Willowbrae Cheese’s shopfront on Darling Street, Rozelle, is in the thick of inner- west traffic and passers-by. But the journey of its cheeses starts on a bucolic Central Coast farm where three dozen goats graze on rolling green pastures.
“My week starts at 4.30am on Tuesday, when I drive up to the farm and pick up 400 litres of goat’s milk,” says owner Daniel Thaine, who is also one half of the team behind Surry Hills cafe Two Skinny Pickles. Thaine took over Willowbrae at the start of 2021, having spent months learning to make cheese from Willowbrae’s now-retired cheesemaker Karen Borg.
When he gets back to Sydney, the first step is pasteurisation. “If you’re dealing with raw milk, you encourage more airborne bacteria and yeast. But under my licence, I pasteurise and introduce my own cultures. Depending on what I’m making, I have different cultures and rennets to start the cheese,” he tells Broadsheet. “The biggest product is fresh curd, which takes two days to make.”
Although relatively immature, fresh goat’s curd has a bold, earthy flavour, and it’s a versatile ingredient. “You can use it in pasta, omelettes, on toast with avocado, in baked cheesecake, in tarts. We have restaurants who stuff it into zucchini flowers,” says Thaine.
Willowbrae also ages mature brined feta and haloumi. Its semi-hard Mt Bowen cheese starts off life similar to feta. “Then it has some white mould cultures added to it. It’s put in conical containers, drained overnight, then into the maturing room for nine days.”
There’s also the crinkly Muscatel mould cheese. It starts off as fresh curd, shaped into discs. It’s then matured in a container and aged in the coolroom over six weeks until it’s soft, rich and flavourful.
The cheesemaking process takes up most of the floor space in the Rozelle shop, but Willowbrae is still a good spot to sit in for a coffee and a toastie. Single O filter is the sole coffee offering, and toasties – including a classic croque monsieur, haloumi and harissa, and triple cheese and Vegemite – are made on sourdough by Instagram-based bakery Blood’s Bakery.
Thaine plans to get a liquor licence in the future, but for now it’s coffee, toasties, picnic hampers and cheese. During our conversation, he refers to his operation as “niche”, but it has a passionate following. You’ll find Willowbrae cheese on menus at Rockpool, Nomad, Fred’s and 10 William St, among others, as well as at Carriageworks Farmers Market.
“I always had this romantic idea of owning a goat farm and making cheese. I realise, though, how much work it is raising goats and I’m happy just doing cheese.
“Goat’s milk isn’t so common in Australia, and I’m keen to scale it and make it known across the country. It’s exciting to take something people aren’t that familiar with and make it new.”
688 Darling Street, Rozelle
0403 223 622
Thu to Fri 8am–4pm
Sat to Sun 8am–2pm