Recently, I had one of the cheesiest experiences of my life that did not involve 80s music.
Jindi Cheese, a specialty cheese manufacturer in Jindivick in Gippsland, hosted 100 folk from the media, some of Melbourne’s finest kitchens, restaurateurs and the foodservice sector, and not only showed us how to make cheese but gathered some of us to assist in the cheese-making experience.
The 2009 Black Saturday bushfires came perilously close to the factory and the charred remains of trees and bushland can be seen on the drive into Jindi Cheese. With some grace, one of the cheeses in the Old Telegraph Road range has been named the Fire Engine Red Washed Rind, in honour of the work done by the CFA on that day.
I was familiar with the process for making cheese, but to understand the artisan nature of the way Jindi make their cheese, under the watchful eye of cheese maker Franck Beaurain, I had to get my hands dirty. This feisty Frenchman has made cheese for several decades, across four countries, including his native France. His understanding and drive have seen the processes changed at Jindi – and for the better. The Old Telegraph Road Range, named after the road on which the factory sits, is as artisan a style I can imagine.
First stop – the Blue factory where Jindi makes all of its blue range. With hair nets, beard nets, big white wellies and white pharmacist-type coats we looked like someone had crossed the mad scientist with one of the fatter seven dwarves. The environment in which the cheese is made must be very sterile and these folk don’t miss anything. By the end of the day, it was not possible for a germ to be living on any of our hands with the amount of sanitiser used.
To the cheese making. Dotting the room were vats filled with milk at 32 degrees Celsius. This is the best temperature to add the billions of mould spores and cultures to get the cheese started. Along with some synthetic rennet (the setting agent that used to come from the fourth stomach of a ruminant creature, like a cow, goat or sheep) to please the vegetarians, milk coagulates and is cut, like a junket. The pieces are then separated making curds and whey – making for many Miss Muffet moments.
Once the cheese curds have been stirred for the appropriate time, they are scooped out with a common kitchen colander, and placed into the mould. Excess whey drains off (and is sent to the pig farmers up the road to keep happy porkers) and the cheese solids start to dry. At the appropriate stage, the cheeses are then put into a machine that looks like a nail gun, and the lengthy wiry pointy bit darts holes from the side of the set cheese to allow the moulds to do their work.
As we wandered in and out of cheese rooms, salivating at the array of fromage in varying stages of its life, I started to wonder if I could cope doing this work? The smells of the various rooms are intoxicating. The tour of the soft cheese factory saw some more automated processes, given the amount of cheese that is produced on a daily basis to meet consumer demand.
The cheese grading and tasting experience was almost the favourite part of the day. Perched on hay bales in a beautifully appointed marquee on the side of a lake, we were introduced to the entire Old Telegraph Road range, at varying stages of maturity to determine how cheese should best be consumed. I might have been a tad greedy, not realising a sumptuous lunch was on the way.
All that remained was an at times heated discussion about artisan cheeses and how we should be using them in our finest restaurants. It’s unfortunate that because some of the cheeses are sold in retail outlets they might be perceived as not suited to a fine-dining cheese board.
But the day’s message, ultimately, was that there are many artisan cheese makers in Australia and we need to spend less on imported cheese and more on supporting our own small cheese makers, cheese makers making old-fashioned cheeses, ready to devour and enjoy. With the talented team at Jindi, we are assured of terrific produce, locally made with a guarantee that it is the best it can be.
Now if I could just find some crackers...