PROM COUNTRY CHEESE
Burke Brandon, Owner and Cheesemaker
My wife Bronwyn, two children and I milk sheep on our 190 acre farm on the Foster Creek at Moyarra, South Gippsland in Victoria. We have been cross breeding and growing our herd since 2007 in pace with increasing demand for our cheese. Deep loam soils and high rainfall produce lush green grass most of the year round, with creek flats or hill country grazing options to suit the seasons.
How did you get started in the industry?
My parents, Jan and Trevor Brandon, started our cheesemaking journey in the 1990’s. Initially making cheese in the homestead kitchen for friends and family, their passion saw the establishment of Red Hill Cheese in 2000, with a mission to make unique cheeses to match regional wines. Two years later I joined the family business, after 13 years in the wool and lamb industry, and began studying the craft.
Tell us a bit about your cheeses.
We started out using organic/biodynamic cow and goat milks from Gippsland. This is what was available at the time, and the solids and flavours suited our cheeses perfectly. Inspired by our local environment and from cheese tours of Europe, we developed our recipes based on traditional techniques, without the restrictions of European Appellation controls. When we discovered the special qualities of sheep milk, we found it worked well with most of our styles of matured lactic curds, white mould, washed rind, feta and blue cheese, plus creating new possibilities for semi hard cheeses. All include a simple process with a focus on natural rinds.
What is your favourite part about being a cheesemaker?
The ultimate reward has to be sampling the final product, seeing the seasonal variation and how minor alterations have worked out. There is also a big buzz in the challenge of bringing all stages of production together at the right time and temperature, which demands a lot of focus and attention to detail.
What are the biggest challenges you face in your role?
For me cheesemaking is all about logistics, being prepared and having everything ready in place. The challenges are things that interrupt this process, such as running the business, managing staff, sales, paperwork and dairy food safety obligations. Also, a general lack of time in a 7 day per week industry.
What opportunities do you see for the future of the Australian specialty/artisan cheese industry?
While there is a place for bulk commodities, many more customers now are looking for a food experience that is connected to its own story of origin. The strength of specialty cheese is in its difference. The unique shapes, aroma, flavours and textures create a diverse variation of applications. Artisan cheeses need to reflect a handmade and regional style that is different from anything else. Most importantly we have to break away from the portrayal as a ‘copy’ of some European name, and establish our own benchmarks as household names.
What does being part of ASCA mean to you?
ASCA membership sets us apart from mainstream cheeses and highlights the differences to the media. It provides a network of like minded cheesemakers which assists our educational opportunities. I believe that to succeed it also needs to maintain links with the Dairy industry Association of Australia, Dairy Australia, and the National Centre for Dairy Education Australia.