David and Anne Brown founded Milawa Cheese Company in the historic Milawa Butter Factory in 1988, and then they set out to make delicious Australian farmhouse cheeses inspired by European methods.
It wasn’t a sea change, but it was inspired by a similar desire to live in a smaller rural community where life was slower and somehow more real than city life. We lived in the cappuccino inner city belt of Melbourne, with two small kids. We wanted them to have the same sort of country childhood that we had, but what to do for a crust?
Richard Thomas, an old school friend of David’s came by one evening and over a few wines and cheeses we plotted the ongoing saga of the best cheese factory in Victoria, Australia, the World. The same old story. Only this time it happened.
I handed in my resignation as an English teacher at University High School, and David left his job with Applied Communications and we combed Victoria for a site close to both main markets of Melbourne and Sydney in a good dairying area.
In North East Victoria, we stopped at Brown Brothers winery, as was customary from Uni days ski trips and David remembered that there had been an old Butter Factory down the road. Eureka!
We purchased it at auction in June,1988. David and Richard and a band of helpers, friends and locals recruited mainly from the local pub, set to work to set up a modern facility for cheesemaking in the old Murray Goulburn site. The factory that had been the mainstay of the town of Milawa for the last almost century- even the road was called Factory Road. The locals may have thought of us then as those “Bloody Upstarts”
We converted the old gumboot store into living quarters for the family. Cheese makers have to live close to the factory to check on cheese, or rather in Australia, on the temperature requirements. It gets very hot in the summer, and freezing at times in winter, so 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 currently then being made in Australia, 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. Lack of knowledge and untested self belief, it took years before we could reliably make Milawa Blue, and it still, as good a cheese does, responds to the seasons, in that when the milk is best suited the cheese is better.
We also wanted to make a washed rind cheese, common in different areas of Europe, but not then produced in Australia, probably because it is undeniably a smelly cheese, with a full rich flavour quite unlike the English inheritance of firm Cheddar style cheese which was mostly made in big factories.
Our King River Gold and Milawa Gold were developed next. Each cheese style was developed by adapting “recipes” to suit our cheesemaking conditions, milk, climate, etc. The cheesemaker’s passion and skill is an absolute given, though customer feedback was also an invaluable resource. This was garnered from customers who were able to track us down to the little shop at the back of the factory that came into being on the 24th of December 1988.
How things have grown since those first early days! Thirty years on and we now make a wide variety of cheese from local goat and cows milk producers and have a large showroom and tasting facility that is recognized in a Lonely Planet Guide to Australia as “an absolute must stop in the Milawa Gourmet region. It excels at soft and washed rind cheeses.”
We hope you enjoy this sample of our selection of what is best in season from Milawa.
The Brown Family