Lessons learned in a Byron Bay Community College class in cheese making:

  1. How to make yoghurt
  2. How to make kefir
  3. How to make cultured butter
  4. How to make sour cream
  5. Avoid wearing flammable clothing while making cheese
  6. Avoid camping, renovating and fencing for a healthy relationship
  7. Also, how to make cheese

A few weekends ago we had a break from the farm, down in Mullumbimby in Northern NSW. We’d been looking forward to this relaxing weekend for some time, and Matt, never one to do things by half, pre-warned me that he planned to spend the entire weekend in his pyjamas drinking beer and reading.

We were to top off our weekend with a course called ‘Wild Feast’ at the Byron Bay Community College Mullumbimby campus. The class would be led by one ‘Bunya’, and she’d teach us about cooking with bush foods, or so we imagined. With any luck there’d be a bit of foraging.

Getting into the spirit of the relaxed nature of the area, we arrived a little late for the course. Wandering around, there was no sign of Bunya and no sign of anyone else who looked like they also might be looking for Bunya. At this point a lovely woman popped out of a classroom and asked if we might want to join the cheese-making class instead – a friendly, random gesture which pretty much sums up why I love Mullumbimby.

Firstly we learned to make yoghurt and kefir, something we vowed to start making as soon as we get the yoghurt-making kit. Cultured butter and sour cream were also very simple processes. With the quantity of butter and yoghurt we go through at home each month, we will literally save thousands of dollars with these newfound skills.

Eventually the cheese making got underway and we started off with labna – a really simple process that involves turning yoghurt to cheese. It couldn’t be easier – strain yoghurt in muslin cloth overnight. Once all the liquid has drained out of it, you’re left with a ball of labna, which you can roll into smaller balls, then store in a jar filled with olive oil and aromatics like rosemary, lemon rind and a few peppercorns.

The rest of the cheeses involved adding rennet to milk and heating it atop our little camping stoves provided by the course. It’s quite technical so you’re stirring with one hand and keeping a close eye on a thermometer at the same time. I’d rather not give away the recipes taught on the day – the women running the course really do deserve your attendance in exchange for their recipes! But, just know that making cheese is not as daunting as it may seem. There are thousands of recipes online, so start googling and give it a crack.

Everything in the course was progressing swimmingly well, until at one point, when I was stirring the pot of milk on the stove and Matt was undertaking the task of trying to re-light the gas underneath. I looked down to see that one arm of my jumper was actually on fire. I’ve never caught fire before, so the whole thing was quite surreal. The fire spread up my arm and over my shoulder and I was frantically swatting my arm while trying my hardest not to scream like a mad person. The minor catastrophe was over very quickly and despite the fact nobody saw the flames but me, everyone agreed that it was absolutely hilarious. It wasn’t until the unmistakable smell of burnt fibres filled the air that anyone actually believed me.

While we pressed the whey out of our haloumi, and finished off the ricotta at the same time, relationship advice was offered to us freely by the women in our course. It was a day for sharing all sorts of advice it seemed. In order to prolong our relationship they agreed that we should avoid ‘camping, renovating and fencing’. We neglected to tell everyone that we camp while we build and we had our first fence to build the following weekend, but judging by the reaction whole setting fire to each other debacle, that joke might just have brought the house down.

We left the day having made haloumi, ricotta and labna, along with kefir and yoghurt. Thoroughly impressed and inspired by our day, we left with bits and pieces of cheese making equipment and several types of bacteria to start our very own production. If you have some time up your sleeves, do this course, it makes for a great day out and you’ll learn some valuable, practical skills. Here’s the link.

Alice Thompson