Nobody that I know seems to have realized it but Australia has a national cheese. We all know and love our national toast and sandwich spread -- Vegemite -- but we are, if anything, even more focused on one type of cheese.
The French would of course think of us as insane and the Brits too might be a bit scornful -- except for the fact that they too have a well-acknowledged national cheese of their own: Cheddar.
But our national cheese is far more pervasive than Cheddar. When I go into the dairy aisle of my local Woolworths supermarket there are yards of shelf space devoted to it, with other types of cheese almost totally absent. On the very top shelf there are very small quantities of a few "foreign" cheeses: Jarlsberg, Romano, Havarti, Mascarpone etc.
So what is this remarkable cheese? It is -- most unimaginatively -- called "Tasty". And it certainly is tasty. Various dairies make it under their own brand but it is always identified as "Tasty". And I for one cannot tell the product of one dairy from another. It really is the same cheese that they are all making. You can get it in various sized packs and you can even get it grated but Tasty it is.
When I first started work as a NSW public servant in central Sydney in 1968, I worked in a building that had a cafeteria in the basement. We all went there to order our sandwiches, pies, Chester cakes et.
I was saddened when I visited Chester in England in 1977 and asked for a Chester cake. I was told: "No. We only do those on Wednesday". They did them every day in Sydney.
And if you ordered any type of a cheese sandwich from the basement cafeteria, the sandwich lady would say: "Mild or Tasty"? and point to the two trays of sliced cheese in front of her. Even at that stage, I was surprised at the limited offering but it now seems to have become even more extreme. Packs of "Mild" have to be searched for. Sometimes there is only one there.
The only other offering from more than one dairy that you see is "Colby". That is a smoother and milder product than Tasty. After many years of eating Tasty, I am now a Colby man. You also see "Coon" cheese but it tastes the same as a "Tasty" to me. Perhaps I should do a blind tasting sometime.
There was at one stage a claim that "Coon" was a naughty word -- politically incorrect. But it seems to have survived that onslaught.
And then there is the sliced cheese section. Again Tasty dominates but a surprising thing is that the "Home Brand" stuff is unlike any of the block cheese. It is a very mild, Cheddar-type cheese. So if you like Cheddar cheese you have to buy it pre-sliced!