Ellie and Sam spent childhood family holidays visiting artisan producers in Europe and snacking on rare mountain cheeses and cave-ripened blues. Back home in Australia, their school lunches often contained cheeses of the stinky variety and the siblings had to explain to their friends why their dad was known as the Roquefort Rebel.
Over the last decade, Ellie and Sam have travelled the world, working with celebrated mongers and makers, and learning to make, mature and sell cheese. They are members of the International Guilde des Fromagers and are ACS Certified Cheese Professionals. Ellie and Sam spend their time hand-picking artisan cheeses for the Selected by Will Studd range and are passionate about education, working closely with cheesemongers and chefs, running masterclasses, events (including your favourite food and wine festival) and contributing regular columns to food magazines, such as Delicious.
The pitch to the publisher was…
Ellie Studd: Cheeky cheese chats explaining why and what makes good cheese so good. First up, we teach you how to buy it, store it, create a banging cheeseboard, pair it, and seduce your guests with it. Then we skill you up on how to cook more than 70 ooey-gooey, fromage-filled meals from dawn to dusk. We also have you covered for sizzling cheese snacks at midnight. Particularly good if you have unexpected company.
We wanted to demystify the world of cheese and extricate it from any associated wank-factor. The book is designed for dipping in and out at your leisure. So when you’re feeling a little cheese-curious or obsessive, you can dive back in and pull out a nugget of information to wow your guests with, or something that will help you enjoy your cheese even more.
Sam Studd: To be honest, this was a manifestation of Ellie’s making. Once she had released the idea of a Studd Siblings book into the cosmos, we were contacted by a fantastic publisher and a week later they asked for a recipe book. We then spent the next two years working to create a book we were proud of. Enter our incomplete (but delicious) guide to cheese! It’s packed with practical information people need to level up their cheese game, from choosing it to cooking with it. We want cheese to be accessible and for people to be as excited by it as we are. The basic concept of this book is to demystify cheese and encourage people to get electrified by the craftmanship and fascinating history of this delicious nutrient source.
The main thing we learned writing it was…
Ellie: Writing a book has been one of the steepest learning curves of my life. I have learned just how much of a perfectionist I am, which is kind of hard for me to admit. But the upside of that is it showed me just how strong and determined I can be. Every time things became painfully hard, I came back to my mantra: ‘everything I need exists within me’. I also discovered that my brother and I are very different people, which can be difficult when co-authoring a book. I have continued to celebrate this difference, rather than judge it.
Sam: That it’s not easy and it takes a lot of time. There is an infinite galaxy of information about cheese out there. We wanted to share it all, but soon discovered that wasn’t possible. To be honest, it also wasn’t going to be all that interesting to anyone other than ourselves. Ellie and I work differently. More is better in her eyes; she doesn’t want to leave anything out. Whereas I like to keep things more direct. It’s been a journey, but we’ve come out stronger. What is interesting is that we both carry a lot of assumed knowledge, so taking a step back, cutting back the fat and breaking it down into digestible information has been a good lesson.
If you take one thing from this book, it should be…
Ellie: Good cheese is expensive, but less than a bottle of wine.
When it comes to cheese, the most common complaint we hear from people is that it’s expensive. It reminds me that it’s our role to educate people about why good cheese is, actually, probably too cheap.
It’s a long journey from the milk in an animal’s udder to that cheese on your plate. It can sometimes take years. It begins with pasture, soil and the animals’ welfare, and carries through to the farmer who milks the animals twice a day, 365 days a year and who then makes cheese all day. So much depends on the skill and mood of the cheesemaker and how carefully the cheese is cared for, flipped, salted and transported – each step is integral to the quality of the cheese.
We don’t want to live in world where we have five bries available from the supermarket that all taste the same – none with any discernible depth or character. So this idea of good cheese costing less than a bottle of wine sums it all up. Hopefully, our book changes the lens of the cheese-buying person and they can understand and appreciate the ‘why’ behind choosing a good $25 cheese for their next dinner party.
Sam: That cheese is fascinating. I reckon it deserves more attention. It has played such an important part in the history of human civilisation. Every cheese has a story and tells you a lot about the culture that is comes from. Everyone loves to eat it, but a lot of people don’t seem to know much about it. This book is like Pandora’s box of cheese. After cracking it open, your consciousness will be unlocked to the infinite and fascinating world of cheese. A gentle warning: there’s no going back.
