Comboyne Culture products have been on the market for more than a year now and the company is enjoying great success. We catch up with head cheesemaker, Ron Lindsay, who runs the business with his wife, Sandy.
>Given that you didn’t have any background in cheese making, what made you decide to establish Comboyne Culture?
We bought the old Comboyne Cheese Factory in 2004 with a plan to open a café/gallery. But after we purchased the building, we were approached by a businessman interested in leasing the building off us to make cheese again.
He then promptly disappeared, but a seed had been sown in us and started us thinking that a small cheese factory would be a good drawcard for the café gallery.
> There is obviously a lot of skill and technique which goes into making cheese. How did you transform yourself into a cheesemaker?
At the end of 2004 I did a beginners cheese course at Wingham (Duck Under the Table). The course was run by Carol Willman over two days and it was an excellent whey (a small cheese joke) to get started in cheese making.
It was at this course that I met Neil Willman, Carol’s husband, who had come along for the weekend to assist Carol with the course. Neil is arguably the foremost cheese educator in Australia and is an international cheese judge.
After meeting Neil I then decided to do an intensive cheese course with him in early 2005, which was held at Witches Chase Cheesery at Mt Tamborine QLD (a small factory about the size we wanted to run).
It was at this course I decided to make soft, ripened cheeses, because we could see that the quick turnover of these cheese types would make starting a cheese factory possible with our limited funds. I then did another course with Neil in mid 2006 in Adelaide, to learn how to make blue cheeses. This was just before we started selling our first cheeses.
I am now thinking about doing a Swiss cheese making course, to give us another line of cheese to sell.
> We have just sampled some of your Camembert, which is well presented in a gold wrapper with your bright green, black and white Comboyne Culture label. It’s certainly a lovely, creamy and richly flavoured Camembert …
Yes, we are making a traditional Camembert much more like the cheeses you might encounter in France than the run of the mill cheeses you are likely to find in a supermarket.
> Tell us about the other cheeses you are producing.
We also make a Washed Rind cheese, which is made like a Camembert, then washed in other cheese ripening cultures several times; which consequently gives these cheeses an amazing, earthy flavour. We also make two blue cheeses; a surfaced ripened cheese we call Bluembert (because of the creamy taste) and a blue vein cheese we call Lindsay Blue.
It is possible that the blue cheeses will become the major part of our production going on the sales of these cheeses to date, and as I said earlier, we may branch into the production of Swiss cheese.
> What does a typical week involve for you?
At present I make cheese on one day per week and I use 500 litres of milk to produce about 80 kilos of cheese. I do all the work on my own at the moment, but could probably double production on that day with a helper. The rest of my week at the factory is taken up with turning cheese, washing the washed rinds, wrapping cheese, keeping accurate records for the Safe Food Authority, cleaning the factory (cheese making is 90% cleaning and 10% cheese making) and doing deliveries and weekend markets (such as the Hastings Farmers’ Market).
> Where do you supply your products and how have sales been going?
The business has been quite successful, with good local sales through shops and Hastings and Wingham Farmers’ Markets, right from the start of production. People really do like to support local products. Sales in Sydney and Newcastle have really started to grow lately, mainly because of our exposure at the Farmers’ Markets in Sydney and Newcastle.
People seem to like being able to purchase quality, handmade products straight from the producers.
> What are your future plans for Comboyne Culture?
For the future, we will be opening the cheese factory to the public. We have started the renovations necessary to open the facility and will be installing a viewing window into the factory, so people can watch me making cheese. They will also be able to taste all of our cheese range.
We are also making a start on the gardens around the factory. The factory is situated on two acres fronting the Thone River in beautiful Comboyne, and we would like people to be able to come to the factory, stroll through the gardens or sit and watch the river gurgling by and enjoy some cheese.
> Good luck with your future plans and thank you for your time Ron. We look forward to sampling more of your cheeses.
Readers can visit www.comboyneculture.com.au