A couple of years ago, The Lady was interviewed by a website in Australia and through that opportunity met Burke Brandon, a second-generation Cheese Maker at Red Hill Cheese in Victoria’s South Grippsland in Australia.
In the 1990’s Burke’s father, Trevor, began experimenting with home cheese making and it was such a success that in 2000, he and his wife built a small cheesery, designed to guarantee hand making of small-batch cheeses.
In 2002, Burke and his wife, Bronwyn, joined the venture, leaving a commercial sheep enterprise. At the time, Trevor was making cow and goat milk cheeses. Burke began experimenting with sheep milk and found his calling.
I was fortunate enough to sit down recently with Burke and learn more about cheese making “Down Under”.
Spaulding Gray: First of all, Burke, thanks for taking the time to chat with me today. We appreciate the time.
Very few Australian cheeses make their way to the US. I have only tasted Roaring Forties Blue, Boxing Cheddar and a couple of other cheddars. Tell us about cheesemaking “Down Under”.
Burke Brandon: For decades all Australian cheese was cheddar which started off exported back to the mother country. Only since the late ’80’s have we started to appreciate different flavours, so today we still have an educational challenge for many Aussies, who are still asking for the ‘bitey tasty’ they are so familiar with. We have the same cultures available here as the rest of the world, but no traditions to restrict us, and this combo encourages a lot of experimentation. We end up with some interesting and unique cheeses. There is a real groundswell of new cheese lovers eager to taste and experience our tour of the tastebuds. Mostly all the interesting cheeses are made by small scale farmhouse producers who cannot produce enough to export, leaving the majority of exports mass produced industrial cheese. We experience a similar phenoneman here with French cheese, which is so much better we we visit there.
Spaulding: I read on you website that your father and mother started the farm and cheesemaking program in 2000 and you and your wife joined the business in 2002. What drew you to want to make cheese with you family?
Brandon: Making cheese is an everyday commitment. Difficult for a one man show but works well with a family model, where you can’t be too worried about working strange hours. It suited our situation at the time to move closer to family so the kids could spend more time with their grandparents. I knew nothing about cheese before learning off my father but it appealed to my creative side and attention to detail. Also, working for yourself is liberating!
SG: Both your father and you have educational backgrounds that are conducive to cheesemaking. Was that the path or did cheese come later?
BB: Cheese making was never in the plan. Trevor became interested in it as a hobby, then it grew into a perfect compliment to the many local wines. Popular demand from friends and chefs made the first commercial cheesery on the Mornington Peninsula a reality. For me I have always been of the land and into growing things, so I expectantly found cheese making had a lot in common with farming. Its all about growing things, working with nature and being observant. It does help to have an understanding of chemistry and biology.
Spaulding: What is your favorite grilled cheese sammy?
Burke: Anything goes! I’m not fussed if it melts or not, so long as its nice and mature with some flavor. Just cheese and salt. On the other hand I love ham or a good Italian sausage covered in a fresh lactic sheep curd which blisters and caramels.
SG: What cheese would you pair with Sarcophilus harrisii? Would this pairing go better with beer or wine?
BB: Ah, I can’t say I’ve known anyone to try eating a Tassie Devil. They are endangered and are known for facial tumors. An exellent alternative is slithers of char-grilled kangaroo fillet over a bed of fresh salad and pure sheep milk crumbly feta. This I would have with a crisp beer, or cool climate Pinot Noir, a favorite in our region would go well too.
Spaulding: What is the Australian equivalent of Velveeta? Have you ever eaten it?
Burke: We don’t have the here but I think we would call it plastic cheese or Kraft Cheddar which of course isn’t cheddar at all. There is a place for this kind of homogenous product as a basic foodstuff but has no place in the world of flavor and variety. I make a French Alp’s – style Tomme which actually has a similar flavor but more depth of aftertaste and a rewarding texture.
SG: Thanks again for taking the time. We enjoyed chatting today.
You can read more about Burke and Bronwyn’s journey at their blog.