French-born cheesemaker Ivan Larcher's eyes light up with excitement. A shipment of spruce bark from France has landed at Melbourne Port.

The fine bands of hand-hewn strips of wood will wrap his new cheese, a beautifully soft and voluptuous cheese that is his homage to the classic French fromage called Vacherin. Last year this innovative cheesemaker and globally recognised cheese educator, and his cheesemaking wife Julie, sold their farm near Limoges in the heart of France. Enticed by an offer of a new life down under, the energetic pair moved with their young family to co-found the world’s first privately funded cheese school, artisan cheesery, and cheese shop housed at The Mill in Castlemaine.

This cheese project is vast in its scale, ambitious in its scope, and immaculate in its delivery. Last spring, Ivan and Julie made their first cheeses in the boutique cheesemaking room attached to the new school. Cheese aficionados greeted the cheeses with much acclaim. Earlier this year, the pair started making cheese in the adjacent and larger cheese making facility. In this series of separate cheesemaking rooms, they practice centuries-old cheesemaking skills using state of the art machinery. “These hard, cooked cheeses will not be ready until June,” says Ivan running his hand over a 14kg wheel of butter coloured cheese. A few weeks back, the Long Paddock Cheese Shop opened to the public. This cave-like room, lined with ancient red gum sleepers and backed by a temperature-controlled walk-in cheese room, is filled with the aroma of ripe cheeses. Although the cheeses are not certified organic, Ivan and Julie make them using milk from a certified organic dairy herd. From this milk, they make small batches of un-homogenised milk, yoghurt, cream, crème fraiche, and cultured butter, all of which are only available through the new shop. They also make eight different kinds of cheese, from fresh and tangy ash coated Black Wattle to the mushroomy, and luscious brie influenced Flannel Flower. Then there is the Tomme inspired Banksia, a semi-hard cheese somewhere between a Raclette and a Gouda. “We have developed these styles of cheese that are suitable to the Australian palate,” says Ivan. Soon he will be releasing an Epoisse style washed rind cheese. This luscious cheese is washed with a liqueur infused with native botanicals by Maidenii vermouth co-founder and fellow ex-pat Frenchman Gilles Lapalus. Ivan also has a Stilton inspired cheese in the pipeline.

Education sits at the heart of this cheese project. Ivan and Julie were invited to come to Australia several years ago by Australian Specialist Cheesemakers Association members Carla Meurs and Ann-Marie Monda from Holy Goat Cheese and cheese advocate Alison Lansley. Together with the Larchers, they developed a plan to build a globally recognised cheese education centre co-funded through cheese sales. The students would also have the ability to have hands-on cheesemaking experience in the cheese rooms. Earlier this month, that dream became a reality when the first cheesemaking course was held in The Cheese School. The next course starts on March 15 and is a weeklong introduction to cheesemaking. Open to all, but with a maximum of eight participants, it is a fully immersive course aimed at would be cheesemakers. Price includes meals and accommodation. That education also extends to day to day transactions where customers are told how cheeses are made and how to store and look after them. “Cheese is a living thing. It is constantly changing. Mould is part of its nature. Some people think all mould is bad, but it is an essential part of making many cheeses.” The Cheese School will be offering cheese appreciation classes for those who want to expand their knowledge later in the year. “Presently, I am teaching cheesemaking, but when international travel is safe again, we will be flying in cheesemakers from France, UK, Spain and the US to bring their skills to The Cheese School,” says Ivan. Meanwhile, Ivan and his family are settling into life in Central Victoria. “We live on a farm, and the wildlife is amazing,” he says with a smile. “We have blue tongue and shingle-backed lizards. Some snakes! And wallabies. It is all so very different (to France), but it is so beautiful here.”

About the author

Cornish Richard
Richard Cornish
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Richard Cornish is an award winning food writer whose love of the land lead him to explore the issues around food, where it comes from, how it gets to us and why some foods taste better than others. He writes for The Age, SMH, DMT Life and has written eight cook books including co-writing the Movida series with Frank Camorra.