Blessed are the cheesemakers

Home cheesemaker Marja van Loon with two of her cows at her Leith Valley property. Photos by...
Home cheesemaker Marja van Loon with two of her cows at her Leith Valley property. Photos by Linda Robertson.

Marja Van Loon says her life changed when she attended a cheesemaking course five years ago, and shortly afterwards got her first calf, Daisy, from a fellow student.

From that course run by cheesemaker David Milner, cheesemaking became a hobby and is now her passion.

She and her husband Peter Marr run a bed and breakfast on a 15.6ha block at Leithview in Leith Valley, so there is room to graze her cows, mostly Jerseys and now numbering four.

She also has sheep, pigs, chickens, a dog and a cat, peacock and a loud cockatiel.

They bought the property 12 years ago, developed a garden and built the house, accommodation and sheds for Peter's collection of old Land Rovers.

They have added a milking shed and cheesemaking room, and under the trees is a temperature-controlled container in which cheeses are ageing.

The cows are milked once a day and she has enough milk to make cheese every second day, she says.

She pasteurises the milk and has experimented with a host of different varieties of cheese - gouda, colby, maasdam, ementhal, parmesan, feta, farmhouse and ricotta.

She also makes ice cream and yoghurt.

Many of her early ''failures'' were greedily consumed by the pigs and chickens, while family and friends enjoyed the rest, but now she makes enough that she can age it for several months before broaching them.

Cheese gets better with age, she says. She is working on risk management and food safety programmes so she will be able to sell her cheese.

Recently she won a gold medal for an aged gouda in the home cheesemaker section of the cheese awards, as well as a silver and a bronze for flavoured cheeses, and last year she won a gold for a cumin-flavoured gouda.

She loved the networking at the event and learnt a lot from other cheesemakers on each visit, she said.

She also runs cheesemaking classes when asked, and on a visit to relatives in Holland even taught a cousin to make cheese.


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