Mahlah Grey’s head is still spinning from her whirlwind trip to Bra, the Slowfood capital of the world and home to the bi-annual Cheese festival.
Her trip to northern Italy was made possible by a grant from Slowfood Saddleback, which had heard of her dreams to go one day when she spoke about The Pines’ cheese and farming ambitions at one of their gatherings.
“I can’t thank them enough,” says Mahlah.
“They put me on the ground at exactly the right time and in exactly the right environment for me to come back absolutely bursting with ideas and encouragement.”
The theme of this year’s festival – Natural is Possible – fitted in perfectly with the Grey’s philosophy towards cheese making.
All of the cheese exhibited at the Festival was raw milk cheese, made in a traditional way.
“I went over there not really knowing what to expect, but having a really clear idea of which workshops I wanted to be at,” says Mahlah.
“A lot focused on the land and the soil – what is happening before the milk is coming out to be made into cheese.”
This regenerative farming is already a focus at The Pines, and Mahlah is now even more confident they are on the right track.
“People were talking about cross-breeding your herd and replanting local native species, both of which we are already moving towards.
“Once people knew who I was, and why I was there, so many came up to talk to me because they wanted to encourage us.”
She and Kel are already working with Landcare to get Illawarra native trees back on their pastures.
“We have planted 400, but we are just getting started. The plan is to put in 7000 – hopefully people will want to come and help!”
They firmly believe these improvements to the soil will help their product have a unique flavour.
“We want to own the flavour profile of our cheese and celebrate the fact that this is a very specific cheese, made in a specific way, from a specific pasture at a specific time of year.”
By the end of the year, they will be transitioning their Pearl cheese to become their first raw milk cheese, using the low temperature cooked curd method.
While Australia is lagging behind the rest of the world in retaining its restrictions on all but two types of raw cheese, Mahlah believes this situation will change.
“I went in there thinking that with Australia’s restrictions I’m not going to be able to do a lot of what they are talking about, however that quite quickly became a feeling of we are on the right track.
“The biggest thing I took out of it was keep fighting the good fight. There are wonderful support networks throughout the UK and America that are there to give advice.”
And what was her favourite of all the cheese she tasted while there?
“I tried a brilliant Belgian goats cheese called Kato – it was the most beautiful cheese I tasted the whole weekend.”
Details: Find out about Slowfood Saddleback at slowfoodsaddleback.com.au