In the late ‘80s, David and Anne Brown bought a derelict, red-brick butter factory in the tiny alpine town of Milawa in Victoria’s King Valley.
At the time, the only cheeses that were available in Australia were canned Camembert, imported Danish blue or bulk cheddar, and the couple, craving the fresh, soft cheeses of Europe but having nowhere to buy them, decided to make their own.
The Browns packed up their kids, Gareth and Ceridwen, and moved the family from Melbourne to Milawa. They chose Milawa for its climate (it’s good for growing grass, which keeps the cows happy), and for tourism – being in the foothills of the Victorian Alps and therefore on the road to the snow.
The first cheese the Browns made was the Milawa Blue, inspired by the Gorgonzola Dolces they fell in love with while in Italy – a blue that was soft, mild and creamy, and very unlike what was already available. The second cheese they made was the King River Gold – a delicate, “entry-level” washed rind cheese. They’re still producing both of them 30 years on.
That’s not all they produce – unlike other cheesemakers, particularly those in Europe who often specialise in just a few varieties, Milawa make about 20 different types of farmhouse-style cheese. Using either cow’s milk or goat’s milk sourced from local farmers, Milawa make everything from fresh curd cheeses through to white mould cheeses to washed rinds, blues and hard cheeses.
A few cheeses they produce have been born of “happy accidents”. Ceridwen, who today runs Milawa Cheese as its CEO, shares the story of an intern who accidentally turned on the goat’s milk vat instead of the cow’s milk vat for the camembert, resulting in Milawa’s first goat’s camembert. Another cheese, called ‘the Ceridwen’, a fresh goat’s milk cheese with a grapevine ash and a white mould exterior, was originally meant to taste more like the Loire Valley’s Sainte-Maure de Touraine. “It’s nothing like or similar to de Touraine but it’s still a lovely cheese,” says Ceridwen. Similarly, the ‘Milawa White’ was originally supposed to be a ‘Milawa Blue’, but somewhere along the line a mistake was made and the team liked it so much they kept making it. “It’s basically a blue without the blue,” says Ceridwen.