Maffra Cheese Co.’s cheese factory, located near the township of Maffra, is modelled on the early Australian cheddar plants and remains one of only a few of its kind: cheeses are hand crafted the old way, typically using little mechanisation.
Every step in the process — from understanding the seasonality of the milk harvested from cows grazing just meters away, the hand salting in traditional open vats, pressing the curd using hydraulics, to carefully wrapping the individual cheeses for maturing — is a labour of love. And the cheese tastes all the better for it.
Handmade cheese is a rare commodity today, handmade cheddar even rarer, and Maffra Cheese is made right on the farm.
Ferial Zekiman is one of Australia’s most accomplished and recognised cheese makers.
A chemist by training, her passion has been to use her intimate knowledge of microbiology and chemistry to develop a range of cheeses unique to Australia and the Gippsland region. In doing so, she has also created one of Australia’s most internationally recognised cheeses, Maffra’s Cloth Aged Cheddar.
Cheese making can be thought of as a way of preserving milk. Preservation is achieved by lowering the pH (through fermentation), dehydration (removing moisture) and adding salt. The preserved product is a solid: cheese.
Two important ingredients are added to milk in cheese making:
1. Cultures (lactic acid bacteria) convert the lactose in the milk to lactic acid and cause thickening.
2. Rennet (an enzyme) creates a thick, custardy gel, which encourages even greater solid formation.
The action of the cultures and Rennet separates the milk into solids (curds) and liquids (whey).
The curds are scooped out of the vat and placed into lined hoops (molds). These are pressed overnight on a hydraulic press to remove even more moisture.