It’s that time of year when temperatures start rising (for us in the southern hemisphere) and trips to beaches and barbeques are the easy way to entertain on a weekend. It’s on these occaisions where chilled wines, fruits, nuts and cheeses are the quick ‘go to’ solution. Let’s not forget to add simple breads, crackers, and fruit pastes. These are all wonderful entertaining foods that harmonise together to make an afternoon or evening shine. Some people are more adept at their pairings and combinations than others, and I for one would rather leave it to those in the know.
While travelling through the Swan Valley district recently my Beloved and I had become peckish. Having eaten only a short time earlier we weren’t ready for another meal, and when we read the description of The Cheese Barrel on our tour map we thought that it would be the perfect place to call in and sample some local produce in the late afternoon.
When a place to relax, eat, take in the scenery and catch up with friends is called The Cheese Barrel, and located on the same strip of highway as wine makers, nougart makers, coffee roasters, ice creameries, etc, it is quite easy to expect that their cheese would be house made as well. Especially if that cafe is located next door to – and associated with – the oldest established winery in the State. But unfortunately, that wasn’t to be the case.
This cafe oozes atmosphere in a classy way. As you drive in off the Great Northern Highway at Millendon in the Swan Valley, you are presented with a large carpark and a couple of farmhouse buildings that scream boutique producer. Upon entering The Cheese Barrel, you are greeted with a cafe style interior that is also acts as a foyer / part delicatessen with merchandise to taste and purchase. The space also includes the ordering counter.
The menu is – as you guessed – all about cheese. And wine. There are pre-selected pairings of cheeses from a variety of regions, matched up with in-house produced wines. There are a number of themed combinations that we could have selected from, or we could have put together our own combination of wines, cheeses, breads, and crackers. But it didn’t stop there. There was also a wonderful dessert menu full of sweet treats that also have been paired to wines to try.
We were a bit disappointed that there was no ‘Swan Valley’ cheeses, so instead we decided to select a showcase of State produced cheeses going by the name of ‘The Best of the West’. This was a simple cheese platter with breads, crackers, fruit and quince jelly. As I was driving I paired cheeses to a small skinny flat white coffee.
The coffee was the first to arrive, and more proof that no two coffees are the same. The coffee at The Cheese Barrel was simply gorgeous. Dark and strong with a hint of smokiness, there was a pleasant aftertaste that sat well with the cheeses when they arrived.
At first the menu prices for the cheeses and wines seem awfully expensive, however the pricing regime started making sense when the platter arrived. Generously laden with cheeses, a variety of homemade breads, crackers, seasonal fruit and the quince jelly, we weren’t sure how we were going to get through it all. The cheeses preppared on our platter for our sampling included the Kytren Chevre goats cheese, a Dellendale semi-firm called Nullaki, and a creamy brie and crumbly blue from Cambray Cheese. For our benefit the waitress then took us through where each one of the four cheeses on the board was from, and why they were included. My favorite without a doubt was the Kytren Chevre goats cheese with its subtle creamy taste. It worked well with anything I put it on; the Lavosh crackers, chewy sourdough, the rye – anything.
And so we sat there on the rear balcony of the cafe overlooking grazing land, a stream flowing by in the not too far distance, and homestead dogs visiting diners on the balcony. There appeared to be an additional lower level area being prepared for future dining which would also take in the same spectacular views. Time flew by and before we knew it an hour and a half had gone by while we discussed the cheeses, the breads, the countryside, the wonderful coffee, and started making plans to incorporate a cheese tasting board into our usually humid and warm Christmas Day celebrations in a few weeks time.
All up, The Cheese Barrel slightly disappoints by not producing in-house cheeses. But it more than makes up for that by showcasing some of the best cheeses statewide, nationally, and from other cheese making regions. Paired up with fresh breads, in-house wines from the family owned winery next door and gorgeous coffee, the dreamy atmosphere here made us forget about time as we chatted away in the lazy spring afternoon.
A pleasant find…