By JrmAugust 29,2016
This Island is the host to some of Australia’s best produce. Located only an hours drive and a short ferry ride from Hobart, Bruny Island is today known for all of its amazing produce. On this 100 km long Island you can find cellar doors and farms inviting you to taste anything from Whiskey to olive oil, cheese, fudge, mustard, wine, honey, pork and beer.
When JRM visited Bruny Island we were amazed at the skill sets of the people who live there. Far away from todays trends and hipsters, it was very refreshing to meet such genuine passionate people, who literally dedicate there everyday life to creating great produce. Our communications manager Kristin spent the day at Bruny Island Cheese Company to find out more about Australia’s first raw milk cheese and to visit their newly opened brewery.
The man behind Bruny Island cheese is a man called Nick Haddow, he and his wife moved to Bruny Island in 2001 and started making cheese in their living room. Nick’s life long love story with cheese dates back to early Saturday morning food markets with his mother back in Adelaide, where he recalls being fascinated by all the different kinds of cheese on offer. He grew up studying hotel management while working at some of Adelaide’s best restaurants, and his fascination and passion for cheese grew stronger. Since then he has travelled the world, and worked in and visited cheese makers and farms in every corner of the globe. This has given Nick a broad knowledge and understanding of the process of cheese making, as well as a great passion for it. At Bruny Island Cheese Co they believe that good cheese has been around a lot longer than any machinery or modern technology and the traditional ways of making cheese are still the best.
The atmosphere at Bruny Island Cheese company is one of genuine passion. A characteristic that reflects Nick’s journey to where his cheese is today. Everything that is used in the process is sourced locally. The milk comes from Whitehall Dairy in the Derwent Valley just north of Hobart and once a year the local vinyard will give them their grape pressings that they then coat one of their semi hard cheeses with to give flavour. They also use Native Tasmanian Huon Pine boards for their 1792 soft cheese, giving it a pungent and aromatic flavour.
But the magic behind it all is the milk…
Back in 1996 all production of raw milk products was banned in Australia, this was due to the high risk of contamination and spread of salmonella. Some might say that this was the easy way of eliminating the problem but not the right way. The problem is not in the milk itself its in how the cows are being treated; what you feed them, the cleanliness of the farm and how you look after the milk once it’s out. It was only last year that the Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) lifted the ban on some raw milk cheeses. It doesn’t give cheese makers free reign, but it’s at least a start. It’s up to the producers to convince the regulators that their raw milk cheese making process meets the FSANZ standards. And this is what Nick had managed to do even before the ban was lifted. He argued that by gently heating the curd for about 10 minutes at 50 degrees and then maturing the cheese for six months, the bacteria was reduced to a safe levels. This process doesn’t completely eliminate the risk of contamination, but Nick and his team seem quite confident that the product that they are creating is safe regardless. This is the beauty of artisan producers. You take your time to find likeminded people to work with, Nick knows his dairy farmers and trusts that they treat their cows, feeds and milk with the “respect” that they should.
But what is really fascinating with working with raw milk is that it can vary so much. Nick’s right hand man and cheese maker Halsey explains to us how they taste the milk every morning when it comes in and document its PH and flavour characteristics. Only then do they decided what cheese to make out of it.
“ The milk changes drastically based on the season. In the winter months for example the cows are eating hay and silage which can give the milk a really strong flavour. With that milk we might decide to make a pasteurised hard cheese as the pasteurisation of the milk mellows the flavour. When spring comes and cows are let loose on the pasture, they are eating flowers and clover and get all crazy and jump around, you can taste that in the milk. The ‘spring’ milk is a lot sweeter, so we might make a run of raw milk cheese for those first weeks just because the milk just tastes so good that you don’t want to mess with it”
Once the destiny of the milk has been decided the crafting can begin. Rather than following a precise recipe when making their cheeses they work with the milk to create the best possible product. In this way, quality is more important than consistency. This is another reason Nick’s cheese is unique. The second big factor in their cheese making is how they age the cheese. Nick and Hasley have been experimenting with a lot different methods during the ageing process such as covering the cheese in grape pressings, brushing it with whey, Tasman sea salt and even their own brewed beer. It is this experimenting and testing that makes Hasley’s job so exciting. In many ways he is a professor in a lab, but rather than working with chemicals and test tubes he is working with live bacteria. And through close documentation and observation of the “experiments” Hasley has learnt to read the characteristics of the milk as well as the different behaviour of bacterias.
At Bruny island cheesery they have 4 different drying rooms, all set to slightly different temperatures encouraging different types of bacteria and mould. The cheese is cared for on a daily basis and either wiped, tapped or brushed, depending on the batch. The shelves are stacked with big cheeses, small cheeses, fluffy cheeses and smelly cheeses. It’s only when you actually step into one of these fridges that you can get a feel for the live bacteria in the room, and you get a better understanding of how they work. Needless to say the finished product is truly unique, not only does it have a creamy finish but is full of natural aroma and character.
It is a cheese on its own level. Made with so much creativity, love and care.
But it doesn’t end there, since February this year they have also been brewing their own beer. Nick and brewer Evans paths crossed a couple of years ago as Evan was attempting to get his own brewery started and was looking for investors. They soon realised that they shared a similar philosophy around the natural production of things and started working together. Two years later Evan has now built and designed his own little brewery at the back of the cheesery.
Evan has gained his knowledge and passion from working at Tasmanian breweries like Seven Sheds and Moo Brew as well as Lark whisky distillery. As Evan notes, “ the production of beer and whiskey are very similar” A lot of planning and precision has gone in to the design of the brewery where the tanks are redesigned, recycled milk tanks. For Evan, the most important part of brewing beer is to really understand the process and be able to work and adapt to each brew. “Brewing is such an ancient process that comes with a lot of traditions, but its important not just to follow a formula” Just as with the cheese making process, we are working with a live bacteria that will differ sometimes from day to day. This is what makes Evans job so interesting, to be able to observe and stimulate his brews.
And in the true spirit of Bruny Island Cheese Co, all ingredients in Evans beer come from Tasmania. They use Tasmanian grown westminster barley, kindred oats and red wheat as well as Busy Park hops and Bruny Island rain water. Using traditional methods of open fermentation, no additives and natural bottle conditioning, where the active yeast continues to produce carbon dioxide once the beer is bottled. Evan completed his first brew of Farm Ale beer back in February this year. He has since experimented with a couple of different brews, including a dark pale ale called Oxymoron and the Harvest Ale which is a fresh hopped and pepperberry (from Bruny) infused wheat beer.
They also produce a light beer (Lighthouse Ale 2,8%) inspired by the Bruny Island light house and a wild ale, brewed with Tasmanian leatherwood honey (Honey Child). Each brew is open fermented in low vats and manually bottled and capped. Thats right, Evan single handedly bottles and caps between 800-1600 bottles batch.
You might now understand the creativity dedication and passion that goes in to every bottle of delicious Bruny Island beer.
If you would like to find out more about The Bruny Island Cheese Company and brewery or taste some of their amazing produce you can join their cheese club where you can get sent a selection of their produce on a regular basis or simply just book your next holiday to Bruny Island.
Also don’t forget to check out Nick Haddow’s beautiful book MILK MADE where he explains how to make your favourite kind of cheese and how to cook with it.