The art of cheese
MANY of us enjoy sampling gourmet cheese with wine or antipasto, but among the gourmet food producers in the North East are cheesemakers who have dedicated themselves to achieving a range of flavour.
Among these is Jack Condron, who worked his way up the ranks at Milawa Cheese Company to the role of head cheesemaker, after initially working in the retail side of the business.
Born and bred in Oxley, he grew up just a stone’s throw from Milawa Cheese.
But over the years, his passion for cheesemaking has grown and grown.
“It’s quite easy to become passionate about cheesemaking, many people do it at home in their spare time as a hobby,” Jack said.
“I guess what I love about it is the idea of creating something delicious that other people really enjoy.
“A good cheesemaker has to be observant, always monitoring the milk and the cheese itself right through maturation - some of which can take two years.
“The process too is a rare mix of art and science, where you have to think about the microbes and how they work within a cheese, and then also thinking about how that cheese will look and taste.
“It can be frustrating, but it’s a thoroughly enjoyable job.
“I’ve been lucky to have worked with such knowledgeable people who are widely renowned throughout the industry.”
Jack’s dream is to travel to Western Europe, particularly Britain, France and Italy, to get a feel for the processes used by the cheesemakers there.
“I think it’s always interesting to see how other people and cultures go about cheesemaking, and sometimes you can learn new techniques and apply it to what you’re doing, which really elevates your knowledge and skill set,” he said.
Jack believes it’s a “very exciting time for food producers in the North East”, saying that as new producers of food and beverage products emerge, “the more people we are going to draw here, and that’s great for growth”.
Meanwhile for Donovan and Melissa Jacka, of Tolpuddle Cheese, beginning the business was a way to start their lives anew and forge a career in something that they loved.
Donovan said the couple have always had an avid interest in food, from whipping up delicious dinners to indulging in antipasto with some good wine.
And the pair spent many years experimenting with home cheesemaking before making the move to Tarrawingee from inner Melbourne.
“We’re just two people who wanted to have a go,” he said.
Donovan said the business has grown to a point where they are producing around three tonnes of goat cheese per year, with the milk coming from Sansen goats they raise themselves.
He said that both he and Melissa enjoy “creating something with nothing more than the raw product in your hands”.
The couple love that cheese flavours are ever changing, depending on the goats, the time of year and even the weather.
Donovan said while the business has won a number of awards over the past few years, he and Melissa find the positive feedback from customers the most rewarding part of the job.
When he’s not making cheese or working on the farm, Donovan said his favourite indulgence was to make and enjoy homemade salami, adding that salami season was one of his favourite times of year.
He said he was heartened to see the constant growth of the food and wine scene in the North East.
“It’s grown substantially,” he said, crediting shows such as Masterchef for fostering huge interest in locally produced food and ingredients.
RISING STAR: Jack Condron is among the cheesemakers at
Milawa Cheese and (inset) Melissa Jacka has developed Tolpuddle Cheese at the family’s Tarrawingee property.
NEW LIFE: Establishing Tolpuddle Cheese was a lifestyle change for the better for the Jacka family of (from left) Melissa, Harvey, Donovan and Mackenzie.