We are pleased to introduce our new Head Cheesemaker, Jack Condron! Jack is a local lad that worked his way from our cheese sales counter, into the cheesemaking team and now finds himself as the head honcho. We fired some questions at him so that you could find out a bit more about the main man behind the Milawa cheese we all love.
Hi Jack, you’ve recently stepped up to head cheesemaker, talk us through your journey at Milawa Cheese Company.
I started at Milawa cheese in April 2013 where I was working retail in the cheese shop. While I was there I was asked many questions about the cheese making process, so I got permission to do a bit of work in the factory itself to gain a better understanding of our cheeses and provide accurate answers for our customers. During these shifts I really became enamored with the process, so I progressively started working more and more in the factory. At the time when I first begun in the factory I was the lackey, just doing the basic jobs for the cheesemakers at the time. When I expressed my interest in cheese making the guys really took me under their wing and I just tried to soak in everything they were telling me. I secured the role of assistant cheese maker when Luke Armstrong left in mid-2014. Luckily for me I had Tony Peterson (Head cheese maker) who really showed me the ins and outs of cheese making on a daily basis until he left for Bassine Specialty Cheeses in early 2016. I then assumed the role head cheesemaker and have worked in close conjunction with Stephen Russell to help better our cheeses and the cheese making process. I have Connor Bowes (assistant cheese maker) and Wade Goodwin (junior Cheese maker) working with me crafting cheeses, who have been absolutely brilliant and shown to be highly talented!
What were you doing before you came to us and how did cheesemaking become a passion?
I completed high school and like a lot of other kids I guess, had no idea what I wanted to do for a career. So I worked at McDonalds and became a shift assistant for a short period of time and then worked for an organic fertiliser company before coming to Milawa cheese. It’s quite easy to become passionate about cheese making, many people do it at home in their spare time as a hobby. I guess what I love about it is the idea of creating something delicious that other people really enjoy, the process too is a rare mix of art and science where you have to think about the microbes and how they work within a cheese and then also thinking about how that cheese will look and taste. It can be frustrating but it’s a thoroughly enjoyable job.
Our Factory manager, Steve Russell has been a mentor and is still helping out at Milawa Cheese – How has Steve helped develop you as a Cheesemaker?
Throughout my time here I’ve been lucky to have worked with such knowledgeable people who are widely renowned throughout the industry. Being able to learn from Tony Peterson and Stephen Russell, two guys which have over thirty years cheesemaking experience in cheese making was largely to my benefit. Since Tony’s departure Steve’s support and guidance has been invaluable, we have worked together to improve several cheeses and are continuing to work together to try and keep improving.
What do you think makes a good cheesemaker?
A good cheesemaker has to be observant, always monitoring the milk and the cheeses itself right through maturation (some of which take two years!).
What’s your favourite Milawa Cheese to make and what’s your favourite one to eat?
My favourite Milawa cheese to make would be the Tommé. Its process is unique and is a lot different compared to our other cheeses, it is made in a very farmhouse style in which the curd is treated and the whey extracted. My favourite one to eat however I the Milawa Blue, it’s loosely based on the Gorgonzola Dolce style and in my completely unbiased opinion is the best Blue in Australia (ok I’m completely biased there but it really is that good)
We’ve been around a long time and many of our cheeses are iconic but do you have any new products in the mix?
We do have some in the works. I’ve made a cheese which is soon to be released as a limited edition (I haven’t even named it yet, happy to take suggestions), it’s a hard cow’s milk cheese which has been aged for six months. We also recently collaborated with Stomping Ground Brewery and made a beer washed rind cheese (some of the beer didn’t make it to the cheese, it uhh, got lost). We also have a few other experiments and trials but I can’t talk about those yet, it’s top secret.