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Binnorie Dairy’s Simon Gough whey’s in on why local is best

Simon Gough doesn’t mince words when asked about how important the quality of the milk is to making great cheese. “Silk purse, sow’s ear,” he responds instantly. “The quality of the milk is paramount, which is why I source all of my milk from nearby farms.” The soft cheese specialist based in the Pokolbin wine region sources his cows’ milk from a range of dairy farms between Cessnock and Scone from various herds, including Jersey, Brown Swiss and Friesian. The goats’ milk comes from Banfield Park/Down Udder, which has a genetically superior herd (six main milk-producing goat breeds with award-winning Saanens the cream of the crop) located west of Singleton. His weekly milk order is miniscule compared to the big dairy corporations’ millions of litres – just 7000 litres of cows’ milk and 3000 litres of goats’ milk – but when making handcrafted artisan cheese, it’s all about quality not quantity. “I believe that the locally sourced milk affects the flavour of our cheese and gives it a unique character you wouldn’t get anywhere else,” he explains. "In the same way that wine reflects its regionality, due to soil variation and climatic conditions, so it is with dairy produce. It’s all about the flavour profiles – the types of grasses in different regions, the water, the weather patterns – all of these things affect the flavour of the milk. “Also, by purchasing milk from a local farmer it gives me more control. I work very closely with Alex Berry from Down Udder to get the flavour profile of the goats’ milk exactly as I want it. Goats’ milk can have a strong, gamey flavour, so we adopt several strategies to avoid this, including keeping the bucks away from the does. If the bucks are near the does they produce more pheromones, which in turn results in a stronger flavoured milk. I want a mild, smooth-textured milk, so the key’s keeping them apart, to stop the bucks acting the goat, so to speak.”

The small batch, handmade cheese producer set up Binnorie Diary in 2003 after working in several cheese factories in Victoria and Europe, where he had his ultimate cheese moment. “My most memorable cheese experience would have to be when I was in Europe before setting up Binnorie Dairy. I worked in several dairies over a seven-month period and made Appenzeller cheese – it’s a hard cows’ milk cheese produced in the Appenzell region in north-east Switzerland and my absolute favourite cheese in the world. The highland grasses produce a distinctive flavour in the milk that you can’t get anywhere else. I’d love to make it here, but it just isn’t possible.” But he does make a variety of soft, fresh cheese styles with a few surface ripened cheeses such as brie, washed rind and buche de chevre thrown in for good measure. “The marinated fetta is our flagship and is an international gold medal winner, but we also make Labna (a yoghurt cheese made from cows’ milk), marinated goat fetta, chevre with dill (a goats’ milk curd) to name a few.” Simon’s cheeses are featured on many local restaurant menus and you can visit the dairy in the Tuscany Wine Estate, corner of Hermitage Road and Mistletoe Lane, Pokolbin. BC Initially published in the Hunter Valley Magazine issue 1.