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TAS Country : December 23rd 2010
10 Friday, Decem FARM FEATURE Pyengana Cheese TIMESAVERS: Jon Healey next to one of his automatic milking machines that were installed in July. Dairy dyna VINTAGE: Jon Healey with some of his cloth rind stirred curd cheddar and some Real Milk. Jon Healey's passion for cheese-making and his determination to make a go of it on the family farm have created a unique dairy business, writes Karolin MacGregor NESTLED in a picturesque valley in the state's north-east, over the years the Pyengana Dairy Company has become a must-see attraction for many tourist and locals alike. What started out as a small family dairy farm has grown into an agritourism success story. Mr Healey who grew up on the family property, did his dairy apprenticeship at Burnie. The youngest in the family, Mr Healey said he was keen to take on the family business, but realised that the returns from just dairying were not there. ''Even though we'd taken our farm to the next level with irrigation and all of that the value of milk just wasn't there,'' he said. ''I decided if I was going to take it on I wanted a bit more than that.'' Cheese making has been apart of he Healey family's history for about 100 years and was an area that Mr Healey was keen to explore a bit more. ''I remember my grandfather used to make cheese at the neighbour's place and I was always amazed by it and loved the product,'' he said. This interest lead him to Switzerland where he spent eight weeks getting a crash course in traditional cheese-making techniques. After returning home he sat down at the kitchen table and with the support of his parents drew up plans for their own farm cheese factory. Mr Healey made his first batch of cheese in February 1992 using second-hand cheese-making equipment he had purchased from Winnaleah. ''I originally had this idea was that I'd milk 50 or 60 cows and make cheese and have a cellar door type set up where we'd sell it, but in reality it didn't quite work like that,'' he said. The first day they were open they did not get one customer and, although he was a little disappointed, Mr Healey continued on undaunted. ''We made three tonnes of cheese and put it in the maturing room, but it didn't sell so we had to stop making it,'' he said. A Taste of Tasmania food event in Melbourne, however, provided Mr Healey's first breakthrough. A wholesaler in Melbourne bought some of Mr Healey's cheese and entered it in a cheese competition where it won an award. After some much- needed publicity and exposure on television and in some of the country's biggest newspapers, demand for the Pyengana cheese started to grow. Mr Healey's speciality is cloth rind stirred curd cheddar-style cheese which has been matured for about 12 months or more. Mr Healey said this type of cheese, while it was tasty when first made, develops more flavour complexity the older it gets. Since those early days, the business has expanded and now includes an on-farm cafe that was built seven years ago by Mr Healey's brother and can seat 60 people. A large underground maturing room which can hold 80 tonnes of cheese is located under the cafe. About 11 different types of cheese are made at the factory along with bottled fresh milk and ice- cream. Natural and locally sourced ingredients are the basis for all Mr Healey's cheese and most of the food served in the cafe. All the cheese from the factory is made using milk produced on the farm's 133ha of irrigated pasture. There is also another 162ha run-off block which is used for hay and silage production and to run the herd's replacement heifers. People visiting the cafe not only get to sample the range of Pyengana cheeses, but they are treated to a cheese-tasting experience, similar to that seen at many wine cellar doors. Mr Healey said recognising different flavours between each cheese was often a new experience for many of the visitors. It is this attention to detail that has earned the Pyengana Dairy Company a reputation as one of the best tourisim experiences in Tasmania. Most of the Pyengana cheese is sold to mainland states, and some is also sold through the farm shop and cafe. Earlier this year Mr Healey made a significant change at the farm when he installed three automatic milking machines. The machines have been placed in the existing shed which previously housed a 20-a-side swing- over dairy. This has enabled Mr Healey to make use of existing facilities including the dairy yards, milk vat and grain silos. Mr Healey said the main reason behind his decision to install the robotic milking machines was the difficulty finding staff to milk and the need for consistent year-round milking. Because they make cheese all year, Mr Healey
December 16th 2010
January 6th 2011