The Cheese Barrel, Swan Valley
Finding a place to eat on Mother’s Day is a pretty stressful experience. A Perth Now article calculated that on average, Perthians would spend an average of $67.10 on Mother’s Day (wow!) including money spent on presents and dining out. Consequently, I thought that for this year, instead of splurging out on food, we would spend the majority of my sister and I’s collected budget on presents and go for the home cooked meal this time around. Instead of dining out for the typical morning brunch, we decided to try out some afternoon tea in Swan Valley.
The Cheese Barrel is one of my all time favourite places – it’s in a beautiful location hidden away in Swan Valley, and my go-to destination when taking overseas or interstate relatives out and about in Western Australia. I had discovered this gorgeous gem last year in winter and had taken my parents there. They were immediately smitten by its modern interior and a very Margaret River-esque elegance. In addition to its glass, sleek timber and steel sophistication, it is also very family friendly – a section of the menu is dedicated to the kiddies and there are two broad sandpits on the lower level to build sandcastles or for them to throw sand at each other (which my little cousin and brother proceeded to do, when specifically told NOT to).
There are no free tastings at The Cheese Barrel, so we were quick to get our own brown paper menus with our wine and tasting plate options. While I waited in line, I observed the different merchandise on offer and the large glass cabinet next to the register, which held an abundance of difference cheeses for purchase, as well as some sweet treats.
While I waited to place our order, my mum and dad chose a seat at a table on the balcony, overlooking the vast greenery. After several days of rain, we were lucky enough to score a sunny day for this particular Sunday. The sunlight filtered in, warming up what could have been a very chilly day. The Cheese Barrel overlooks the Susannah Brook, which was partially hidden by the vast number of trees in the area. Nature in all its glory!
Unbeknownst to me, I had grabbed a “reserved” table, but the lady at the counter was quick to fix us up another table. I apologized quickly, but she was happy enough to clear the table and we sat ourselves down, still with a wonderful view overlooking the vast greenery. We were pre-warned that there would be about a 30 minute wait as the place was packed for Mother’s Day – understandable, as there also happened to be cheese making classes going on at the same time!
We were partially sheltered from the impending rain by the overhead sails, my family loving the ambience of The Cheese Barrel. The tables of The Cheese Barrel were consistent with the “winery” theme – many of them were actually tall wooden wine barrels, reachable by high steel stools. It was warmly lit, giving it the allusion of a modern wine cellar.
My brother and my cousin stared intently at the blackboard that listed the drinks menu. After getting in everyone’s way, they finally ordered a strawberry milkshake ($5) waving away offers of a chocolate one instead. The best thing about the milkshakes were that they didn’t use any artificial colours and flavourings in their drinks, which can be branded by an insipid slurry of strawberry syrup. The Cheese Barrel’s version had strawberry jam slicked along the sides, which I proceeded to scrape down and mix for my youngest cousin. My mum also commented that it was lovely and fluffy, topped with an abundance of bubbles, signifying that it had been well shaken. I had a quick sip – delicious, fruity, but not too sweet!
My dad ordered a latte ($4) that just missed the mark on having a consistent run of even, velvety milk. Despite this, there was a brave attempt at latte art and the coffee was rich and strong, perfect for my father’s palate. My mum had a chamomile tea ($3.80) that came out in a standard china pot, a teacup off to the side. Nice and hot with a perfumed herbal essence.
My hot chocolate ($5) was hands-down one of the best hot chocolates I have ever had. The froth was smooth, the milk steamed to a silky consistency. The hot drink was underscored with dark chocolate, a subtle cocoa bitterness singing through every sip – none of this sickening artificial power saccharinity in this hot chocolate. I was wow-ed.
Then there was the wait. A big 40-minute gap in between finishing our drinks and receiving the rest of food, that seemed to drag on forever. I kept myself entertained chatting to my parents, helping ourselves to glasses of water, taking photos and peeking down at the kids who had succumbed, yet again, to the flurry of sand downstairs. My parents on the other hand felt the wait, not used to waiting long periods of time for food (they are used to their dim sum efficiency). As I had ordered two tarts from the glass counter, we figured it would have been nice if they had come out just after our drinks, so we would have something to nibble on as we waited for our cheese platter. Alas, this was not the case.
A man popped over to our table to check which “premium” tart we had ordered. I told him we had ordered the raspberry tart, which he came back with about 5 minutes later along with our other tart. By then, the children were starving as well and were ready to tackle it, but I waved their hands away, proclaiming they had to “share.”
