By Kirra Grimes
MOYARRA cheesemakers Burke and Bronwyn Brandon are no strangers to success, regularly picking up major awards for their sheep’s and goat’s milk cheeses.
And they’re confident they’re onto another winner with the latest addition to their range.
Under their label Prom Country Cheese, Burke and Bronwyn recently picked up a swag of gold medals at state and national level for staple products including a delicate, creamy blue mould sheep cheese (Venus Blue) and a semi-hard carefully matured ewes-milk cheese (Cheviot Royale) at the Australian Food Awards and the Delicious Harvey Norman Produce Awards.
But rather than resting on their laurels, the couple are already working on a new release for 2020, taking on the challenge of launching the first raw milk cheese ever to be produced for retail in Victoria.
The Brandons are only the second cheesemakers to attempt the feat of producing an unpasteurised, uncooked cheese in Australia, with most deterred by the rigorous and costly food safety testing and approval process.
Strict regulations for raw milk cheese include not feeding any silage (due to the risk of clostridial bacteria passing into the milk); only using milk that’s less than 24 hours old; and keeping the raw milk products in a separate room to the pasteurised products.
The Brandons have had to restructure their cheesery to accommodate these requirements, including discontinuing their goat’s milk product line which used outsourced milk.
They’ve also had to prepare themselves for a much more labour-intensive production method, involving small batches of milk and stirring and pressing of the curd to eliminate moisture.
But it will all be worth it, they say, to meet the growing demand for locally produced raw milk cheese.
“People have been buying raw milk cheese for years, but it’s all imported, because up until now, the regulations haven’t allowed us to make it here,” Burke explained.
“We get people asking us all the time, ‘why can’t we buy Australian-made raw milk cheese?’”
“Because even though it’s been demonstrated that it can be done safely, without risk to the consumer, the approval process is so complex that nobody’s really taken up the challenge yet.”
Producing their own milk, rather than outsourcing, is crucial to ensuring the safety and quality of a raw milk product, Burke said.
“Because we produce our own milk, we’re in control every step of the way and we can ensure that we’ve got really clean milk,” he said.
“For instance, our paddocks are really muddy at the moment, so we can’t start making the raw milk cheese until they clean up a bit.
“Most of our milk now’s going to the lambs, and when they’ve finished, and the grass starts growing again, we’ll be able to start the raw milk cheese.”
Once they’ve gotten through the product development phase, which includes plenty of paperwork and regular meetings with Dairy Food Safety Victoria, the process of actually making the raw milk cheese will take a minimum of six months.
The Brandons’ first raw milk product will be a hard cheese, similar to their Cheviot Royale, but they hope to produce a whole line of raw milk cheeses eventually.
Using raw milk will give the cheeses an even stronger distinctive regional flavour than Prom Country’s original, and much-loved homegrown products.
“Using raw milk is an extension of what we’ve always tried to do, which is to get distinctly regional flavours into the milk and the cheese,” Burke said.
“It’s a long-term project, and we’ll have to allocate our milk carefully to still have our regular products and a little bit for the new ones. But we’re confident it will be successful,” he said.