Meredith Morris founded Witches Chase Cheese Company on Tamborine Mountain in 2004. The company was originally located on Beacon Road and named after Witches Chase, the road leading to nearby Witches Falls National Park, then re-located to Gallery Walk in 2008. Meredith proudly uses only Scenic Rim 4Real Milk to make her cow cheeses. She believes it is the quality of the milk from happy and healthy cows that makes her cheeses so tasty. With cheesemaker Adam Papprill, Meredith produces small batches of award-winning artisan cow and goat cheese, as well as ice-cream and yoghurt. Witches Chase Cheese Company is conveniently under the same roof as Fortitude Brewing Company. Beer and cheese — a perfect match. (www.witcheschasecheese.com.au)
When did you establish Witches Chase Cheese?
Well, we opened in 2004 and it was originally on Beacon Road. We bought the property in 2003 and it had an existing cheese factory on it. My ex-partner and I had dreams of making cheese. That’s why we sold our cattle property in Kilcoy and moved up here. We didn’t know what was going to happen, so one day we just did a chalk board and stuck it up the end of the road: Cheese — Now Open. It just went from, ‘Oh, there’s a cheese factory down there?’ to … We went crazy with buses and we couldn’t accommodate buses at Beacon Road, and then this property came up for sale in 2007. So we built this.
What brought you to Tamborine Mountain?
We’d started a company in Canada but had always had an interest in cheese. We resigned from the company and went sailing for three years. We were living in Majorca and Spain and we’d always go for drives in the countryside. We’d come across a winery, and usually the grandfather would be making a little goat cheese. We’d buy the cheese and we just had romantic ideas. Andre’s father was a cheesemaker, but unfortunately he passed. So, we came back here and we were going to have a factory in Kilcoy, but the fellow that taught us said, ‘You’re not going to get any traffic up this way.’ You know — tourism. So, we ended up selling the cattle property and we moved down to the coast for a bit. But Andre couldn’t handle living in an apartment. He needs land, and so I said, ‘Go for a drive up to Mount Tamborine. It is nice. It is touristy.’ And we found this cheese factory with a house for sale. It was not working at the time. And that’s how we ended up here.
Where do you source your milk?
Originally it was from Ged Plunkett, one of the original dairy farmers here. They’d been dairy farming for three hundred years. Plunkett Creek is named after his family. Unfortunately, due to the milk prices and everything, it wasn’t profitable so he got out. We struggled for a bit, but we’re now buying Scenic Rim 4Real Milk. We also use two different goat milks: one from NSW and one from down on the coast.
What is your most popular cheese?
Everyone loves a brie, right? So that’s really our number one. The blue is really good because it is nice and creamy, and it is not a strong blue.
How do you like to eat your cheese?
When the blues get too strong, I grate them into soups or risottos or gravies. But we just eat cheese. We eat it au naturel with a big salad — a chunk of camembert with a nice mixed-green salad. We actually paired our blue off and it went really well with a bubbly from Witches Falls Winery. Most people think, ‘Oh, I need a red with a big strong cheddar.’ But sometimes it is too overpowering. Beer is the best thing to go with cheese.
What do you enjoy about selling handcrafted cheese?
I think it is neat when so many people don’t like blue or are afraid to try the blue and you are like, ‘Just try the blue. It is not that strong.’ And it is nice to see people pleasantly surprised. Or they say, ‘Oh, my gosh, I don’t like goat cheese’, and they try the St Morr or the Chev L’ail Dip — it is nice when they are pleasantly surprised when they like it. You can’t do this at the supermarkets — sample the cheese — and we don’t charge for tastings. A lot of cheeses in the supermarket are stablised, and they have to be because of shelf life. It is hard to really sell to grocery stores unless you have a product that can last a long while. Like, the bries, camemberts — three to four weeks maybe, but it is a living, breathing organism that can mature quickly or it can mature slowly. It depends upon the proteins and everything in your milk as to how it is going to turn out.
How long have you been a cheesemaker?
Probably about thirteen years. I started off in New Zealand at a big cheese company, scrubbing and turning for the cheesemakers. I’d ride my bike to the factory after school. I started at the bottom. One day the cheesemaker said, ‘Do you want to learn to make cheese?’ Mum said, ‘You can either get a job or go back to school.’ So I got a job and nine years after that I was brought over here. I started learning from other cheesemakers. I have learnt on the job from other cheesemakers through trial and error.
What’s the best thing about cheesemaking?
Being able to experiment with different types of cheeses. Also, educating the public. Telling people about how we use local milk and local ingredients. Educating people about the different styles of cheese out there. It is not just the run-of-the-mill cheese slices or the supermarket brand cheddars or whatever. We are handcrafted, handmade, artisan cheese and you can tell the difference. We don’t homogenise our milk or add any preservatives. Our only preservative is salt.
I love interacting with customers. We have tour groups that come up here, ranging from international tour groups to primary school tour groups. I need to simplify the process and make it fun for the little kids. I don’t mind talking to people and educating them. This is handcrafted cheese not a cookie-cutter product.
Is there a particular cheese you enjoy making?
At the moment — and it is probably my signature cheese — it is a sage Dalton darby. It is good for around Christmas time. It is an English-style cheese, actually older than a clothbound cheddar. They used to make it around harvest time in England to use up all of their milk and crops, then celebrate with sage. I am replicating it here. It is a cross between a gouda and a phile, gouda being a Dutch-style cheese, which is quite spongy, and phile being a Welsh-style cheese, which is aged quite young and is … not sour but tart and sharp on the tongue. It takes about three weeks to mature. I spent about three or four hours the other day just grinding up the sage and boiling up the chlorophyll. I don’t like adding any unnatural food colouring or anything, but you want that nice marbling in it — the colour. We use vegetarian rennet too. It is called FPC rennet, and it comes from a plant extract, whereas traditionally people used to use calf rennet, which came from the lining of the calf’s stomach. But, because of the ethics behind killing cows just for their rennet, it has died off. Over here, we stick to regulations and use vegetarian rennet.
What else does your job entail?
Ninety per cent of my time I am cleaning, so I call myself a glorified cleaner. You want the good bacteria in the cheese, not the bad bacteria. You have to be careful because it is at the optimal temperature for bacteria to grow.
So, you love the lifestyle?
I love cheesemaking. It started off as a job, but it has become a lifestyle, a passion. I love coming up here and seeing the people’s faces when they try the cheeses, and it gives me valuable feedback. I want to make cheese for the customer, and I enjoy tasting and quality control. We try to incorporate the three venues. The restaurant uses our cheese in their dishes, and we make a beer-washed rind for the brewery with their beer.
It is one big happy family up here. I crank my music, and I dance. You have to enjoy work. There’s no point in going in there thinking, ‘It is just another day. I am doing the same thing.’ Here, we make such a wide range of cheeses, every day is different. I am still learning. I am still being challenged by different cheeses as there are so many variables, and things that can go wrong or right. And I love sunny Queensland, as well. I am a country boy, which is why I love Tamborine Mountain so much. It is similar. You can’t go wrong working next to a brewery and having a couple of cold ones after work. I love my work. I put my heart and soul into it.