennet by the droplet to warmed milk, leaving that milk to produce curd, and keeping the cheeses at a consistent temperature to ensure not just safe but also flavoursome finished products. “It’s been a massive learning curve for us,” Garratt says of understanding when a cheese is ready to eat. “We’re not just looking for the benchmarks [when testing], but also by the sensory analysis, the touch, feel and sight.” Hird adds that ripening the cheeses on-site is an important step in the process. “The ageing is a really big thing. We have one cheese for each service, so they’re coming into ripeness the whole time.”
While the creation of their own cheeses takes time and patience, the presence of cheese on the menu is considered and balanced. That includes an entrée of baked comté custard, and a single cheese offered for the dessert course with the intention of highlighting its ripeness. The liquid leftover from house-made curds isn’t wasted, “Whey gives a really interesting lactic flavour,” Hird says, “We’ve poached and roasted pork in whey – the acid adds to fattier meats - and used it in biscuits.”
Hird likens their foray into cheesemaking to their beekeeping efforts launched at The Wine Library some years ago. “The most interesting thing you can do is grow and make your own products. That’s the next progression now with food,” he says, adding that Vincent’s cheesemaking offers the chance to train apprentices up with new knowledge of dairy and traditional skills. “We’re not the best cheesemakers in the world, but we’re certainly going down our own path.”