Victoria's first raw milk cheese: watch video

First raw milk cheese from Victorian cheesemaker

Business Management
THE RAW TRUTH: Prom Country Cheese owner and cheesemaker Burke Brandon shows off one of the first commercial raw milk cheeses to be made in Victoria.

THE RAW TRUTH: Prom Country Cheese owner and cheesemaker Burke Brandon shows off one of the first commercial raw milk cheeses to be made in Victoria.

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At Prom Country Cheese, Burke and Bronwyn Brandon are making Victoria's first commercial raw milk cheese.

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The sheep standing to be milked in a tiny dairy nestled in the hills of South Gippsland don't know it but they are creating history.

At Prom Country Cheese, Burke and Bronwyn Brandon are making Victoria's first commercial raw milk cheese.

And it's the ultimate in minimalistic cheese making.

"There are two types of raw milk cheese," Mr Brandon explained.

"One starts with raw milk but the curd is cooked to achieve pasteurisation later.

"We decided to keep it raw all the way through, which allows the natural flora and microbes in the milk to survive and influence the flavour of the cheese."

The result is a hard, alpine-style cheese.

"We've tweaked the recipe to make a mature Gouda that's kept to age," he said.

"The curds of the cheese are pressed underneath the whey to give it the Gouda texture."

The process begins even before the sheep reach the small brick dairy.

To achieve the stringent milk quality standards required, the Brandons spent months preparing their milking flock and found they had to wait until winter had passed.

The immersion of the cheese makers in the dairy had also helped.

"When we're making raw milk cheese, we move the whole cheese-making process down to the dairy a little bit," Mr Brandon said.

"Instead of receiving the milk into the factory and then pasteurising it and starting it in the vat, we actually start the process in the milk vat down at the dairy, where I put the starter cultures into the milk right from the beginning."

But, despite its simplicity, producing raw milk cheese is anything but easy.

The cheese must be kept at over 12 degrees Celsius for five months to deactivate pathogens, salted to develop a protective rind and kill bad bacteria, allowed to breathe without drying out too much, and have its lactic acid content maintained.

The batches are small and there is a mandatory two-day break between conventional and raw cheese production.

And, to make sure it really is safe, there's a lot of testing and scrutiny from food safety authorities.

In fact, it took a year-long review of Prom Country's food safety plan before production was given the go-ahead.

Milk is tested weekly and each batch of cheese is tested the first week after it's made and again when it's ready to be sold.

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The testing alone costs about $500 per batch, so it won't be a cheap cheese.

Prom Country Cheese's first raw milk cheese wheels will be available in August but the Brandons are not likely to let just anyone purchase the end result.

It will be available at the cellar door and through a handful of "trusted" cheese mongers and deli owners.

"Anyone who has our cheese for more than a week needs to know how to look after it and store it correctly as it changes over time," Mr Brandon said.

The Brandons expect mixed reviews from consumers.

"Some people are quite used to being able to get it but just not Australian cheese while other people are really curious to try it," he said.

"We do have an educational role to get it out there and dispel some myths as to what it's like.

"It may very well be too strong for some people but it might be more subtle than others would expect.

"There are different flavours that we're not always used to but, if nothing else, it's creating something that's interesting.

"That's what we've always tried to do with our cheeses: create different flavours, cheeses that are interesting to look at and not be a commodity but the centrepiece of a dinner party."

While demand for raw milk cheese was strong, the Brandons believed it would remain a niche product.

"It's certainly going to start off as a small portion of what we do but I could see it replacing a lot of our hard cheese in the future," Mr Brandon said.

"It could become a third of our business."

While raw milk cheese is a first, Prom Country Cheese is a well-established boutique cheese maker.

Its Venus Blue, for example, has been made the Australian Grand Dairy Award champion in both 2020 and 2017 but the prize-winning blue vein is outsold by Prom Country's hard cheeses.

"As nice as it is, there's only so much blue vein you can eat at a time," Mr Brandon remarked.

From a business perspective, it made sense, too.

The blue cheese has a season of four to eight months but hard cheeses continue to age well for two years.

That fits in well with the Brandons' sustainable philosophy that sees them pause production for three months a year.

Prom Country Cheese has a cellar door on-farm at Moyarra but its products can also be ordered online and delivered by the Prom Coast Food Collective.

The story Victoria's first raw milk cheese: watch video first appeared on Stock & Land.

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