But we’d also love it if you tried…
Ellie: Sammy’s halloumi burgers with special sauce. Use real Cypriot halloumi made from sheep and goat’s milk, rather than cow’s milk, as the texture is so much more succulent – not hard and squeaky. We could possibly have a legal matter on our hands, too – our Maccy D sauce that’s slathered all over it is almost better than the original. Let’s just say you don’t need it to be Monday to devour this meat-free burger.
Sam: The baked camembert is a must. It’s so bloody easy and when you whip it out, everyone (including you) thinks you’re amazing. Think oozy, gooey fondue in under 20 minutes. It’s great for a potluck or a sexy date night.
If you’re a relatively new cook…
Sam: Give the one-pot greens with feta a tap. This dish uses a satisfying amount of greens that were likely wilting in your fridge anyway, but now you have the opportunity to resurrect them with cheese. Finishing with good Greek feta is the secret to this dish, though. It’s easily the most requested dish by our friends and family and it’s so easy.
If you’re looking to extend yourself a bit more, meanwhile…
Ellie: Fondue is a pretty sexy centrepiece for entertaining. What’s not to love about swirling and dipping slender forks into a communal pot of bubbling, molten cheese? The technique is easier than you think to pull off. The biggest tip is the bulk of your cheese should be a classic melter, such as Le Gruyère or Comté, and needs to be at room temperature. We like to use sake, gin or Champagne instead of Kirsch to mix things up – mostly because it tastes better.
When we’re weighing up buying a cookbook or a book about food for myself, we…
Ellie: I like cookbooks with inspiring pictures of what I’m cooking. I also prefer recipes without too many ingredients and I like to be told exactly what to do and when. I like the way Anna Jones tells me to put the kettle on ‘right now’. Alison Roman’s Nothing Fancy or Dining In are still my go-tos when entertaining. As a mum, I’m also looking for meals that take less time, so I’ve gravitated to Yumi Stynes’ The Zero Fucks Cookbook on a weak weeknight moment.
Sam: Ugh, this is a hard one. I have shelves full of cookbooks. I love lots of different cookbooks and I am drawn to different ones depending on my mood. I like cookbooks that have a focus on good produce or that push me to look at flavours outside of my comfort zone. I have been really enjoying Africola: Slow Food Fast Words Cult Chef. It’s pretty brazen and challenges me. I also love Neil Perry and Stephanie Alexander’s classics for home-style cooking.
The books we refer to most often when we’re cooking are…
Ellie: Alison Roman’s Nothing Fancy and Dining In are my entertaining bibles. Everything I make from those books is pretty fail-proof. Anna Jones’ A Modern Way to Eat embraces vegies and has easy-to-follow recipes. Hetty McKinnon’s Tenderheart and To Asia with Love have my back for exploring yummy plant-forward meals and her everything oil is actually EVERYTHING. Ottolenghi’s Simple honours its title. There aren’t too many ingredients and he uses fresh flavours that are perfectly balanced. Stephanie Alexander’s The Cook’s Companion is and oldie but goodie. It’s vast and worthy.
Rene Redzepi’s Noma: Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine is legendary. Lennox Hastie’s Finding Fire is all about simple flavours made better with the lick of flame.
Right now, the Victorian cheese I’m eating the most is…
Ellie: Holy Goat La Luna, Dreaming Goat chèvre and Stone and Crow Curfew; we can’t get enough of this genuinely Australian icon.
When you’ve finished reading The Best Things in Life Are Cheese, we hope you’ll…
Ellie: We hope you’ll feel more confident to enjoy cheese, because, at the end of the day, that’s what it’s about. We’d love you to close the book and know to leave your cheese out of the fridge an hour or two before serving. Or point confidently to a washed rind, because you’ve noticed its orange colour, which means you might taste some pleasantly meaty and savoury funk. It’s those types of tips we hope you will pick up on.
But we do know that after reading our book, you’ll feel safe in the knowledge that if you’re craving cheese, we have you covered with an appropriate recipe, from dawn to dusk and at every hour in between.
The full back-story:
We wrote The Best Things in Life Are Cheese…
Ellie: I’m going to rewind this question to a time just before we had the book deal. I’d not been feeling in a flow state of mind for some time. I’d felt the urge to reconnect with my spirituality and decided to restart a daily meditation practice. As a long-time student of Joe Dispenza, I decided to update my ‘mind movie’ to charge my mental state. For those who don’t know Joe, a mind movie is basically an iMovie version of a vision board for things you want to attract to your life. (Totally daggy, I know.)
