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Melt over these cheeses

21-Nov-2010 (Sun) The Sunday Times

By Eunice Quek

Singaporeans have moved on from eating processed sliced cheese to more exotic, artisanal types

All sorts of cheeses, including hard ones, smelly ones and those with mould, can be found at retailers such as Cold Storage (above) and La Fromagerie. -- ST PHOTO: TED CHEN

Stinky cheeses are enjoying the sweet smell of success in Singapore.

Supermarkets and retailers here are going beyond the usual processed cheese slices and bringing in more pungent and robust varieties of the dairy product.

They report that demand from customers has increased and that their supply of cheese varieties is expanding by at least 10 per cent every year. This despite the fact that up to 90 per cent of Singaporeans may be lactose intolerant to a certain degree.

Cheeses available here include blue cheese, which has a blue-green mould incorporated when the cheese is being made; washed-rind cheese, which has a rind with a red or orange tinge because it is rubbed with salt water; soft and sharp cheeses with creamy textures; and hard cheeses that are more intense due to a longer ageing process.

Supermarket chain Cold Storage stocks a range of artisanal French blue cheeses such as Trichome and Chaumont. Ms Evonne Tan, category manager for the delicatessen in Cold Storage and Market Place supermarkets, says that it has customers requesting special cheeses.

She adds: 'Our cheese sales have been growing by more than 10 per cent a year in recent years and we are constantly expanding our range of cheeses and introducing new varieties.'

French-owned hypermart Carrefour, which has outlets in Suntec City and Plaza Singapura, has also expanded its cheese stock, with more exotic varieties such as Castello blue cheese and organic sharp cheddar cheese finding buyers here.

NTUC FairPrice outlets in the heartlands have also expanded their cheese ranges. Mrs Mui-Kok Kah Wei, deputy director, purchasing and merchandising office, says: 'With Singaporeans becoming more affluent and well-travelled, customers have become more discerning and are more willing to try new products.

'To cater to different customer needs, we have increased our range of cheeses by more than 10 per cent over the past three years.'

Singaporeans' more sophisticated palate can also be seen in the increased demand at restaurants and cheese shops.

German restaurant Magma Wine Bistro has been bringing in German cheeses and serving mixed cheese platters for the past three years, as the demand from locals grows.

The restaurant's general manager Dagmar Wendt, 49, says: 'A few years ago, half of my customers who ask for cheese platters are locals. Now, 80 per cent of them are locals. Also, regulars are always eager to try new or unusual cheeses.'

General manager Thomas Kreissl from Huber's Butchery adds that sales of cheeses at his establishment have 'almost doubled over a span of two years'.

He says: 'From focusing strongly on Swiss cheeses, we have gradually added cheeses from countries such as France, Italy, Spain, Germany and Holland.

'This does not include only the more common varieties, but also the lesser-known artisan cheeses that have found a following among our customers.'

To meet the demand, the meat and wine specialist has bumped up its variety by about 60 per cent in the last two years.

Similarly, gourmet cheese shop La Fromagerie reports an 80 per cent increase in demand for exotic cheeses in the four years since it opened in Chip Bee Gardens.

The love for cheese has also sparked an increase in demand for its traditional accompaniments. The restaurants and supermarkets that LifeStyle spoke to have increased their stocks of both crackers and wines.

And shops from specialist retailers Magma Wine Bistro, Huber's Butchery and jones the grocer to mass market outlets FairPrice Finest and Cold Storage now organise regular cheese and wine appreciation events.

A recent convert to exotic cheeses, Ms Shireen Tan, 32, says: 'With the increase of new cheeses brought in by supermarkets, my eating habits have taken on a new dimension as I try to use them for dinner parties.'

Can Singaporeans drink milk?

Up to 90 per cent of Singaporeans may be lactose intolerant to a certain degree. Lactose intolerance is more common among Chinese and Malays.

It is due to an inability to process lactose, a sugar found most commonly in milk and its byproducts such as cheese and butter.

The undigested lactose is fermented in the lower intestine to form water, gas and volatile acids.

This causes symptoms such as flatulence, abdominal cramps, diarrhoea and headaches.

Some ways to diagnose the condition include hydrogen breath tests, scopes and blood tests.

In hydrogen breath tests, a patient has to go through an overnight fast and swallow 50g of lactose. If he is lactose intolerant, hydrogen will be produced as a byproduct.

While certain types of antibiotics can reduce lactose intolerance, it may be best to avoid dairy products altogether.

Information from Dr David Ong, associate consultant in the department of gastroenterology and hepatology at the National University Hospital (NUH), and Professor Quak Seng Hock, head and senior consultant in the division of paediatric gastroenterology and hepatology, University Children's Medical Institute in NUH.