Interview with Barry Charlton of Berrys Creek Gourmet Cheese
When Barry Charlton set up Berrys Creek Gourmet Cheese in 2007 with his partner, Cheryl Hulls, he’d been a professional cheesemaker for more than 30 years. He’d made everything from cloth-rinded cheddar at the Drouin Butter Factory in the 1970’s, to the famous Triple Cream at Jindi in the 1990’s – but he’d never made a blue cheese. His blues are now regarded as the best in Australia.
What made you branch out and specialise in making blue cheeses?
I wanted to try something different. I have always been intrigued by the flavours in blue cheeses, and their variety and complexity. I was also ready for a different pace, having been head cheesemaker at Jindi for 10 years, with 50 staff and lots of stress. We did a few trials in the home kitchen and it went from there. I like a challenge!
Your blue cheeses have been winning awards since the beginning – what do you think are the keys to your success?
The quality of the milk is really important, and the fact that we’re able to know the results from the [protein and fat] analyses straight away. The cow’s milk varies a lot throughout the year so we adjust the cheesemaking to suit. Most of our milk comes from the Hutchinsons [a local dairy farming family] who have about 40% Jersey cows in the herd. I batch pasteurise, which is gentler on the milk, and monitor the progress of the curd by “hand feel”. I employ one other cheesemaker and a production assistant who both work under my close guidance, which means I have complete control over the cheesemaking process.
Oak Blue has been nominated as a finalist in the 2017 Australian Grand Dairy Awards. What makes it different from your other blue cheeses?
Tarwin Blue has earthy tones and more cowy notes, and is at its best when matured for 12 weeks. Bellingham finishes sweeter, and Moss Vale develops cheddary flavours at peak maturity. The buffalo milk used for Riverine Blue results in sweeter notes. Oak Blue is more time consuming to make and takes longer to mature. It has much bigger flavours than the others and is best at 5-6 months maturation, but can also start to break down at that age, so it’s a fine line. All of the cheeses are made using the same blue mould, but it’s the different starter cultures that produce such different results.
How do you like to enjoy Oak Blue?
It’s one of our favourite cheeses. We love to enjoy it with some quality crackers and either a good red wine or a dark ale. These both complement the deep, strong flavours of the cheese.
Berrys Creek Oak Blue is distributed in Melbourne by Bill’s Farm, and in Sydney and Brisbane by Fino Food & Wine. It is also available in the ACT through Granwood Foods. Other cheeses in the Berrys Creek range are available in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland through major cheese distributors.