Making these life updates included writing a cheese book. The very next day, I had a phone call from Mary Small, our publisher from Plum: “Ellie, random phone call, but have you ever thought of writing a book?” I almost dropped the phone, “Why, yes Mary, I manifested this yesterday.” We chuckled, and perhaps she thought I was completely weird, but we had a long conversation about where we thought there was a gap in the market for a cheese book. We were on the same page: a truly magical and unforgettable day.
In hindsight, perhaps I should’ve added a few more details to this manifestation. I was completely naïve about what it takes to actually write a book. It’s a dream to be offered a book deal, but I sobered up pretty quickly once we started writing.
The timing on the book deal coincided with me trying to fall pregnant. My wife and I conceived Stella through IVF just a month after the book deal. In addition to having to go through normal IVF, I have a condition of high NK cells, which basically means during my IVF journey I had to have high-dose steroids, IV fats/lipids and IV immunosuppressants weekly at a hospital. So the additional medical interventions on top of pregnancy created a physically and mentally taxing environment in which to write a book. Some days, I’d be hooked up to the IV for hours. While other patients ate the free muesli bars and watched reels their phones, I was the weirdo in the corner with a suitcase of cheese books. But I would, of course, bring cheese to the medical staff and other IVF patients, continuing my nickname of smelly Ellie.
Sammy and I began testing the recipes and planning the book over Christmas in Byron Bay with the family. I remember that summer vividly. My wife, KJ, was the food stylist for Delicious for eight years, and is an author herself, as well as a professional recipe writer, and she sat Sammy and I down at the kitchen table. I remember greasing at her a little – it seemed like a very non-holiday thing to do – but she knows us siblings too well and she knew it was the only way we would listen.
Although Sammy and I had been long-time columnists and recipe writers for Delicious ourselves, KJ’s advice was that there was to be absolutely no winging it when it came to the recipe writing. “Measure every teaspoon, every cup, every millilitre – it has to be correct,” she said. “If it tastes slightly off, you just have to keep testing until it’s right.” Sage advice, indeed. Looking back, as much as I wasn’t in a receptive mood at the time, I feel grateful to have received it at the start of our journey.
That summer we tested recipe after recipe after recipe… we didn’t green out, we cheesed out. I didn’t think it was possible to OD on cheese, but I’m pretty sure we did. But it’s also where we consolidated the concept of cheese by occasion, slow Sundays, mates and dates, etc. Sammy spent most of his time developing his midnight snacks section that summer.
Writing the theory part of the book while pregnant was challenging. The hormones are obviously intense and when mixed into the process of writing a book you end up with a wildly bubbling potion. Maybe it was the baby or the over-consumption of cheese, but tensions were high and things got weird. In true author style, I went down many vortexes only to emerge on the other side with a bunch of research that’s way too complex for a regular cheese-loving audience.
Who knows what can be attributed to pregnancy hormones, the IVF drugs, writers block, nesting, my own tendency for perfectionism, or wanting to produce a book I could show my kid that I was proud of, but this potent energy drove me to write into the wee hours of the morning. Scribbling fervently with tiny pencils, I had an overwhelming sense of urgency to get the job done as, with every passing day, I could feel both my human baby and my book baby growing.
I was determined to get as much done as possible before Stella was born. Time and space collapsed for a long time – everything was a blur of research, doctor and hospital appointments, working my day job and writing the book.
Quite soon into the process, I realised that most of the information on cheese exists in books, not the internet. As with much of the internet, a lot of information online is a pastiche of cut-and-pastes from other people’s cheese notes and unsubstantiated facts. So I dove into my dad’s extensive library of cheese books and my own, lugging a suitcase of books to and from wherever I was working – not ideal with an ever-growing belly.
We shot the first bunch of recipes when I was eight months pregnant and Sammy was away on an extended trip to Europe. I felt immense pressure to do a good job and get it right on my own. Shooting in the back streets of Collingwood at a converted church, I remember it being physically hard – especially the breathless trips up and down stairs to the cellar. Each long day ended with hugely swollen, tired legs.
Stella was two weeks late for her entry into the world. Granting me ample time to solidify my workaholic mother reputation. I used every last moment to tinker with the manuscript and may or may not have gone into labour while shooting a reel for Le Creuset (a story for another time).
I did take two beautiful months off with my new little family before I picked up the manuscript again. By then, we were at the editing stage but, being a first-time writer, I didn’t know the additional time it would take to get that baby to print. There were plenty of times when I was breastfeeding and sleep-deprived (and often crying) while reading proofs. There was also a second photoshoot with Sammy (home, finally), where I breastfed a three-month-old Stella just off set. Eventually, we made the final few shoves to push the book across the finish line.
I reckon I can definitely joke that I, indeed, have brought two babies into the world.