Milawa Cheese Company in the King Valley is a family-owned business committed to producing world-class farmhouse cheeses. We asked Ceridwen Brown, current Milawa CEO and daughter of founders David and Anne Brown, to tell us all about it.
Tell us the Milawa Cheese story?
Mum and Dad set up Milawa Cheese Company back in 1988, which meant moving from inner city Melbourne to a small country town (Milawa) at the foothills of the Victorian Alps, right at the mouth of the King Valley. The culture shock was real… especially for a primary school kid that liked to dress like Punky Brewster. It was not what the country kids were into!
Growing up in a family-run business means you get to know every part of it, and it’s often all that gets spoken about around the family dinner table. Even before I left Milawa to go to uni in the ‘big smoke’, I’d worked in every part of it. But still, I went to uni, graduating with a very versatile Arts degree (majoring in Classic and Archaeology?!), before spreading my wings and heading to Europe for the obligatory year in London. Although, for me, it ended up being five years, as I landed a job at the famous Neal’s Yard Dairy in the iconic Borough Market. It was a pleasure working closely with other completely cheese-obsessed people from all over the world.
The fun had to stop eventually, so I came home to the family business. I’ve been back in Australia now for almost nine years and have taken on the role of CEO (wrested from Dad’s hands) in the last 12 months. It’s an exciting time – this is our 30th birthday year, and I hope that I can carry the mantel for another 30 years.
My brother, Gareth, is the black sheep of the family – he went out and got a “real job”, killing it at KPMG! I do manage to drag him and his wife Erin to some of the fun cheese shows, though – they were stars at Melbourne’s MOULD. The final member of the family is my fur baby Bella – she helps reduce my stress levels by sitting at my feet in the office and letting me know when it’s time to go and get the mail or just enjoy the sunshine.
What’s the farm actually like?
Milawa is an absolutely beautiful part of the world. In winter, you can see the snow-capped mountains in the distance and the grass is emerald green. We get all the seasons here – during winter that means icy overnight temperatures which more often than not turn into beautiful clear crisp days. Spring see the leaves returning to the trees and longer afternoons to enjoy the glorious sunshine. Summer is perfect for heading to the swimming hole at the local creek, or heading up towards Bright to cool down a bit, and autumn is just magic, the turning of the leaves is stunning.
Our place is in a 100+-year-old red brick butter factory that we have repurposed for our cheesemaking. It’s got a tasting room and shop where you can try all of our cheeses for free. We also have onsite a community of businesses including Milawa Bread (awesome hand-crafted sourdough), Milawa Kitchen (for delicious French fare), the Wood Park Wines cellar door, Off Centre Art Gallery and Studio and also the Walnut Tree Collection Gift Shop. In wider Milawa, there’s also Brown Brothers Wines at the other end of town, and there’s mustards, honey and olives as well.
Tell us three things about your style of cheeses and what makes them unique?
- We have a range of hard and soft cheeses made from goat and cow’s milk. Our cheeses have European regional origin but have taken on a unique, Australian flavour. We don’t know for sure but we’d bet that your average Frenchie would choke on their pinot if they heard mention of a camembert made with goat’s milk.
- Milawa Cheese was one of the first companies in Australia to commercially produce European farmhouse style cheeses.
- Our Ceridwen (a round of goat’s cheese, rolled in ash and matured with a white mould) was named after me. Dad – David Brown – said it was as “Delightful and pure as his little girl.” Nawwww!
Do you have a favourite cheese pun?
We’re all about the classics, so the Fab Four’s “Speaking words of wisdom, let it brie, let it brie”
Hard or Soft?
Getting softer with age
Best cheese and booze match ever?
We are loving beer, and the High Country has amazing breweries. Our King River Gold Washed Rind with a big dark beer – Stomping Ground Brewery’s Hanging Rauch is a good one. Both have lovely campfire smoke and bacon notes. Yum.
Funniest cheese making experience?
Years ago we had a series of interns sent to us by a French cheesemaking school. This young lady was one of the first and we perhaps overestimated her knowledge… She was asked to turn on the cow’s milk vat so that we could begin making camembert and she did so. As production began, our cheesemakers were a bit confused at how pale that season’s cow’s milk was. So after months of maturation we cut open one of these camemberts and discovered that we’d produced our first batch of GOAT CAMEMBERT! A product we still produce, thanks to our favourite French intern!
Where can we buy your cheese?
We have released a retail-ready set-weight range of cheeses that you can hopefully find in your local IGA (or even some Coles). We have distributors all along the eastern seaboard, so if you have a good cheese shop near you they should be able to get our cheese but you might need to ask them to get it for you. As I continue to develop our business I hope to get to an online store, but you might just have to wait for that one…
MILAWA CHEESE CO.
17 Factory Road, Milawa VIC