The Towri Sheep Cheeses property is on 300 acres of rural land at Allenview, near Beaudesert. Towri, the only accredited artisan boutique dairy and cheese room in Queensland, began life when Carolyn Davidson wanted to make cheese for her family and friends. One thing led to another and the farm grew larger than she’d anticipated. It is now home to 350 much-loved sheep, including the Awassi, the East Friesian and the Assaf milking breeds, and the Dorset and Dorper for fat lamb production. Farming sheep runs deep in Carolyn’s blood, having been raised on merino sheep country in Western Queensland. Her award-winning cheese is available online and Carolyn posts to anywhere in Australia. Towri also offers farm tours and cheesemaking classes for groups. Check out the website for details. (www.towrisheepcheeses.com.au)
Can you tell us a little about Towri Sheep Cheeses?
It started off as a hobby. Then my husband made the mistake of saying there was a shed available over at our turf farm — because we own Jimboomba Turf — and, he said, we needed to get rid of the shed and bring it over here for my sheep, not realising I only wanted to milk about twelve sheep, just enough to make cheese for us. So, once we got this monstrous great shed over here — that took twelve months to erect, I might add — I had to fill it. Ha! That’s how it started. That was at the end of 2004. It started as a hobby, but, saying that, sheep are in both my husband’s and my DNA as we’re from generations of merino breeders. My family is still in merinos. It is in my blood. When I decided I was going to make cheese, it was never going to be goat or cow; it was always going to be sheep. I don’t like the smell of goats and everybody does cow cheese, so, you know … I’ve always been a bit different.
Do you think sheep milk is better for you?
You want the facts? Three times the protein, one-and-a-half times the calcium, a lot higher in all minerals and vitamins, and very high in short-chain fatty acids, which means it lowers your cholesterol. There’s sheep milk and buffalo, and they are very good milks for us. It is also easier to digest, which comes down to the fact that it is so high in protein and short-chain fatty acids. Anyone who is really lactose intolerant can 99.9% handle sheep milk cheeses.
How long have you lived in the Scenic Rim?
Since 1981. That’s when we moved from our western Queensland merino and cattle places.
Have you noticed it changing in the time you’ve been here?
A lot has changed from the tourism point of view in probably the last three years, and I think it has to do with Eat Local Week. I think they’ve done a really good job.
Does anyone inspire you?
I think my ancestors have probably been my biggest inspiration because, as I said, when I decided to make cheese it was always going to be sheep cheese. There was no other consideration.
What does a typical day look like?
Arise at five, and then spend some time with my husband because that’s the only time we get to see each other — early in the morning — and he disappears off to work at six. Then, I organise breakfast for whoever I have working for me at the time. We always have a hot breakfast. Breakfast at seven. We start milking at eight o’clock. Quite civilized, and that’s because my previous livestock manager had to get her children to the bus every morning, so we worked out it was fine to get her kids to the bus at ten to eight, then we’d start milking at eight. And that has carried on. So, we finish milking at about half past nine, Monday to Friday. Saturday and Sunday, the sheep stay with their lambs. We leave our lambs on during the day, take them off their mothers at night-time and milk them in the morning, and then they go back on their mothers. And they naturally wean themselves. So, at about six months, the ewes start drying up, they turf their lambs off: ‘Go away. You don’t need a feed now.’ That’s how we do it. From about half past nine I go straight into the cheese room. I either make cheese from that day’s milk or I freeze the milk, so I have the option. There is always something to do in a cheese room, even if it is just turning cheeses. You’re either turning them or cleaning.
Can you tell us about the cheese?
We make all sorts of cheeses, and every cheese has a sheep name. We make drained yoghurts — or normal yoghurts — which we call our Eweghurt. Our fetas, which are our Bar Jars. Then we go on to our Woolly White, which is a French-style white mould cheese. And along with that we do a lot of side cheeses like our lavender, which is our Lavendewe, and our TruffleDewe, which has truffles in it — an ash cheese. You always ash cheeses to tone the cheese down, but we don’t do it for that reason. We do it because we want a black sheep. We’ll call it a black sheep if it is ashed. We don’t need to tone the flavour of sheep cheese because, as you know, it is quite a mild cheese.
You also offer cheesemaking workshops. How often do you do that?
Probably every four to six weeks. As long as we have two people and I’m not overly busy that day, we’ll do a workshop. I only profess to teach home cheesemaking, but it is a fun day and everyone thoroughly enjoys it. We have lunch. With cheesemaking, there’s a lot of down time. You are sitting around doing nothing for fifteen minutes. Every time you want to stir, you have to wait for fifteen minutes before you stir again. There’s a lot of downtime so you need to make sure people are happy for the whole day.
Where can cheese-lovers purchase your cheese?
Online, at the farm and at major food festivals.
How are the online sales going?
In the last twelve months they’ve really skyrocketed. Before that it was very slow, and you’d have to convince people they could actually buy the cheese online and it’d get to them. It gets packed in a white styrofoam box with dry ice and away it goes. We even sell cheese to a lady in Adelaide who is lactose intolerant, and she says it still has the dry ice when she gets it — within twenty-four hours, Express Post. Australia Post will tell you if it is not going to make it within the twenty-four hours. But with the dry ice packs, it is fine. It is good for about three or four days.
Why do you think online sales have grown?
I think it is people’s awareness, knowing where their food is coming from and trying to give the smaller producer a go. It means we don’t have to go to the middleman. I think that’s the case.
What’s the best thing about the farming lifestyle?
That’s it. The lifestyle. If I want to go shopping, or have a girls’ day out, I don’t take the lambs off that night. I’ll leave them on their mothers, feed them and say see you the next day, and go to lunch.
Earlier, you mentioned your blue cheese tart …
Well, my husband is a very deft hand at making pastry. He’s very good. I’m hopeless at making pastry — I am too heavy-handed. Anyway, he makes the pastry for me and I do the filling. Our blue cheese, our Eweghurt, a little bit of honey, a little bit of nutmeg, blend them all together, put them in the pastry and I can either serve it hot or cold. Coriander really seems to lift the recipe.
Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Living in the Scenic Rim in the next few years is going to be very, very good. I think local tourism is going to really increase and I think it is going to be a good place to live. I don’t know what it’ll be like in ten years, but in the medium- to short-term period, I think it is going to be really good.