by Martin Field
Perhaps the most simple and enjoyable food and wine match is that of wine (red especially) and cheese. French winemakers have it right when they say, ‘Sell with cheese, buy with apples.’
Like many wine and cheese lovers, I’d experienced aspects of the winemaking process but I’d never seen cheese production. Until, that is, friend and cheesemaker, Christian Nobel of Fromart Cheese, invited me to his cheese factory. Or, as we would say in Noosa, his fromagerie.
Before entering said fromagerie, I donned a dinky little white hat, a long white apron, and big white gum boots. I’d also had to walk through an antiseptic pool and had scrubbed my hands and arms to near surgical standards – the first of many scrubbings during the day.
Fifteen hundred litres of fresh creamy milk, from Jersey cows fed on lush verdant Mary Valley pastures, gushed into a stainless steel vat as I arrived. [Ed: enough with the pastoral imagery already.]
First off, Christian pasteurised the milk and, when it had cooled sufficiently, added prepared cultures. These cultures would help determine the type of cheese produced – this batch would end up as a tilsit style.
After the cultures started working, he added a non-animal coagulant that turned the vat of milk into what I can best describe as a 1.5 tonne junket. He then used a giant steel whisk to chop the junket into a texture that I thought resembled pale scrambled eggs. At this stage you could see the liquid whey start to separate from the soft curds.
We then pumped the curds and whey into another tank. As the whey drained off, we scooped measured buckets of curd into cylindrical, perforated, stainless steel moulds. With a cunningly designed hydraulic machine, Christian lowered pistons into the tops of the moulds and pressed the new cheese to the desired degree of firmness.
At this stage, my role as assistant cheesemaker was over and I asked Christian what would happen next.
‘I’m now going to put the new cheese onto untreated pine planks in the maturation room,’ he said. ‘Until it’s sold it will be kept quite cool in an atmosphere of steady humidity. Every day for the next two weeks I’ll turn and smear the fresh cheese with a salty brine solution, until it builds a proper rind. The Tilsit will take about two months before it’s mature enough for consumption.’
He added that from the 1500 litres of milk we’d used he expected to make approximately 150 kilograms of cheese.
I’ve condensed the above procedures timewise but it was actually a day long process. The work was hot and sweaty and I ended up smelling definitely cheesy. I was glad to get home for a shower and a beer. Followed, of course, by a plate of mature tilsit and a bottle of Coonawarra cabernet.