My parents, David & Anne Brown, founded Milawa Cheese Company in 1988.
At the time, we were living in Melbourne's inner-city 'cappuccino belt' (this was before even lattes were discovered!). Mum and Dad were inspired by a desire to be part of a smaller rural community, where life was slower and somehow more real. They wanted to give their two children the kind of country childhood they had enjoyed. But what to do for a crust?
They had a dream, a passion, and unbridled self belief. And, this time, they had momentum.
Mum handed in her resignation as an English teacher at University High School, and Dad left his job with Applied Communications. We combed Victoria for a site in a good dairying area, that would be close to both main markets of Melbourne and Sydney, to build a cheese factory.
Our journey took us to Brown Brothers winery in north east Victoria, a well-trodden path from ski trips in uni days. Dad remembered that there had been an old butter factory down the road. Eureka! We purchased it at auction in June,1988. David and Richard, together with a band of helpers, friends and locals (recruited mainly from the local pub), set to work building a modern facility for cheesemaking. That old butter factory had been the mainstay of the town of Milawa for almost a century - even the road was called Factory Road. The locals must have thought of us then as 'those bloody upstarts!'
Cheesemakers have to live close to the factory to check on their cheese; especially in Australian conditions. It gets very hot in the summer here, and freezing at times in winter. We converted the old gumboot store on site to our family living quarters, and the continual hum of the refrigeration units became the background to our lives.
There was no hesitation about the first cheese we wanted to make. It had to be blue. A blue unlike any being made in Australia at that time - a creamy, soft blue that tickled the palate and married perfectly with a ripe pear. Yep, just like the one we had on the menu turistico in Northern Italy. Why couldn't we make that cheese?
Hubris is a wonderful thing. With our lack of knowledge - but unending perseverance - it took years before we could reliably make our famous Milawa Blue. Even today this cheese challenges us, as it responds to the qualities of seasonal milk and environment.
We also wanted to make a washed rind cheese, common in several parts of Europe. No one in Australia was making a similar style, probably because it stinks! The full, rich flavour was a challenge to Australian palates reared on cheddar-style cheese that was mostly made in industrial operations.
From day one, we had limited machinery in our factory. Out of necessity at first, and then out of respect for the craft, we cut curd, hooped, salted, brushed, turned and wrapped cheese by hand. We adapted 'recipes' to suit our unique cheesemaking conditions. We combined the cheesemakers' skill with a keen ear for customer feedback. On Christmas Eve, 1988, we established our little shop behind the factory, which allowed us to gradually find our community of fellow cheeselovers. We developed our second cheese, the iconic King River Gold.
How things have grown since those first early days! Thirty years on, we now make a wide variety of cheese from local goat's and cow's milk. Our shop has been recognised in a Lonely Planet Guide to Australia as 'an absolute must-stop in the Milawa Gourmet region,' saying 'it excels at soft and washed rind cheeses.'
It is still our joy and passion to share this handmade cheese with our community. We hope you enjoy it with your own friends and family.
Ceridwen Brown, CEO
Milawa Cheese Company