I have an unhealthy love of cheese - quite literally. My doctor suggested I stop putting it in everything I ate if I wanted my arteries to remain open, but when I was offered the chance to make my own heavenly haloumi while eating canapés and drinking champagne, I couldn't resist. And the added challenge of a Mystery Box at the end? Bring it on.
The Cheese Maker run their fun, hands-on classes at The Cheese Barrel, an offshoot of Olive Farm Wines, just 30 minutes from Perth CBD in the Swan Valley. You can also keep an eye out for them at food and wine shows, Perth Upmarket and special events such as the Kimberley's Ord Valley Muster. We tore ourselves away from the temptations of the epic cheese cabinet and were ushered out to the balcony to drink coffee and enjoy the bushland views while waiting for our classmates to arrive. A clever ploy, because now I have seen their specials board I have no choice but to return for the baked brie with figs.
Our dairy diva for the day was the lovely Karina, who has spent eight years practicing the magical art of turning liquid into solid and working cheese puns into every sentence. Not content with just teaching us today, we will also have a recipe book to take away, access to the Cheese Maker's secret website and their Cheese Rescue Helpline (yes it's a real phone line) in case we lose our "whey". We started with the basics. Hygiene is essential to avoid adding any extra bacteria - we're not making blue cheese today. Hilo milk with cream from any supermarket forms the basis of our cheese making, and you can expect an even creamier haloumi with gourmet 'cream on top' milks. Temperature control is vital and the scary sounding ingredients like rennet and calcium chloride can be easily purchased from The Cheese Maker and delivered straight to your doorstep. This was all sounding easier by the minute.
In pairs, we worked our way through the easy-to-follow checklist under the watchful eye of Karina. After taking our milk up to 42 degrees, the rennet went in and we spent a leisurely fifteen minutes eating brie and waiting for science to do its thing. And then… magic! Milk had become curds.
Our dairy diva - Karina
After cutting, turning and stirring the curds they were spooned into cheese hoops and stacked to create a leaning tower of haloumi.
While sampling yoghurt, labna, haloumi and watermelon, we learned that the squeakiness of haloumi is all down to the cooking time. Aiming for maximum squeak, the bricks from our tower went back into the whey for another twenty minutes, ample time to munch on haloumi, prosciutto and tomato canapés before draining and salting our finished product.
While we toast our success with a glass or three of Olive Farm champagne on the balcony, Karina is assembling an assortment of secret ingredients. Back in the kitchen, we're given fifteen minutes, fresh herbs from Karina's garden and some basics to create something amazing with our shiny, squeaky, salty creations. Our "Haloumi Tricolore" of chilli, garlic, citrus and herb oil with crispy rosemary unfortunately wasn't named winner on the day but it still satisfied, especially when washed down with more champagne while watching the sun fade over the trees.
The half-day haloumi course is just a starter. The Cheese Maker also runs fun, full-day workshops on Classic Delights (fetta, ricotta, yoghurt, yoghurt cheese and sour cream), Gourmet Delights (camembert, cream cheese, quark, and mascarpone) and Farmhouse Cheese (semi-hard cheeses). They also stock all the equipment and cultures to get you "on your whey" to making your own preservative-free cheese at home.