When does a cheese maker become a dairy farmer? When they want to push the boundaries of cheese making in Australia and make raw milk cheese.
“When the cheesery is on the farm it means you can use milk that is hours old, literally minutes old, milked that morning and that is a critical step to guarantee the quality of that milk,” Tasmanian cheese maker Nick Haddow said.
According to Food Safety Australia and New Zealand — the fresher and the cleaner the raw milk used in raw milk cheese, the safer.
That’s why Mr Haddow, from Bruny Island, has pulled on the gumboots and set up his own dairy farm in the Huon Valley.
Provenance of our milk is really important, understanding where our milk comes from and having a large role in developing that literally from the ground up,” he said.
Ten years ago Mr Haddow was one of the first in Australia to officially produce a raw milk cheese, with unpasteurised milk, successfully navigating complex food safety regulations to do so.
“The cheese that we’re best known for and the cheese that is most in demand that we make is our raw milk cheese … we all travel so much now, raw milk cheese is made around the world except for Australia and people want that when they get back here,” Mr Haddow said.
Raw milk cheese is made with milk that hasn’t gone through a heating or pasteurisation process to kill bacteria.
Food Safety Expert Dr Tom Ross from the University of Tasmania described pasteurisation as, “heating the milk at a sufficient high temperature that it will kill vegetative bacteria … for most modern milk processing it’s 72 to 74 degrees Celsius for about 15 seconds which reduces the probability that there is any bad bacteria by a million to 100 million”.
“If you start from pasteurised milk you’ve got a much greater confidence that there won’t be any bad bacteria there,” Associate Professor Ross said.
A few years ago Food Standards Australia New Zealand softened its regulations around raw milk cheese slightly.
Dr Ross said change opens the way for cheese makers who can access good quality, fresh raw milk that is as clean as pasteurised milk.
With his own dairy, Mr Haddow is confident he can do that.
Raw milk cheese advocates argue that pasteurisation takes out some of the local flavours.
Cheese expert and passionate raw milk cheese activist Will Studd is so excited he’s been to the Huon farm to look over the fledgling operation.
“If we want small dairy farms, if we want rare breeds, if we want cow welfare, if we want cheese makers making cheese with skill, if we want cheeses reflecting where they come from we need to make cheese from raw milk, otherwise we are going to be left with industrial cheeses that could be made anywhere and that’s not the sort of future I want to see,” Mr Studd said.
Old tradition, new marketing
Mr Haddow turned to his internet customer base to help realise his dairy farm dream, appealing for financial help through a crowd funding platform.
Some of his most loyal customers were amongst 550 financial backers, raising nearly $200,000.
“It was really successful that allowed us to buy the herd … and to build the calving shed and start work on the dairy as well,” Mr Haddow said.
He’s been very “choosey” about his herd of cows, picking rare, heritage breeds known historically to produce good milk for cheese making.
“The breeds that we have gone with have not considered commercial varieties these days which is brown Swiss, Normande and Australian dairy shorthorn … they’re all old breeds, very rare breeds [and] hard to come by, but they’re also traditional cheese making breeds in times gone past,” Mr Haddow said.
“They’re also dual purpose … they produce good beef style calves.”
Mr Haddow plans to raise the calves for meat.
“It’s the number one question our crowd funders wanted to know; what we are going to do with our bobby calves,” he said.
“We’re committed to raising all of our calves on our prop and we’ve got enough land around us with good grass-growing capability to raise them for veal and beef and then we’ll be able to sell that veal and beef meat back through our existing sales channels.”
Until the new cheesery is built the milk will be trucked to the Bruny Island Cheesery for each cheese making day.
In the end though everything will be produced at the farm, and according to Mr Haddow it’s a win-win.
“Ultimately what I want to do is build another cheesery onsite just up the hill and to make more of our hard cheese here and to make it out of unpasteurised milk … to have the cheesery on the farm, on the same place the milk is coming from and to have the same place and to sell that cheese on the same place as well … that’s a really exciting project for us,” Mr Haddow said.
By: Fiona Breen