Carolyn Davidson, owner, Towri Sheep Cheeses
Cheese is a little bit like wine, a lot of it is in the eye of the beholder ...
It’s fair to say Carolyn Davidson loves cheese more than most people. In fact, some may even say she’s obsessed with it given she spends almost every waking hour making it, talking about it and eating it. You see, Carolyn Davidson and her husband are the proud owners of Towri Sheep Cheeses, Queensland’s only accredited artisan boutique sheep, dairy and cheese room. Situated at Allenview near Beaudesert, Towri is throwing open the doors as part of Scenic Rim Eat Local Week and inviting people to have a wander around the farm and maybe even take part in a cheesemaking class. We had a chat with Carolyn about all things cheese, obviously.
Most people love cheese, but few of them would know how to turn that in a career. How did you break into the cheesemaking industry?
It started off as a hobby and then I thought maybe I could make a career out of it. I come from five generations of merino sheep wool farmers so sheep cheese was always the way to go for me. I did some intensive cheesemaking through University of Melbourne Gilbert Chandler campus and then went from there.
Where did your love of cheese stem from?
I’ve always had a passion for food in general as my husband and I have always entertained a lot. Cheese was just a bi-product of entertaining really.
How have you seen the farm and the business evolve over its lifespan?
To start with we weren’t open to the public, we were only open to busses and now we’re open to the public as well so we’re into agri-tourism more now. I’ve seen the business go from one bus per week to approximately three.
How many different types of cheese do you make there at Towri? And do you have a favourite?
We make seven or eight different cheeses and my favourite has to be pecorino because I’ve looked after it for 12-months in the maturing room, turning it every couple of days.
Wow, I had no idea cheesemaking was such an involved process!
Yes, it’s a very time-consuming passion because there’s a lot of work that has to happen everyday, you can’t just go away and forget about it. I guess people don’t realise the time and effort that goes into producing cheese. I turn the cheeses every single day and give them a little rub if they are getting some unwanted mould on them, it’s definitely a full-time job!
For those who haven’t had the pleasure of visiting Towri Sheep Cheeses, please set the scene …
On arrival people are greeted with our ewes that are going to be milked that morning, then they will go up to the milking frame. The ewes are all very very friendly so you can take photos with them, they’re very photogenic! From there you’ll come around to our big undercover cheese tasting area that seats about 75 people and you’ll try all of our cheeses and if you’re lucky you’ll get a tour through the cheese room. We have large gardens you can wander around, pick some lavender, which we use in our cheeses as well, and then you can buy some of our cheeses to take home.
What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in the cheesemaking industry?
Probably the same thing as any farmer, climate. Whether we get too much rain or too little rain is always a problem. The price of our stock feed is also a major problem.
Do you find the general population is gaining more appreciation for artisan products such as sheep’s cheese?
Oh definitely, and I think that’s why we’ve gone from one bus a week to three. People are becoming more and more aware and they want to know where their food comes from. It’s definitely a positive change.
For those who might be hesitant to try sheep’s cheese, what are some of the benefits?
Anyone who is lactose intolerant can generally handle sheep’s milk cheeses because it is so easy to digest. It has three times the protein of cow’s milk and one and a half times the calcium but it’s also very high in the short-chain fatty acids so it actually lowers cholesterol.
Towri’s cheese has taken out gold medals in the Brisbane Cheese Awards so it’s fair to say you know good cheese, in your opinion, what are the characteristics of good cheese?
Cheese is a little bit like wine, a lot of it is in the eye of the beholder. So if you like a mild cheese, you’re going to like our Ewehgurt for instance because it’s very mild, but if you like a mature cheese that’s got a bit of bite about it you’ll love our pecorino.
What is a typical day like for you?
Rise at 5:00 am, have breakfast with my husband, send him off to work and then I go to work. If I’m not in the cheese room I’ll be out checking lambs or doing all of those sorts of fun farm things.
In addition to running tours as part of Scenic Rim Eat Local Week, you’ll also be running a cheesemaking class on June 29. What will attendees take away from that experience?
They will take away their own handmade sheep’s milk cheese but it’s not all learning, it’s also a really fun day. We have a big ploughman’s platter for lunch, which has heaps of our cheeses on it and we want people to realise that it’s actually very easy to do at home.