How I Melbourne: Anthony Femia

Published on 16 January 2020

Photo: Anthony Femia, the founder and owner of Maker & Monger

Any serious cheese-lover in Melbourne will tell you that self-control and Maker & Monger are mutually exclusive things. The Prahran Market store is the work of cheesemonger Anthony Femia, who got his start working at a small delicatessen in Sydney when he was a university student. Stints at Simon Johnson, Spring Street Grocer and Richmond Hill Café & Larder fed his obsession before he travelled to France, the US and UK on a Churchill Fellowship to learn more about cheesemaking and affinage, the ripening of cheese. He opened Maker & Monger in 2015, offering raclette, cheese to take home, and a menu of now-famous cheese toasties from a small wooden cart dubbed the Chariot of Cheese. Last year, this was upgraded to a permanent store, the Chapel of Cheese, complete with a maturation cellar and a seven-metre cheese counter. There, you might find Victorian goat’s cheese, selections from Neal’s Yard or a Marcel Petite Comté that’s exclusive to Maker & Monger. And yes, the toasties are still on offer.

My defining food moment in Melbourne happens to have been the very first day I arrived here in June 2010. I went straight to MoVida after checking into my hotel and, seeing the amazing backdrop of graffiti on Hosier Lane, I knew I was in for something special. I ordered seven dishes but the star was the beef cheek braised in Pedro Ximénez with cauliflower purée. I sat in there for three hours feeling like I’d made the right decision to make the move to Melbourne. Funnily enough, due to the amount of food I’d ordered, the floor manager thought I was a reviewer of some sort and comped a couple of the dishes. I wasn’t going to argue.

I know I’m in Melbourne when I’m sitting out the front of Marion on a late summer evening, glass of wine in hand, watching the sun set over Carlton Gardens with the gentle rattle of a tram going by on Gertrude Street, before I make my way to Cutler & Co’s front bar for a seafood platter and vermouth while watching the masters at work in the incredibly designed kitchen.

The best new thing I’ve found is the Cream app. Some of Melbourne’s best chefs and restaurant owners share their go-to eateries and bars for all occasions. I love it because it’s essentially a peer-reviewed platform. There are places on there that have been added to my very, very long list of must-visits because, hey, who doesn’t want to eat where the chefs eat? First up, I promised Coskun Uysal I would visit Tulum.

Another new thing that I’m really excited about is the pottery studio and retail shop which has opened on Chapel Street just around the corner from the Prahran Market. It’s called The Pot Dispensary and the owner, Alexandra Sinclair, is not only an amazing talent at making incredible pieces of pottery but an awesome teacher, too. It’s where you find me almost every Thursday and Friday, learning how to throw my own “almost perfect” set of bowls and jugs. I love using pottery tableware at home and at the shop and get great joy from learning this craft.

When I want to push the boat out on a meal, I go to Amaru. The dining room, service, wine pairings and, of course, the perfect balance of flavour and technique in Clinton McIver’s cooking makes for the perfect night.

There’s no better value in Melbourne than  Miznon on Hardware Lane, especially for a group night out or a quick lunch. It’s got a fun, cool vibe and a delicious way of using fresh ingredients. I took the Maker & Monger staff there recently to celebrate the opening of our new shop, followed by mini-golf at Holey Moley, which has quirky holes and an even quirkier cocktail list that’s straight out of the ’90s. Midori anyone?

And when I want to dazzle friends from out of town, I like to either take a road trip down to Captain Moonlite at Anglesea Surf Club for the ultimate long lunch with ocean views and a walk along the beach afterwards to help with the digestion or, if we’re staying in town, I’ll plan dinner at Carlton Wine Room followed by a stroll to Pidapipó for gelato (usually fior di latte and pistachio) and rooftop drinks at Johnny’s Green Room to take in the sexy skyline that is the Melbourne CBD on a clear summer’s night.

 In the mornings you’ll find me among the buzz and activity of the Prahran Market as everyone is setting up their displays after their morning expeditions to the wholesale market. I’ll have a chat with our neighbours – Damian Pike, the mushroom master, Gary of Gary’s Meats and Paulie of Ripe Organic – about what’s in season and what I should be cooking that night while forklifts zip in and out of the aisles carrying pallets of delicious seasonal produce. The theatre of the market, especially on a Saturday morning, is something truly special and one of the major reasons why I love Maker & Monger being a part of this community.

If you looked in my fridge, you might be surprised to find bottles of Almo almond milk, which I drink every morning in my “wake up, let’s seize the day” smoothies. Due to an allergy (not lactose intolerance, thank god), I can’t have fresh milk at the moment and find Almo milk the perfect addition to my oats, berries and banana. Other than that, the fridge is quite empty as Prahran Market is not only my workplace but also my pantry and fridge. I buy ingredients every day to cook that night. My go-to cookbook at the moment is Ottolenghi’s Simple: it’s so delicious and easy.

The last awesome Victorian thing I drank was Pennyweight’s oloroso sherry paired with a perfectly ripe camembert from Normandy. The weight of flavour married perfectly with the cheese’s cooked cauliflower and corn notes. The sherry’s acidity also cut through the unctuous texture so well that it had me transported to the clouds to sit among the cheese gods, giving thanks that they guided our ancestors to mistakenly ferment their milk in calf-skin pouches while walking the deserts of Mesopotamia only to discover they created cheese.

My local is France-Soir. It has an impeccable wine list and it transports you to the bistros of Paris.

If I could change one thing about eating and drinking here it would be the number of cafes and restaurants basing their menu around fads that get the most likes on Instagram. Another thing that bothers me is venues bowing down to “influencers” who want free meals in exchange for content that does little for their business other than a few likes on a page of someone with little or no food knowledge. Okay, I’m getting off my soapbox now.

But the one thing I hope never changes in Melbourne is the breadth of bar dining in the CBD, particularly in and around Flinders Lane where you can take a seat at the bar with company or alone, enjoy the theatre of the kitchen and the charm of people watching, and eat something delicious paired with an even better drink. Think Embla, Bar Margaux, Di Stasio Città, Cumulus Up, Kisumé and the new and exciting Byrdi by Luke Whearty (insider’s tip: order the Milk and Honey cocktail).

Cheese Dreams, an after-dark event at Maker & Monger for MFWF 2020, is happening on Thursday 26 March. Tickets are on sale now.

See Anthony in his element at Maker & Monger, Stall 98 at Prahran Market, 163 Commercial Rd, South Yarra. Market days are Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. On Instagram, find him on @makerandmonger or @thecheesemonger

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