Written by Lilani Goonesena.
It’s a Tuesday morning on the Electrolux Appetite for Excellence produce tour and that means blue cheese day at Boosey Creek Cheese.
Cheesemaker and co-owner, Ken Cameron, gives us a tour of the dairy and 900-acre farm where 350 Friesian cows produce 400 million litres of milk a year. Only 100,000 litres goes into the cheesemaking, yet this ‘side business’ is the heart of Boosey Creek.
“We’ve been milking cows on this farm for 14 years and have been dairy farmers before that,” says Ken. “But when the drought came through, we sold the bigger part of the dairy and started making cheese.”
That diversification, spurred by a family history of cheesemaking and Ken’s passion has turned around the family business.
“The second batch of cheese I ever made won a silver medal at the Sydney Royal Show,” says Ken proudly. While the Boosey Blue is their best seller, the Warby Red Brie/Camembert is racking up the awards, including Australia’s Champion Washed Rind Cheese in the 2015 Australian Grand Dairy Awards.
On Mondays, they make Camembert and Brie, on Tuesdays, it’s blue cheese, and Gouda and cheddar are made “any day of the week.”
Ken uses 500 litres from the first milking of the day for the cheesemaking. The milk runs directly from the cows to the dairy through a pipe barely a metre long between the two buildings. “That’s one thing we do differently,” says Ken’s mother, Ada Cameron, as she expertly cuts a Warby Red for our tasting. “As soon as you have to transport your milk even 100m across the yard to the factory you have to cool it, then heat it up and pump it again, whereas our milk only gets one little pump. That makes a huge difference to the quality of the cheese.”
The quality is also in the cheesemaking.
“Everything is done by hand,” explains Ada. “The salting, hooping, wrapping and milling. After the curds set they have to be milled. Big factories use machinery but we do it with the chopping board. You’ve got to have it done within so many minutes so the pH doesn’t change so we’re all madly chopping away.”
The success of a small-scale, artisanal cheesemaker is one of the factors that impress chef Jordan McLeod and waiter Robert Luo from Oscillate Wildly.
Dan Moss, chef and restaurateur from Terroir Auburn, also appreciates seeing things first hand. “We make our own Haloumi cheese so I can relate to a few of the processes. We use milk from Jersey cows in the Fleurieu so it was interesting to see this milk from Friesians, and the sheer size of them,” he says.
By-products, such as whey, are returned to the farm. “We make a poo shandy,” says Ada. “We have a two pond system for our effluence. During irrigation season we shandy that with our irrigation water and it goes on the paddocks. The grass loves it.”
The irrigation system also means the cows feed on perennial and annual pastures all year round. They are also fed grains during milking, depending on their individual feeding allowance.
“All the cows have RFID tags; when they walk into the dairy, it reads their number and that information is used for the feed system. There’s also a milk meter that checks how much milk they give,” says Ken.
“On average, a cow produces 30 litres a day, and up to 50 litres when they calve. Friesians produce more milk than most breeds. We milk three times a day and the majority goes to Parmalat for Pauls milk.
“They are two years old when they’re started and they calve every 12-15 months. We have cows calving all year round and about half of those are female, so the herd is growing by 100 cows a year. We don’t buy any; we sell the older cows routinely, and the male calves at five-days old.”
We walk around to the shed where a dozen doe-eyed brown calves are hand fed by Ken and his family. The calves poke their noses through the wooden gates and lick our fingers.
It’s life on a dairy farm, and the result is award-winning cheese that spells success for the Cameron family.
Boosey Creek Cheese
734 Grinter Road
Boosey VIC 3730
+61 3 5748 4374