If you thought cheese had to be produced in an impersonal and sterile environment, these places will happily change your mind. They invite you to step behind the glass, breaking the barriers between laboratory and shop. Whether you’re after a stinking bishop, raw-milk cheese from Switzerland, pungent Italian truffle pecorino, smoked treccia or oozing mozzarella, you’ll find it at one of these top formaggerias in Sydney.
Just off Bourke Street is Formaggi Ocello, a provincial Italian cafe serving panini, minestrone and salads. Carmelo and Sogna Ocello have created a rustic barn-like feel for their food emporium, which beautifully reflects their Italian heritage. The impressive cabinet of farmhouse cheese spans the entire room. There’s also an in-house cheese room with more than 200 cheeses, including raw-milk varieties (carefully selected during trips to Italy or for their rare production methods), so that trying something new is part of the fun. It’s a cheese-lover’s paradise.
Named after a British washed-rind cheese that’s legendary for its hefty pong, The Stinking Bishops is easily found by following your nose. If you’re happy to linger a little longer than the typical deli visit, this Newtown boutique cheese shop is worth the wait. It re-creates a European-style retail experience. Instead of hiding behind a gargantuan display counter, Jamie Nimmo and co-owner Kieren Day proudly display their cheeses on a wall. This makes the whole cheese experience more intimate and interactive. Admire the cheeses up close and chat to the well-versed staff about the age-old techniques behind every wheel. Lauded local creations – such as Tasmania’s buttery, semi-hard Heidi Farm tilsit and Holy Goat Brigid’s Well creamy goat’s cheese from Victoria – sit alongside Italian white-mould rounds made with the milk of three cows. There’s also beautiful raw-milk cheddar from Scotland’s Isle of Mull on offer. Adding to the appeal, the shop doubles as a restaurant with cheese as its menu hero.
With all cheese production done in-house at Paesanella, you almost expect to hear the moo and bray of the farmyard as you enter the store. Umberto Somma opened the Marrickville store in 1962, and his two sons have harnessed his passion and tradition in their expanded business – having enlarged the Marrickville space as well as opening another store in Haberfield. The deli’s glass cabinet shows off the gamut of cheese: fresh ricotta; packed ricotta; dried ricotta; smoked provoletta; scamorza; cherry bocconcini; buffalo mozzarella; smoked treccia; rolantto (rolled mozzarella with prosciutto and sun-dried tomatoes); fresh mascarpone; and fresco, a haloumi-style cheese with less salt. In addition to its own produce, Paesanella stocks a variety of imported goods. Pull up a stool to one of the quaint tables among the shelves while enjoying a panino (stuffed with cheese.)
Simon Johnson has been providing high-quality Australian and imported goods since opening in 1992. The store has an air of a local deli with knowledgeable and friendly staff offering tastes, samples and suggestions as you peruse the shelves. Carrying everything from fine chocolates to oils, pastas, cured meats and French truffles, Simon Johnson has a highly curated selection of foodstuffs. The biggest drawcard is the renowned purpose-built cheese room. With local and imported cheeses from wall to wall, you’ll find whatever you’re looking for.
Step into the basement of GPO in Martin Place for an elegant, intimate and luxurious cheese experience. The Cheese and Wine Room, crowned Sydney’s “Temple of Cheese”, is set in a cellar-like historic sandstone space. The room houses more than 100 cheeses from all over the globe, with awarded fromager Carlo Colucci curating the seasonal selection. The focus here is on matching cheese and wine, with cheese pairings for every palate, from pungent Italian truffle pecorino with sangiovese to creamy French Brillat-Savarin with Veuve Clicquot. Although the Cheese and Wine Room is more of a restaurant, cheese and wine are available to buy and take away.
Mosman’s Fourth Village Providore, owned and run by the Quattroville family, is the product of many years experience in Italian fine-food purveying. It’s bursting at the seams with upmarket imported groceries, such as Italian prosciutto di Parma and Spanish serrano ham, and its own olive oil and wine, produced on the family’s Hunter Valley farm. Their temperature-controlled cheese room features everything from local farmhouse cheeses to international cult classics such as the raw-milk roquefort or the Holy Goat La Luna Ring. There is always a cheese-monger on duty to offer suggestions.
A stand-out in Alexandria, Salt Meats Cheese is exactly as it sounds, an honest Italian providore packed full of gourmet goods at wholesale prices. The warehouse stocks everything from rainbow-coloured pasta and panettone to dried mushrooms. It has a relaxed in-house restaurant serving up spinach and ricotta ravioli with French brie, sage and crispy pancetta; and grilled rainbow peppers stuffed with fontina cheese and double-smoked ham. But the main attraction is the deli room, with its cured meats, buckets of bocconcini, a mozzarella lab, pasta lab and a gelateria. For cheese-lovers, it offers various cheese platters as well as cheese celebration “cakes” – glorious towers of Italian, French and Spanish cheeses.
Located in Westfield Sydney, Jones the Grocer’s flagship store hosts a restaurant, gourmet food items and, most importantly, a walk-in cheese room. Although the focus is on dining, select groceries and Jones-brand products line the stylish shelves. At the heart of the store, around which all else revolves, is the temperature- and humidity-controlled cheese room. It’s stocked to the hilt with specialty cheeses, each naturally ripening to its peak.