Barry Charlton didn’t set out to be a cheesemaker. It was 1975, and he just needed a job. His girlfriend’s sister was working at the local butter factory and told him there was an opening bagging skim-milk powder. So he went in, and he got the job.
He lasted six months before boredom drove him to go to see the manager and talk his way into something – anything – different. He was transferred to the butter room; it lasted three months. The next time, he was placed in the cheddar plant, where he discovered he’s some kind of cheesemaking savant.
“I was there for nine years. I developed an absolute passion for cheese – the flavours, the textures, the smells, the maturation process,” says Charlton. He spent the next 40 years making cheese for the likes of Jindi and Lemnos before his partner Cheryl suggested they try doing their own thing.
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“I’d never made blue, so I gave it a go. I read up on it and made it in the kitchen, then matured it in the bedroom. It had to be in there, because it’s the coolest room in the house. And you know what? It tasted okay. It tasted pretty good! So, I kept going with it.”
Soon after, the couple established Berrys Creek Gourmet Cheese, named for the small rural community in South Gippsland, Victoria, where they live. From there, it’s a 45-minute drive south to a 600-square-metre factory in Fish Creek, where the bulk of the cheesemaking happens these days, humming with a serene productivity.
Charlton usually opens up before sunrise, working with a team of nine to process 1000 litres of a milk a day and churn out almost 60 tonnes of cheese a year.
We met on a Monday, he had been up and at it since half past four in the morning, making the drive into the factory through the rolling green landscape with the day’s fresh milk in the back of his refrigerated van.
Charlton’s is a properly local operation. He makes his wares with milk from just three local farmers, such as cow’s milk from Leongatha and the neighbouring property at Berrys Creek.
“A lot of people ask me how I develop my recipes. Well, I taste a lot of cheese,” he says. “I taste the milk too, and carefully select different types of milk for different types of cheese.”
“I believe that happy animals create great tasting milk,” says Charlton, whose cheesemaking prowess has earned him the nickname “master of blue” and multiple honours at the Australian Grand Dairy Awards. In fact, with dozens – even hundreds – of awards under his belt, he’s probably Australia’s most lauded cheesemaker.
He has several favourites. That first “bedroom cheese”, the Tarwin Blue – an earthy cheese with lasting intensity and a soft, smooth texture – is up there. He also loves the Oak Blue, “a cross between a gorgonzola and a stilton”, and the Riverine Blue.
“We let that one age for between three to five months, and it packs a lot of punch. The longer it ages, the smoother it gets. It can be slightly salty, but it’s a big blue; it needs the salt. It’s great with quince paste or honeycomb.”
There’s also a Mossvale and Bellingham blue, and some not-blues too: two washed rinds (Sunrise Plains and Spring View) and a traditional French-style brie simply called the Cow Milk Brie. A new camembert, Minikin, will be available in a few months.
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Dairy Australia.