UPDATE 2016: The cheesemaker at Witches Chase Cheese is now Adam Papprill.
For those who love food, a visit to the Witches Chase Cheese Company in Mt Tamborine is a must. The cheese factory, which was founded in 2004, is housed with Fortitude Brewing and Long Road Bistro in a large airy complex at one end of the burgeoning tourist mecca, Gallery Walk.
Head Cheesemaker Michael Reeve was a cheesemaker at Denhay Farms in the UK before migrating to Australia. Starting as a packer, he’d worked his way up in the world of cheese, gaining skills and confidence on his journey to the top.
By 2009, Michael had gained recognition as the Most Consistent Cheesemaker in the West Country and had won the prize for Best Traditional Cheddar in the world, with his cheeses consumed by Prince Charles. So, it’s surprising to know that on coming to Australia to take up a position in the Barossa in 2013, he’d only made cheddar!
Now, all that has changed. Michael is a fount of knowledge about cheese, making many different varieties at Witches Chase and inventing cheeses on a regular basis.
“My latest cheese is Milly’s Blue (named after my daughter). It has the colour and texture of a creamy Shropshire Blue and the taste of a Stilton, yet it looks like a Roquefort,” he tells us, holding the product in his hands.
He explains how all the milk to make Witches Chase cheese comes from the one carefully controlled dairy: Scenic Rim 4Real Milk, where cows are milked in a robotic system without human handling. He also talks about the processes we can see going on through floor to ceiling glass, how making Witches Chase washed rind cheese is a labour of love, the rind washed back with culture daily by hand for ten days. “We give it a lot of love!” Michael nods, so little wonder it’s just won silver at the annual cheese awards. (Personally, I would have given it gold – it’s one of my favourite cheeses!)
The English cloth-bound cheddar also needs a long process of pressing, water bath and lard smearing, before being wrapped in hessian, turned daily for several weeks during a maturation process of 9 months for tasty cheese and 15 -18 months for vintage. Sounds exhausting! Michael shows us how he tests the ripeness, inserting a corer into the cheese to take a sample. We roll a piece in our fingers feeling the texture and ‘oiliness’ before having a taste.
There’s an impressive range of cheese available at Witches Chase for taste and sale: Vintage Cheddar, Millsy’s Cheddar (Bronze medal 2015 Melbourne Fine Food Awards) named after Michael himself, Washed Rind, Goats’ cheese, Goat and Cow Feta and Haloumi (Goat Haloumi – Bronze 2015), Misty Mountain Blue, Red Leicester, Tamambert, or the decadent Triple Cream Brie, a smooth ‘melt in your mouth’ delight.
Michael’s passion for cheese making brims over. He’s ardent about improving the quality of the cheese and it shows. The cheese is sensational!
You can buy a platter of cheese to share at the venue, fruit pastes or Michael’s delicious Honeyed yoghurt. But the best thing is buying a few of the cheeses you like best, and taking them home to share with a bottle of great pinot noir (or even a pint of beer if you must)…
This cheese is the food of kings (well, princes anyway), and it’s right on our doorstep!
Across the walkway is Fortitude Brewing Company, its huge stainless steel vats housed in a glass-fronted room. Fortitude Brewing Company is a microbrewery founded in Brisbane in 2012 by Gerard Connors, Jim O’Connor and Ian Watson. IPA, Pacer and Golden Ale are bottled on site with the rest of the range available for sale in bottles or flagons. It’s a great place to taste the artisan beers on offer in a paddle of five tasters for $15. There are also pizzas available for purchase, so a session for locals is not out of the question.
Long Road Bistro, also in the complex, provides reasonably well-priced bistro and grill food and snacks. We’d filled up on cheese, so some crumbed olives and coffee filled the extra spaces. The atmosphere is relaxed and the service obliging. With more time, we’d stop for a meal in this modern bistro.
While the complex is close to the tourist-friendly bus strip of Gallery Walk, a large car park at one end of the building anticipates the hordes of expected visitors. Without detracting from the delicious cheese or the fine artisan beer, to us Mt Tamborine is about a myriad of places, rather than just Gallery Walk – the little gems tucked away in nooks and crannies off side lanes where you are welcomed with a country smile, as makers down tools to tell you about their produce. So, pack your cheese and beer in the esky, get back in the car, and go find those other places on the road less travelled.