Our premium French raspberry tart ($6.50) was heavenly. It had a buttery, crumbly case with the fluted edges glazed. The raspberries were ridiculously fresh, a layer of glistening, ruby red orbs. Often you can get raspberries in tarts that are pummeled to a paste, but luckily these had not received the same brutal treatment. They were juicy with a slight acidity, a delightful combination, with the fresh crème placed in a small dish near the dessert. I would return just for this tart.
The second tart was the lemon tart ($6) that also came with fresh crème. My mother specially requested the tart, preferring to have dessert that wasn’t consistently sweet. The lemon tart came up trumps, not too sugary with a citrus-y sourness to the lemon curd. She thoroughly enjoyed it, especially the compact layer of lemon curd that had been baked in the case. I was extremely tempted to purchase another chocolate tart and a blueberry one which graced the glass cabinet, but I resisted the lure of the desserts.
We had ordered the French regional board ($41.50) that included four cheeses and was served with baguette slices, lavosh, pan de higo and seasonal fruit. I had also ordered an additional side of smoked chicken ($3.50) to up the substantiality of the cheese platter. It also came with a laminated sheet outlining the characteristics and location of each of the cheeses, as well as information on appropriate wine matches.
The first of the four cheeses included the Labuche d’Affinois, a soft white mould made from cow’s milk. It had a beautiful creamy texture, drawing parallels to a silky brie. It had a slight buttery taste, and was a little sweeter than your traditional cheeses. The Rouzaire Camembert was also a soft white mould, sourced from cow’s milk. The description listed as having a smooth, creamy texture that had a mild, earthy flavour with hints of cauliflower, which I could really pick up on. It was one of my favourites on the dish.
The Marcel Petite Comté was a hard cooked cheese, also made from cow’s milk. It was more firmer than the previous cheese with an almost Cheddar-like taste to it. The Marchel Petite Comté was denser, with a sharp and nutty tang. I cut it into batons and served it with the lavosh and chicken, which worked a treat together. The fourme d’Ambert was a blue mould. Not being a particular fan of blue cheese, I left it to my own parent’s devices – my mum commented that it certainty was an acquired taste. The blue cheese was reported to have a strong hit of salt and was crumbly in texture, tasting best when combined with the borsch pear. Dad mentioned that blue cheese was sometimes manufactured by passing an electrified copper wire through the cheese itself – I didn’t know that he was such a cheese connoisseur! I adore it when your parents pleasantly surprise you.
We all loved the Pan de Higo, a dense block of pounded dried fig, specked with sesame, anise seeds and chunks of almond. It was sweet and jammy, a lovely addition to the platter. The lavosh was all snap and crunch, beautiful light crackers to compliment the cheese. My brother kept on picking off the baguette slices, which were lightly baked and fluffy inside. The smoked chicken was smooth, not overdone and succulent. Altogether, it was enough to fill up the five of us.
My only complaint that day would be the timing in-between our ordered items. Our cheese board came out at the same time as the tarts, though to be fair, they were completely loaded with customers that day. Despite this, the Cheese Barrel do fantastic drinks and desserts, which is well worth visiting for. Cheese platters are an unconventional afternoon tea treat, however perfect for the refined wine scene in the area. They are rather steep in price however, so unless you’re a big cheese fan, or wishing to take the relatives out for something special, be prepared to fork out a bit (or DIY yourself at home)!
As a whole, I think The Cheese Barrel is a brilliant and cultured experience in a beautiful environment. It embraces a wonderful atmosphere, filled with chatter from the wine enthusiasts and the dabbling tourists of Swan Valley. Better yet, next door are the Olive Farm Wines, where there are also wine and olive oil tastings on offer. It’s a bit of drive from the CBD, but is definitely worth a visit!
Rating: 7 out of 10.
Address: 920 Great Northern Hwy, Millendon WA 6056
- The Cheese Barrel is open from 7 days a week (Monday to Tuesday from 11am to 5pm; Wednesday to Sunday from 10am to 5pm).
- For the “cheese nerds” out there, you can also divvy up a “Do-It-Yourself” Cheese Platter! Cheese portions are cut into multiples of 50 grams and can come with wine matching, charged per person.
- The Cheese Barrel supports local producers and suppliers that include Five Senses Coffee, Bannister Downs Milk, Sebastian Butchers, Maggie’s Place, Gabriel Chocolate, Jean Pierre Sancho and Eustralis.
- Evening functions catering for 30+ people are also available.
- Reservations available via phone (contact: 9296 4539). Bookings for 8+ people are essential.