A VISION to produce cheeses that help showcase the South Coast dairy industry is now a reality for Kirsten McHugh.
The idea was born in 2002, when Ms McHugh bought a 40-acre property at Foxground with her retired barrister husband, John Timbs.
“At the time we noticed it was a picturesque, beautiful area with a lot of dairy production but there was concern in the community that dairy wouldn’t be viable in the long term,” Ms McHugh said.
“We thought there was potential to make a value-added dairy product.
“There was a growing wine industry and food industry and combined with the traditional and historic dairy uses in the area, cheese seemed a natural fit.”
However, over the next few years it was a tea plantation on the couple’s property that became Kirsten’s priority.
“Through that period, between 2002-03 through to 2010, most of the focus was on planting the tea garden at Foxground and maintaining that,” she said.
“But in the background I was attending cheese-making workshops, doing a lot of reading and coming up with ideas about how to set up a small-scale cheese-making operation.”
In 2010, the couple bought the old schoolhouse building on the corner of Victoria and Belinda streets, Gerringong.
The Schoolhouse, as it is now known, is now part cafe and part cheese factory.
“The renovation took the best part of two years so it was a long process,” Ms McHugh said.
“A lot of local tradespeople were involved, but for everyone it was a bit of a first time project so we were all proceeding quite cautiously.”
Cheese is made on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, with milk for the cheese sourced fresh from a Rose Valley dairy farm.
A variety of cheeses are produced including halloumi, fromage blanc, fetta and crescenza – modelled on a cheese produced in the north-east of Italy.
They also produce yoghurt and quark and some hard cheeses are made when opportunities arise.
Products are sold at markets, supplied to local restaurants and cafes and sold at The Schoolhouse, which is essentially a cellar door for cheese.
“I am happy and gratified with the products we are producing at the moment,” Ms McHugh said.
“I feel very excited about the potential for where we can take this and excited at the cheeses I think ultimately we can make.
“We have an excellent product that showcases local milk to its best advantage and if that is what I set out to do I feel pleased we are on the track to doing that.
“When you are dreaming a dream, you don’t really think of the difficult work that goes into making it a reality.
“It has been very satisfying, but also very difficult. There will always be challenges you don’t foresee in relation to food products, particularly any dairy product.
“It will always be more complex, expensive and difficult than you first anticipate, but then you have the satisfaction of producing something that brings people pleasure. That keeps you going and keeps you trying to do things better.”