A two hour drive from Bendigo, via Stanhope (where I drove past the large Fonterra milk processing plant we have all been reading about), Armona (well known as fruit growing country) and Shepparton before reaching Wunghnu (pronounced ‘One Ewe’ – I kid you not!) A left turn off the main highway and six kilometers down the track I reached a welcome sign ‘Locheilan Farmhouse Cheese.’
According to Bruce, they’d received slow and steady rain over the past four days so the pastures where looking green and lush, although some spots a little too wet for the cows to graze.
Bruce and Sue McGorlick have been farming and making cheese at Locheilan for 35 years on their 360 acre property. Up until the announcement of the price decrease by the two major milk processing plants, they had been leasing the milking side of the business and concentrating their efforts and skill on cheese making and selling direct to the consumer.
The day of the announcement of the milk price drop (they supply milk to Murray Goulburn), the leasee walked off the property, owing them a considerable amount of money and a farm to run. They remain optimistic which I find an admirable trait of most farmers I meet.
They spoke to me about the pressure on farmers to expand their businesses, increasing borrowings and increasing herd sizes. They are thankful that they were clear in their minds as to the size of the herd and capacity they were running on their farm.
Currently, Sue and Bruce run cheese production 2-3 times a week, depending on the time of year. Christmas is peak time and they may run production 4 times a week in the lead up. This equates to around 600 litres of milk per batch, depending on predicted sales patterns. With soft cheese production, there is a 9 week period from beginning to maturity so forward planning is paramount to keep up with demand.
When I arrived, Bruce was pasteurising the milk to be made into ‘Kulindi’ which is an English Cheshire style cheese, maturing for 4 months before being consumed. A bit like cheddar but not as mature and sweeter in taste.
Whilst the milk was pasteurising, I watched as Sue and Bruce hand wrapped their Mundoona Minis to be placed in the maturation room. I asked them how they manage the farm, make amazing cheese and then drive for hours to sell them at Farmers Markets. Sue wakes at 4am to be set up ready for the Bendigo Community Farmers Market at 9am. It seems a bit lame that locals won’t get themselves out to the market on colder/rainy days when Sue makes the early morning trip. I didn’t ask what time she was up for the St.Kilda market she attends on the first Saturday of each month!
Both Sue and Bruce sell at markets and they enjoy the socialisation and human interaction. It also makes more financial sense for them to sell directly to consumers at markets than selling through distributors regardless of increase of volume through distribution channels. Another first-hand account of the positive financial benefits of our producers selling at farmers markets (accredited preferred) and getting a fair and sustainable price for their product.
For a full list of which markets they attend, check out this link to their website
Their cheese is also available through retail outlets such as Bendigo Wholefoods.
After pasteurization, Bruce checks the temperature before a precise amount of vegetable-based rennet is added to the milk. This is left for an hour before it is cut. It was fascinating to see the milk set – a lot like making the perfect pannacotta – silky white, softly set and a fresh milk taste.
Bruce checks for consistency before it's cut with wire frames
At this stage, the whey begins to separate from the curd. A propeller looking blade gently mixes the curd at this time to prevent large bricks forming; for approximately 4 hours. It was at this time I had to make my way home – artisan cheese making is a long and dedicated process! I had been at the farm for 3 hours at this stage.
Bruce explains that once the curds are broken up, they are salted and stacked into round hoops and lined with cheesecloth. They are loaded in a press where they are gently squeezed to remove all of the whey. After twelve hours they are removed, air dried, and dipped in yellow wax before making their way to the maturation room for 4 months.
The cheese is quite crumbly and has a sweetness which Bruce explains is very good for melting cheese.
Which leads me share the perfect recipe for a quick and tasty snack on a winter’s day; Welsh Rarebit.
2 slices sourdough bread
65ml apple cider (Harcourt make a great cider)
50g Locheilan kulindi, grated
1 egg yolk
1 tsp mustard
1 splash Worcestershire sauce
1 pinch chopped parsley
- Turn grill on high and toast sourdough on both sides
- In a small pot, melt the butter and add flour.
- On a medium to low heat, continue to stir for 1 minute to cook out the flour without browning. Gradually whisk in the cider until a thick paste forms.
- Remove from heat and add the remaining ingredients – cheese, yolk, mustard, Worcestershire and parsley
- Spread onto toasted sourdough and grill for approx 3-4 minutes until golden brown
I was very appreciative of Sue and Bruce opening their farm gate for me to visit, especially as they have been busy farming, cheese making and welcoming their first grandchild into the family! Congratulations Sue and Bruce on the arrival of Henry and see you at the Bendigo Farmers Market!