Three women stole the show on Saturday, February 10 scooping the pools in the Cobargo Show’s cheese making competition.
An attentive and enthusiastic crowd gathered under the show marquee to listen to judge and master cheese maker, Alfred Oesch announce the winners across 11 categories of cheese and yogurt.
This was the fourth year for cheese judging and presentation at the Cobargo Show and it continues to grow in popularity. The event started in 2014 with eight categories but has grown to 11 with more to come next year.
The event was sponsored by the Bega and Cobargo Vet Hospitals in what vet and emcee Helen Schaefer described was the “perfect partnership”.
“The vets look after a lot of the dairy producers in the area so it seemed like the perfect partnership.”
Christine Pullin from Reedy Swamp, Carolyn Bates from Quaama, and Barbara Maginnity from Brogo impressed the judge with their fine skills and high quality product. All three women took home a swag of certificates and much praise from the judge.
Ex-dairy farmer Ms Pullin took out first prize across six categories including a Jarlsberg that Mr Oesch described as having the “perfect taste”.
Ms Maginnity was awarded two seconds for her semi-hard chihuahua and blue cheese, two highly commended for her fetta and stretched curd cheese, and a first for the best cheese board.
Ms Bates took home the champion cheese exhibit for her goat’s cheese fetta. Mr Oesch said that it was a cheese that “couldn’t be better”.
“The balance of salt with the goat’s milk flavour was perfect,” he said, “nineteen and a half points out of twenty!”
Ms Schaefer said Ms Bates’ fetta had the “wow factor!”.
“Tasting it was a sheer pleasure, and a delight,” she said.
Mr Oesch is an accomplished cheese-maker and has over 20 years experience in cheese production, including a Swiss Master Cheese-making qualification. He is employed with Bega Cheese as the manager of cheese operations. Ms Schafer described him as a “strict judge”.
“Not all classes were awarded a first or second,” she said. “If you did get a prize it was because you earned it!”
At Saturday’s presentation, Mr Oesch provided feedback to the entrants as well as describing the complexities of cheese production, drawing attention to the skill and expertise of the cheese-makers.
All three women demonstrated striking skill but also an enduring passion for cheese with many stating they took up cheese making as a hobby in their retirement. This hobby quickly turned into an obsession.
“It does take over your life,” Ms Maginnity said.
Ms Pullin said she took up cheese making to help fill the idle hours after her retirement.
“It gave me something to do when I left work,” she said.
She also explained that cheese-making can be laborious and can consume your time, and finances. Both Ms Maginnity and Ms Pullin have installed “cheese caves” or temperature controlled fridges to store their product and can sometimes devote hours a day producing the perfect cheese.
“You need time, space and money,” Ms Pullin said.
Ms Bates said that some cheeses could be challenging and take a lot of time and care.
“There is a type of camembert that is hard to mature because it ripens from the outside in,” she said. “You need time and care. It takes a lot.”
These aspects of the process have not deterred the women who were making plans for future cheese creations.
Ms Pullin said she would try to be more “adventurous” and “experiment” with new cheese varieties.
“I want to try white blue cheese,” she said.
Champion cheese exhibit winner, Ms Bates hopes to continue using goats milk in her cheeses as well as buffalo milk, and its presently sourcing local producers.
“Buffalo milk has the highest fat of any milk, is lower in cholesterol and sweeter,” she said. “It makes a beautiful buffalo blue brie.”