Cheese tasting in Tasmania
Tasmania is a great place to visit if you enjoy good quality food and drink, made from fresh local produce. If cheese takes your fancy, then I can recommend a number of cheese makers where you can enjoy tasting their delicious range.
6173 Bass Highway, Elizabeth Town
Ashgrove Cheese is in the north of Tasmania, on the main road between Devonport and Deloraine (just north of Elizabeth Town).
One thing which distinguishes Ashgrove is its unique flavoured cheeses. I normally steer clear of cheese "contaminated" with non-cheese additives, but at Ashgrove they do such cheeses well, using flavours to complement and enhance the cheese rather than overwhelm it.
Best known is their wild wasabi cheese, which does have an unusual but surprisingly pleasant taste. It still tasted like cheese - but with an extra dimension. My favourite, however, was their bush pepper variety. The cheese itself was good, but the hint of spicyness from the native Tasmanian alpine pepper made it something special. Any reservations I had about flavoured cheeses disappeared.
Ashgrove produces "normal" cheeses too - including blue vein, havarti, and a selection of cheddars. The tasting area is well stocked, with all their cheeses (about 40 varieties) laid out in bite sized samples that almost cry out "pick me!". Like with wine tasting, there are notes describing the cheeses, and even a recommended order for tasting so that the mildest can be enjoyed first.
Having had your fill of tastings, you can buy any cheeses you particularly liked, or just make note of them for future reference - many supermarkets around Australia stock them. There is also milk, butter, cream and ice cream for purchase, all originating from the local cows who are grass-fed all year round. And a cafe.
Pyengana Dairy Company
St Columba Falls Road, Pyengana
Located in the north-east of Tasmania near the main road between Scotsdale and St Helens, this one has been going for a long time. Cloth-bound mature cheddar has been made at Pyengana using traditional methods for over a century, and fourth generation cheese maker Jon Healey continues this tradition. Like Ashgrove, it also has a cafe - the Holy Cow Cafe.
My visit to Pyengana happily coincided with lunch time, so I indulged. A delicious soup was followed by a delicious milkshake and some of their lovely ice cream, made on the premises using non-homogenised milk. Then came a tasting of all their varieties of cheddar - some "straight", some flavoured, all magnificent.
I enjoyed being able to look out the cafe windows and see the very cows from whose milk the dairy delights come from. This is about as "locally produced" as you can get! It was also pleasing to see that the cows are free to turn up for an automated milking whenever they feel the need, and get an automated back rub on the way out.
Bruny Island Cheese Company
1807 Main Road, Great Bay, Bruny Island
This one differs from the others in that it is a small-scale artisan cheesemaker, and as the name suggests, it is located on an island.
Bruny Island is located just off the coast south of Hobart, accessible by a fifteen minute ride on the car ferry from Kettering. The island is often missed by those on shorter visits to Tasmania, so if you can make the time to visit you won't be sharing it with too many others.
The Bruny Island Cheese Company is about fifteen minutes drive from the car ferry, along the main road (and only road) leading to the south. When I first visited there were few tastings available, but as I was on the island for a few days it was suggested I try another day. I did, and was very glad, because much more was on hand to try.
I was served my samples by the owner Nick Haddow, who makes the cheeses using traditional techniques. As he cut lumps off various large blocks and wheels of cheeses, he described each one in the way that a father might proudly describe the achievements of a much loved child. I got the impression of a craftsman who enjoys what he does, and loves doing it well.
The results were outstanding. I could have happily bought any of them, but ended with a soft one named "1792" and one made from a mixture of leftover cow's and goat's milk with the blunt but descriptive name of "Bastard". Thanks to traveling in a campervan with a refrigerator, I was able to enjoy a chunk of bastard each day for the rest of the trip.
1238 Richmond Rd, Richmond
After working at the famous King Island Dairy - a star entry on any cheesemaker's CV - Ashley McCoy started up the Wicked Cheese Co. near Richmond. At the relatively new premises they produce a range of brie, camembert and cheddar cheeses. All are made from non-homogenised milk from the local cows of the Coal Valley.
My campervan's fridge had already been stocked with Bruny Island cheese when I stumbled upon Wicked. I wasn't needing any more cheese, but couldn't resist checking out a new local artisan producer. I could make noble claims about supporting small local businesses in the quiet season, but really I just love great food made from fresh local ingredients by craftsmen who care about quality.
Wicked Cheese have a shop and cafe selling other local produce, but I focussed on the cheese. Samplings of all types were laid out, and I dutifully put them to the test. I liked all of them, but - as was the case at Ashgrove - I unexpectedly found myself drawn to one of the flavoured cheeses. It was the Wicked Whiskey Cheddar; a hand-made vintage cheddar which had been marinated in aged Tasmanian whiskey. I don't like whiskey as a drink, but it seemed to work well in this cheese.
With some further additions to the campervan's fridge I departed, resolving to revisit Wicked Cheese next time I'm in Tasmania. Its location only a short drive out of Hobart makes it one of the most accessible cheesemakers.
59 Devlyns Rd, Middleton
For something different, Grandvewe makes cheese using the milk of the sheep on their property. Hence the "ewe" in the name. The cheesery is south of Hobart, on the coast road south of Kettering where the Bruny Island ferry leaves. Visitors can enjoy cheese tastings and other food with ocean views and seasonal sheep milking demonstrations.
I can't comment on the cheesery or tastings because I haven't been there yet ... something I hope to rectify some day. Nor have I found any cheese fom Grandvewe on sale in shops elsewhere in Australia, as I have for the other cheesemakers on this page.
King Island Dairy
North Road, Loorana, King Island
For over a century, King Island Dairy has been earning its reputation as the producer of some of Australia's best cheese. Their range includes varieties of cheddar, brie, camembert, double and triple cream, washed rind, blue, ricotta and mascarpone. Tastings can be enjoyed at the factory six days per week, and is one of the must-do experiences when visiting the area.
Being on an island in Bass Strait ensures reliable rainfall - it is one of the few parts of Australia where dairy cows can graze on green grass all year. Unfortunately, this island location makes it more difficult and expensive to visit than the rest of Tasmania. But I made it there eventually, and wrote of my visits to the dairy on this page: Cheese tasting at King Island Dairy.
Sorry, no tastings here
Heidi Farm, somewhere in the north of Tasmania, make some unique and tasty award-winning cheeses of the tilsit, gruyere and raclette varieties. I bought a chunk of raclette at the Victoria Markets and was instantly a fan. Unfortunately Heidi Farm has no public venue for tastings. However their products can be found in various specialty cheese sellers around Australia.
Lactos makes cheeses under brand names including Tasmanian Heritage, Mersey Valley and Australian Gold. They used to have a cheese tasting centre in Burnie, where I sampled some good cheeses in 2010. They still make cheese, but the cheese tasting centre has been closed.
1792 cheese from Bruny Island
As for my favourite of the ones I've visited ... they are all different and therefore hard to compare, and of course taste is very subjective. But for me, the Bruny Island cheeses stirred my cheese-appreciation nerves the most, and I loved the small-scale hand-crafted nature of the operation. If you're a cheese lover touring Tasmania, I'd recommend visiting whichever cheese makers you can get to. Just be aware that any intentions of tasting but not buying might be overcome by the temptations of some really great cheeses.
These locations can be viewed on my Tasmanian Google map (look for the purple and white cheese symbols).
Image credits - cheese photo is from the Bruny Island Cheese Company website. Logo images are from their respective websites (I didn't think to take photos of my own when visiting - must have been distracted by the cheese).