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Cheddar culture

Being a cheese purist is not something that happens overnight. Just ask Jon and Lyndall Healey of Pyengana Dairy, in Tasmania’s north-east. Coming from a line of cheesemakers that extends over a century, Jon knows a little about the passion and dedication that it takes to be truly good at what you do.

And good they are, having been awarded Champion Cheddar-Style Cheese for the second consecutive year in the 2014 Australian Grand Dairy Awards, Australia’s most prestigious cheese and dairy awards.

It’s an honour they attribute to their painstaking dedication to tradition.

“We allow our cheesemakers to be cheesemakers, focusing on the quality and process,” Jon said. “It may be a cliché, but for us it’s all about the process; the journey and getting it right, rather than meeting deadlines or working to quotas. We take the time and value patience. It’s the only way we can be, given our product.”

That patience certainly pays off, with the proof in the tasting. According to the Australian Grand Dairy Awards judges, the Healey’s award-winning Pyengana Cheddar exhibits: “Earthy aromas and flavours reminiscent of great cloth-bound cheddars. The balance of tangy, nutty and fruity notes results in a very complex flavour which lingers on the palate.”

Historically a tin-mining region, Pyengana has been producing cheese since 1898 when the local dairy farmers decided to pool the milk from their cows and form a cooperative operation to produce cheese. Jon’s great-grandfather was among them, sowing the seeds for what was to become a finely honed family tradition.

Far from simply following in his father’s footsteps, however, Jon was determined to follow his own path. That path took him to the small town of Gstaad in the Swiss Alps in search of first-hand experience in the traditional processes of producing cloth-wrapped cheeses. The experience cemented his passion for the ways of the old and ensured that Jon remained a traditionalist in all things cheese upon his return to Pyengana.

Their dedication to the rich, full-flavour profiles of a cloth-bound cheddar is a noble pursuit, and one that is in keeping with the times as the Australian palate becomes more discerning and open to a vast variety of flavours.

“We’ve come a long way from the old sliced cheese and white bread days,” Lyndall said. “It has been a slow process, but Australians are certainly enjoying the taste of a wider range of cheeses. People are finally stepping outside their comfort zones and trying new flavours, genres and combinations. This is the way that growth happens and I think that this is a lesson that Australians are starting to embrace.”

With three young teenage daughters who are all very much part of the business, Jon and Lyndall have a constant reminder as to their motivation in upholding the traditions for future generations.

“It’s about protecting what’s important so that our girls and their children can grow up to experience the best. We want our girls to know the depth of flavour and unique aroma of a well-made mature cheese. That’s important to us.”

Whether or not the future generations continue in their great-great grandfathers’ footsteps and go on to be expert cheesemakers is yet to be seen, but one thing remains certain: these girls will grow up knowing their cheddars from their chaumes, thanks to a great-great-grandfather’s property in Pyengana, population 123.