BRUNY ISLAND CHEESE’S NICK HADDOW HAS ACHIEVED HIS DREAM OF PADDOCK TO PLATE THROUGH HAND-PICKED DAIRY COWS, ETHICAL PRACTICES AND OLD-FASHIONED KNOW-HOW.
IT’S A BRIGHT, warm summer day as Nick Haddow, founder of Bruny Island Cheese Co, drives down onto the river flats of his new farm where the mighty Huon flows through this verdant valley in southern Tasmania. Stopping at one of the hot-wired enclosures, he pushes the wire down to the ground with his boot and ushers the way in to where his pride and joy — a small herd of dairy cows — are munching on the rich grasses, while others, lying down, languidly chew cud in the sun. You won’t find the ubiquitous black and white cows at Glen Huon Farm though — this herd is made up of old dairy breeds: pretty-faced Brown Swiss, Australian Dairy Shorthorn, and the panda-eyed French breed Normande. “We’ve selected three traditional cheese-making breeds, older breeds that are also dual purpose,” Nick says. “The Brown Swiss and Normande produce excellent cows — the Australian Dairy Shorthorn was the foundation breed for the dairy industry here, and that loss of biodiversity in the dairy industry is concerning me. Having a dairy herd is a huge learning curve.” Making cheese in the old farmhouse way that he learnt years ago in the mountains of France and Spain has been Nick’s unwavering goal. Originally from South Australia, Nick started Bruny Island Cheese Co at Great Bay on Bruny Island in 2003, producing a range that includes the classic curd, unpasteurised Raw Milk C2. Now owning the cows that produce the milk and the pasture they graze on is a dream come true and takes him back to the source, closing the loop in the entire cheesemaking process. Until 2014, he and his partner, Leonie Struthers, a fashion designer, lived in an old timber home next to the cheesery with their children, Tilla, now 12, and Wilkie, 10. Then in 2015, the family moved up to Hobart, an hour’s drive north, for the children’s schooling and for Leonie to pursue her business (her LJ Struthers label is available online and in The Maker store on Salamanca Place in Hobart), while Nick commuted to Bruny and back most days. In 2016, he started Bruny Island Beer Co with head brewer Evan Hunter. “The way we make beer reflects our philosophy on how we make cheese — low levels of automation, handmade, small unique batches,” he says. In between all this, Nick’s also made regular appearances on the SBS TV series Gourmet Farmer with Matthew Evans. It was while researching his book Milk. Made. (published in 2016), which Nick describes as “everything I know about cheese”, that he started thinking about having his own dairy herd. Previously he’d sourced milk from a single herd in New Norfolk. “I visited small dairy farms in the US and Europe, and realised a lot of people don’t think about cheese as being a product of farming, but it is. Great cheese is made from milk that is the sum of what that cow has eaten in the past 24 hours, which makes milk — and cheese — one of the most regional products in the world. One cow, one paddock, one day is a unique combination that changes every day.” So in 2016, Nick and three business partners bought 40 hectares of Glen Huon farmland that had barely been touched for years. “We didn’t have to undo anything, but on the other hand, we had to do everything.” Across the >
river he leased another 48 hectares from Huon Aquaculture hatchery to grow feed. “We’ve achieved organic certification for both properties,” says Nick. They launched a crowdfunding campaign to establish the herd. Nick found Brown Swiss, one of the oldest dairy breeds in the world, at Pomborneit in western Victoria. The Australian Dairy Shorthorn were from a herd in Bendigo, Victoria. The Normande cows, a breed linked with Camembert cheese, and one bull, Nico, were from the Mount Gambier region in South Australia. On the hill above the grazing flats, a new timber-slatted dairy, built in the vernacular style of the Huon’s old apple sheds, has been in operation since last September. Richard Butler, a dairy farmer who came out from Devon in the UK to become farm manager early last year, milks the 55 head twice a day — currently enough for their entire cheese production. “We’re getting 22 litres from each cow each time — you’ll get 35 to 40 litres from a Holstein,” Nick says. And that’s the whole point — quality over quantity, he explains. The dairy is designed to be low stress for the cows, with minimal technology and automation, and a lot of manual handling. “Most dairies are built for humans, but we’re not part of the real dairy industry, so we get to choose how we farm. They’re not jammed in, and this operation is high labour, and for the cows there’s a sense of peace and calmness. We took efficiency and productivity out of the equation and replaced it with animal welfare, environmental respect and tradition.” Chickens work over the paddocks as the cows are rotated around the farm, and excess milk goes to their Berkshire and Wessex Saddleback pigs. The next stage is the building of a new cheesery on the farm. Meanwhile, a smaller cheesemaking operation will stay on Bruny, where the brewery will be expanded. Nick says they will be selling their beef, veal and pork, beer and cheese at the new building. “I’d love people to swing by our cellar door, and wander through the cows to eat cheese and drink beer by the river,” he adds. “On the farm we’ll be using indigenous moulds and yeasts as part of the maturation, and the cheese we are producing on this farm will speak so highly of location. Our number one goal is to make unpasteurised cheese, and one of the reasons we started this was to make more raw milk cheese and to have complete control over our milk. “A 10-year dream has come to fruition and now we’ve got a 10-year project ahead of us. I want to push boundaries and I want to make cheese that represents where it’s made. As a cheesemaking goal, that’s kind of it for me.” For information on Bruny Island Cheese Co, Glen Huon Dairy and Bruny Island Beer Co, telephone (03) 6260 6353 or visit brunyislandcheese.com.au
“I’d love people to swing by our cellar door, and wander through the cows to eat cheese and drink beer by the river.”
There will soon be a new cheesery at Glen Huon for Bruny Island Cheese.
The mixed herd is made up of traditional heritage milking breeds: Normande, Brown Swiss and Australian Dairy Shorthorn cows.