Saggio di Vinos, cheesecarts and memories of France

Underneath the glass cover, a treasure trove of cheeses.
Underneath the glass cover, a treasure trove of cheeses at Saggio da Vinos in Christchurch.

At least 18 cheeses on a cheese cart they said on their website, how could I resist? Dinner at Saggio di Vinos was the second must do-thing on my list in Christchurch last weekend.

A cheese cart is a rare and wonderful thing in New Zealand and they have a special place in my heart. I first experienced one in France, seven years ago, at the Auberge du Cheval Blanc in Cluny. In some ways it marks the beginning of my journey with life and cheese.

A journey started by the the rather surprising placement of a knife and fork at the start of the cheese course.

The waiter followed his solemn setting of cutlery by the equally revered rolling out of the cheese cart. Like a glass-sided treasure trove on long thin legs, it was opened with some fanfare.

Choosing and watching it get cut makes all the difference.
Choosing and watching it get cut makes all the difference.

A shock to the senses, I was first hit by the sudden release of pent-up odours, but like an orchestra tuning up, this soon cleared, and I marvelled at the casket’s jewelled array of shapes, colours and textures. I had never seen cheese on this scale and I marvelled at the French cheese maker’s art of turning simple milk into so many beauties.

Startled I pointed and in my stilted Franglais I selected four of these cheeses, which were reverently cut and served on my individual plate.

Placed before me I lifted knife and fork, understanding in that moment that the flavours, shapes and aromas of these cheeses were not to be diluted by smearing them across chunks of bread. Bread here was only for cleansing of the palate, it was not part of the dish.

Saint Maure, Stichelton and Vacherin, served with qince paste and crackers.
Seven years after my first cheese cart, Saggio’s had Saint Maure, a French goats cheese, Stichelton a raw milk Stilton from the UK and a Swiss Mountain cheese.

This was a true cheese course, an integral part of the phrasing of dinner, not the crude punctuation to signify its end.

It was if all I had known about cheese ended that night. And like a cicada, shrugging off a spent shell I knew my ordinary love of cheese was over, and startled but curious I leapt down the rabbit hole, my life and cheese altered forever.

Thank you Saggio’s for treating cheese with such reverence and reminding me of the pleasure of the cheese course. I had a delicious Sauterne with my cheeses.

Saggio di Vinos Restaurant
Farmers market at Deans Bush, Riccarton – my top thing in Christchurch

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