If you've ever wandered out of a movie at 10pm, left a restaurant after dinner or got out of work around midnight and thought, damn, I could really do with some artisan blue cave-aged cheese right now — you're not alone. In fact, Daniel Verheyen is right there with you. After finishing up many a night with a standard cheese board at The Smith, Verheyen decided to roll his love for cheese, wine and hospitality into a late-night licensed fromagerie: Milk the Cow.
Of course, you're probably familiar with Milk the Cow. You've probably been there. Tasted the cheese. Gone back. But if St Kilda was a bit too far from home — Fitzroy Street is a fair whack from Fitzroy, to be fair — you'll be happy to know that the Cow has traveled north, making a second home in Carlton.
Aesthetically, the Carlton venue looks much the same as her southside sister: the colour palette is still pastoral, the light fittings are made from milking clusters and the cheese is on display in the store-long cabinet. As well as the main bar, 40 people can be sat upstairs, as well as a handful on the street outside. On a summer night, it's bliss.
Right in the heart of Lygon Street's Italian precinct, this isn't a location that's exactly starved for cheese and wine. But you don't go to Milk the Cow for fresh mozzarella and just-made ricotta — you go for the selection of over 150 cheeses you'll seldom get anywhere else. There is cheese that's been imported from France, Ireland and Norway as well as the Yarra Valley; cheese that's been washed in chai, paprika and cognac; aged in caves and sat ripening out the back until just the right time to eat. There's all sorts of soft, hard and in-between cheese — all curated on a rotating basis by head cheesemonger Laura Lown.
There's so much that you simply shouldn't make a decision on your own. Luckily, all the staff are well informed in the art of cheese (as well as the impressive task of remembering what they're all called) and can help you find your perfect match. But if you're look for a taste of everything — and at a fromagerie, who isn't? — look no further than one of the cheese flights. Matched with wine, beer, cider, whiskey, sake or sparkling, each flight will give you four wedges of cheese and four tastes of the matching drop. And, starting at just $16 (for 30ml / 15g), it's possibly the most affordable cheese tasting you can do short of a block of cheddar and a cleanskin. Even better, the wine, beer and cider flights change weekly.
It seems that Daniel Verheyen wasn't the only one looking to satisfy late night cheese cravings. Much like his St Kilda venue, the early success of Milk the Cow Carlton hinges on the fact that the Lygon strip was desperate for a place to pop in for a drink post-Nova that was casual, tasteful and cool — and wasn't Brunetti. That, and people just really dig cheese.