Thursday, December 9, 2010

Update from Bangalow Cheese Co.

Ah - a day off, finally! And that means time to update my blog. In a lazy attempt to make the most of my day off, this blog was pretty much written for me by Justin from Bangalow Cheese. A while ago he upgraded his pasteuriser and I asked him a few questions about the process. His answers are below - plus his reflections on the Australian cheese market,  and some interesting insights into the issues that small cheese-makers face on a daily basis. (sorry - no pics this week!)

Is the new pasteuriser up and running? Are you pleased with it?

It is up and running and so far I am very pleased with it! It has surpassed my expectations in terms of operation and efficiency. It was a bit of an unknown as we didn’t just buy an off-the-shelf model. I wanted a very simple, manually operated set-up (most are very automated, programmable, ‘set-and-forget’ types, but I want to do it manually). I like being more involved, monitoring closely, opening and closing valves by hand. We also use a closed loop system for the water in our jacketed vat. 

How much more milk will you be able to process with the new pasteuriser?

The previous pasteuriser was 150 ltr capacity, the new one is 900 ltr. We used to do 3 or 4 runs a week with the old one (averaging 500 ltrs per week). We now deal with about double the quantity of milk, but all in one day of cheese-making!

This has meant some serious changes to the way we do things, for example, we now make 8-10 cheese types all at the time, instead of maybe 2 or 3 at a time.

This is a challenge with timing things right and keeping on top of what stage each cheese is at during the making process.

It does however make things more efficient, as we can concentrate on one aspect of the business at a time – we used to be making cheese, washing Nashuas, turning cheese, cutting and wrapping cheese all at the same time. We now can just concentrate solely on making cheese on our cheese-making day.

We also obviously have the capacity to add more days of making if and when we want/need to. Don’t be fooled into thinking I have more time off!! Even with just one ‘make day’ a week, it’s still a 6-7 day week for me – there is a lot more to do when you perform every aspect from collecting the milk, making, maturing, wrapping, packing, delivering and selling at the market and all the bookwork – and that doesn’t even include the cheese-making classes and workshops I conduct!  

How do you pasteurise?  (High temp short time, or low temp longer time/batch

Batch pasteurise at the lowest temperature I’m legally allowed – 63 degrees C and hold for 30 minutes.


There are lots of different perspectives/opinions on this, but for me it is critical to treat the milk as gently as possible. I want to maintain the natural integrity of the milk as much as I can, and there are 2 main areas of focus in this regard. One is pasteurising – the higher the temperate, then more naturally present flora, enzymes, vitamins and minerals are destroyed, as well as denaturing the milk.

Two is handling – the more rough the handling, the more the milk becomes denatured. Milk for cheese-making is best unhomogenised, and any unnecessary agitation will break up fat globules, effectively homogenising. The less denatured the milk, the better the textures and flavours of the cheese.

We try and maintain the natural character of the milk as much as possible. We collect the milk straight from the cows while it is still warm, rather than collecting milk that has been cooled to less than 5 degrees. We avoid excessive pumping – the only time the milk is pumped is at the dairy – everything else is done by hand or gravity.


How long did it take to install? Were there any problems / issues?

I expected it to take about a week to install – so we allowed 2 weeks. Unfortunately it blew out to 5 weeks! We literally ran out of cheese (and we had even made extra for cover us for the 2 weeks). It was always going to be a challenge to get the 900 ltr vat up the hill – the factory is perched on a hill, accessed by a very pot-holed gravel road, followed by a ‘drive-way’ on the property that is just a dodgy dirt track.

With our very high rainfall, dirt track becomes slippery mud, lovely creek becomes flooded torrent! The truck that delivered the vat was a semi-trailer that couldn’t get in, so our expensive new equipment was dumped in the paddock! This was thankfully quite easily overcome by a second, more sensible truck with a crane.

The biggest problems were incorrect equipment being freighted. After everything was finally ready for the plumber to start installing, he arrives as we find that the gas hot water boiler is ‘Natural Gas’ when we needed and ordered ‘LGP Gas’. ARGHH!! Everything stops until we can get a replacement sent from Sydney. It arrives the following week, we wait for the plumber to be available, he does his bit and says he now needs the sparky to connect the pump.

When the electrician arrives, we discover that the pump is 3 Phase Power, which we don’t have – we ordered Single Phase, but they sent the wrong one. ARGHH AGAIN! It all stops while we wait again. I won’t bore you with further detail, but this same pattern continues, with incorrect items delivered from 4 different suppliers. Is it obvious I am a little bitter?  No – I am over it now – steep learning curve, and stressful…if we aren’t making cheese, we have no income, but still all the bills. 

With the increased capacity, do you have plans for any new cheeses?

Yes! Lucky local farmer market shoppers have been the guinea pigs for my ongoing ‘recipe development’. I have been working on a couple of hard cheeses over the course of the last 3 years – with hard cheese it takes a long time if you are developing our own cheese. The period between making the cheese and then tasting is longer, so tweaking and adjusting your recipe or method is a longer process. One new cheese is our ‘Newrybar’ semi-hard – a natural rind, loosely based on some of the swiss styles. It has a creamy texture and a slightly nutty, sour character. For a different spin, we are also trialling cumin seeds added to this cheese. The other new one we are making is our ‘St Helena Italo’. Again with a natural rind, this cheese is great for both the table and grating, and has a character reminiscent of the Romano-style. We also have a peppercorn Italo and Chilli Italo.

You may notice I refer to ‘styles’. One of my biggest challenges is overcoming the hurdle of consumers comparing to recognised styles. We are trying to develop our own cheeses that ‘break the mould’ so to speak (yes, a ‘cheesey  pun). Whilst we may use a ‘style’ as a starting point, we develop out own recipes and methods of making and maturing. We don’t want to make a ‘Stilton’ or an ‘Emmenthal’ – we want to make our own, not copy others. The difficult part is that consumers want to liken it to something they know or recognise.

Is this your first (or rather second) step in conquering the world of cheese?  


No…I don’t really need to conquer, I just want to be on the battleground. It is amazing to be doing what I love and still be in business after 3 years. It’s even more amazing to have achieved such recognition for what we do – to receive 2 Championship Awards at the Sydney Royal this year for our Nashua washed rind is just huge!

I also love that Australia is at an interesting time in cheese. We have some very talented cheese-makers out there, some potential regulatory movement, and it seems some growth in the number of boutique cheese-makers. When we started 3 years ago, we were the first and only ones in the Northern Rivers – now there are 3 of us! Also, annual cheese consumption is rising slowly but surely. Food in general is higher on the agenda  with an increase in consumer awareness and a desire to know more about it – where it comes from, how it is produced, and the story behind it.

Hopefully out of this, consumers will soon start to value Australian artisanal products more – I’m amazed at the price buyers will happily pay for industrial imported cheese at the exclusion of boutique Australian cheese. There are some great Australian cheeses out there that are as good as, if not better than some of the imports. Whilst we have some allies (or Ali’s!), cheese-makers alone cannot change this – we need help from restaurants, retailers and distributors as well!

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