Discovery - a Ukrainian cheesemaking legacy
By Robyn Lewis
It was raining, the room crowded but cold, not the best venue for a cheese tasting. When I first met the modest Andriy Kogut, little did I know that I would soon be trekking to Mornington reularly for my cheese fix.
Andriy, a relative newcomer from the Ukraine, was letting his Blue Bay cheeses speak for themselves. To say that I was blown away is an understatement, a sentiment shared by most others lucky enough to be present - like a plague of mice we devoured the lot, more gourmand than gourmet. So it was not long before I found myself in the back streets of Mornington, looking for Latham St, and wondering where amongst the panel beaters, plumbing yards and other signs of modern industry such wondrous cheeses might emanate.
I can't say we smelt them out - so understated is the shopfront we walked right past it. But then Andriy's smiling face popped out and we were there. This is no gourmet deli, and even inside Blue Bay Cheese has an industrial appearance - something that will surely change in the very near future, as more cheese hunters trek to Latham St on a Thursday when they are open for retail sales. But the cheeses sit in their glass cabinets like gemstones in a jewellery shop, beckoning to be tasted, and lack of decor is forgotten.
Andriy and Taras Kogut are identical twin cheesemakers from the rich blacksoil farmlands of the Ukraine. Both studied agricultural engineering and dairy food technology for no fewer than 9 years in Kiev, and emigrated to Australia in 1999, initially looking to settle in NW Tasmania. But Tasmania's loss was the Mornington Peninsula's gain, when, lured by the scenery, the lifestyle, the supplies of organic cow's and goat's milk, the nearby wineries and proximity to the all-important large market that is Melbourne, they settled in Mornington.
For unlike many cheeses we buy today, Blue Bay Cheeses are completely preservative free. Thus the fresh soft curd cheeses like quark, fromage frais, their special 'breakfast cheese' (delicately flavoured with honey and sultanas) and their yoghurt and kefir, cannot sit on shelves awaiting customers for too long. Their matured cheeses are another story, however - their Tasty Cheddar and aged Romano take 2 to 3 years to age before - like wine - they are released. Obviously perfectionists, the twins do not put on sale any cheese that has not reached its pinnacle of ripeness, so again the market must be nearby, and ready.
Andriy is (I can only presume) more extrovert than Taras, who remained steadfastly in the factory, perhaps busy nurturing a new cheese creation. Samples are produced, and then some. Once Andriy starts to talk about cheese, time melts away like a good mozzarella - and not just any mozzarella, but organic goat mozzarella, with a silky texture and delicate mouthfeel quite different to any other goat's cheese I have tasted. (And yes, it melts beautifully, too - sensational with figs and prosciutto). More tastings follow. Caprino, their 'goat parmesan', is unique - softer than the dairy equivalent, yet as delicious, whether on a cheese platter or shaved over salad or pasta. My four-year old loved it.
And well she might. Many people who otherwise dislike or have given up eating cheese for various reasons, including so-called 'dairy intolerance' are finding they can enjoy Blue Bay Cheeses, perhaps because they are so fresh, and lacking in chemicals, being preserved by natural lactic acid and cultures, as were the cheeses of olden-day Europe. Those collective 18 years of diligent study, applied to goat's milk from Main Ridge and cow's milk from nearby dairy herds, certainly show.
But can anyone follow a cheesemaking formula, armed with the knowhow, the right equipment and ingredients? Like making good wine, I think not. This is where art and passion step in. The hint of a tear glints in Andriy's eye when he speaks of his late grandmother Magdalena, on whose small, self-sufficient farm the twins spent their youthful holidays, helping her tend her vegetables, her animals and of course assisting her make cheeses. Where their love of cheese was born.
It is Magdalena's passion and legacy that lives on - now in the unlikely environment behind the petrol stations and car yards along the Nepean Highway - not only in the 'breakfast cheese' that is her treasured recipe but in the the hands and hearts of the Kogut brothers, cheesemakers.
Blessed indeed are we that they chose to bring their skills and passion to Australia, and for those who make the trek to Latham St on Thursdays, you will be greatly rewarded.
Blue Bay Cheese are at 1/6 Latham St, Mornington, ph (03) 5976 4999. Open Thursdays only. Appointments not necessary except for groups.
Blue Bay cheeses are also sold at Mt Eliza Deli, Food Works at Mt Martha, Tully's on the Moorooduc Hwy, Red Hill Cellars, Leo's Fine Foods in Kew, Scicluna's in Mentone, and a number of other small retailers in Melbourne. Also available at Bittern, Mornington and Sorrento markets.
Prices are extremely reasonable. Other Blue Bay cheeses include marinated fetta (both goat and cow), hard goat fetta, chevre, brie, gruyere, chilli, pepper, Romano, a sensational Stilton-like blue, and - if I have to pick a trophy winner - their Goat Blue.
- Melbourne Surrounds (VIC)
- Mornington Peninsula (VIC)
To see our recommendations, ratings and reviews you must be a logged-in subscriber.
To subscribe please enter your email address in the "Subscribe Now - it's Free" box on the right and click the "Join" button, or fill in this form >