For years cheesemaker Barry Charlton has been nicknamed the “master of blue”, and now he’s got an official title to back it up.
In a fiercely competitive showdown with more than 5500 entries from around the world, Charlton’s Berrys Creek Gourmet was named Supreme Specialist/Artisan Cheesemaker at the International Cheese and Dairy Awards. At the competition held earlier this month in Staffordshire, UK, Berrys Creek won gold medals for each of the four blue cheeses they submitted – beating out major cheese-producing nations like France and Italy to score the title. The competition has been running for 126 years and this is the first time an Australian company has scored so highly.
“We didn’t believe it at first, to be honest,” Charlton tells Broadsheet. “We were up in Sydney doing the Mould Cheese Festival,” adds Cheryl Hulls, Charlton’s partner in life and in cheesemaking. “We checked the results on the morning of the festival and, at first, I didn’t even see it until Barry said, ‘Hey take a look at this!’”
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When they brought the news back to the team, Hulls says the reaction was one of “very loud excitement.” “I won’t tell you the words they used,” Charlton adds.
So how does a small Victorian reach these lofty heights? The short answer: by mistake. Charlton stumbled into cheesemaking in 1975 when he heard about a job at the local butter factory. After six long months spent bagging skim-milk powder, and another three painful months in the butter room, Charlton found his way to the cheddar plant where his natural talent matured over nine years. He then spent the next 40 years making cheese for companies such as Jindi and Lemnos before going out on his own – with Hulls by his side.
Berrys Creek Gourmet Cheese began in 2007 in the rural South Gippsland community that gives the brand its name, a 45-minute drive from their 600-square-metre factory in Fish Creek. Now they employ 10 workers – most of them women (“You get better attention to detail with women,” Hulls jokes.) The company processes close to 1300 litres of milk a day and produces over 60 tonnes of cheese annually.
As to what makes the cheese so superior, Charlton puts it down to his willingness to experiment with cultures, the passion and experience of the team and the quality of the milk. “All our cow milk comes from Graeme and Gill Nicholl – they’re only three minutes from our factory. And all the buffalo milk still comes from Giffard West with Bryan Jans from Sunrise Plains.”
Having reached a new career high 46 years into the business, Charlton is far from slowing down. “We just want to keep going,” he says.