Written by Lilani Goonesena.
Tucked away in the hills of northeast Tasmania is a little village called Pyengana, population 123. And quietly making its mark on the Australian dairy industry is the Pyengana Dairy Company. They produce traditional, cloth-bound cheddar – and have done so the exact same way for over a hundred years.
“We haven’t changed any style or methods of cheesemaking since the early 1900s”, said Greg Gibson, the general manager of the company. “This is a hands-on, human controlled, artisan process. It requires talent, patience and perseverance to learn the art and to perfect it”.
Four generations of the Healey family have done one thing and done it properly.
A hundred years ago cheese making was a measured and labour intensive process, taking the time to ensure quality and consistency. At Pyengana Dairy Company, it still is.
The art of making their traditional, stirred-curd cheddar is a labour of love, and a daily six-hour labour at that, for Pyengana’s two young cheese makers.
“We have the luxury of spending time with each batch and letting the curd do what it wants to do”, said James, one of the cheese makers. “Everything you see here today is done by hand. We haven’t tried to speed up the process at all”.
The ethos of quality extends into the dairy farm where old methods efficiently rub shoulders with new, state-of-the-art technology. A sophisticated robotic milking system allows Pyengana’s herd of Friesian cows to “effectively milk themselves” in a stress-free environment.
The cows come up to the milking shed only when they want to be milked. An electronic tagging system ensures that each cow is only milked to its individual capacity, about 25 litres a day.
“The greatest benefit is that our cows are milked according to their needs, not our routine, so there’s no stress on the animal”, said Greg.”
The cows are raised on a farm that is “as organic as possible” and are kept in the herd for 10-12 years. Alongside the cheddars, Pyengana’s produces ‘Real Milk’, a 100 per cent natural, non-homogenised milk for the Tasmanian market, and hand-made ice cream.
Finally, it was time to taste the famous cheddar. Darren, the shop manager, served served up six cheddars at different stages of maturation. We began with the squeaky milk curds that were barely an hour old, and followed through to a four-week old mild cheddar and a 12-month old dry crumbly Tasty cheddar.
The piece de resistance was, of course, the cloth-wrapped 18-month old vintage cheddar. Its salty, bitey flavour was both memorable and moreish.
“The cloth makes a big difference. It keeps the moisture in and helps the bacteria to work”, said Darren. “The bacteria and salt draw moisture out of the cheese. You want that, you need the fat content and the salt to work together”.
The dedication to traditional methods and exceptional quality of the dairy really resonated with the group. It came as no surprise to hear that the company has been consistently winning national awards for its cheddar since 1991, including the 2014 Champion Cheddar Cheese at the Australian Grand Dairy Awards.
Gerald Ryan, a sommelier at Brae in Victoria and Australian Young Waiter 2014, said “There’s a lot of elbow grease that goes into actually making Pyengana cheese and that’s why it’s such a high quality product. After seeing their old-fashioned cheese making and low impact sustainable farming, it’ll be great to sell the stories of a place like this”.
Pyengana Dairy Company