Pecora Dairy is a Southern Highlands food success story. We speak to Cressida and Michael McNamara about the science of cheesemaking, the importance of collaborating with chefs, and why their East Friesian ewes are anything but stupid.
How many ewes do you milk, and what makes Pecora cheese stand apart?
About 100 this season. Ewe’s milk, in its raw state, is sweeter than cow’s milk and has double the solids. This richness makes it ideal for cheese-making, and the cheese develops clean, creamy, delicate flavours, with a more rounded mouthfeel and complexity.
Your farm sits in a unique microclimate. Why is that important?
Our patch of dirt sits right on the top of the Jamberoo escarpment at 700m altitude, and has very high rainfall, with the famous low lying Robertson cloud that settles in the early morning and evening. This climate makes us ideally suited for classic perennial dairy pastures of rye, clover, native herbs and grasses for the sheep to graze off. This means their milk is rich, seasonally distinct and flavoursome.
Do you have to be a bit of a chemist to be a cheesemaker?
Yes. Cheesemaking is an incredibly complex science. What we do, milking a single flock of animals and making cheese, is the most technically difficult of all. We need to work with the seasonal variations of the milk, allowing the nuances of the time of year be expressed in the cheese. After the ewes lamb in July and August, the milk is sweet and clean. It produces exquisite fresh cheeses like our Bloomy White, and our Fresh Curd. Spring milk is beautiful and consistent for cheese making. During summer, with its more diverse range of grasses, the milk becomes more rounded with a balance of fats and sugars. Autumnal milk like we are getting now is rich and creamy with a high percentage of solids. It lends itself beautifully to our Jamberoo Mountain Blue and Mezza.
How have Farmers markets helped Pecora?
The story behind our cheese is not something you get off the label. The cheese that will be made in a year’s time, starts today, whether it be through improving pastures, raising lambs or selecting rams. A cheese, on any given day, has taken years of development, breeding and farm improvement. It’s a different proposition to a commercial block of cheese. Farmers markets, and collaborating with chefs is the only way to tell our whole story.
You recently invited some of your customers to your place for a celebration. Who was there?
Our chef collaborations are really important to us. Especially the long standing relationship we have with James Viles at Biota, Bowral. We celebrated our fifth anniversary last year, and our guest list read like the who’s who of Sydney restaurants. Quay, Tetsuyas, Bennelong, Bathers Pavilion, The Bridge Room, Pilu at Freshwater and Rock Pool have all made beautiful dishes featuring our cheese. It’s something we are immensely proud of.
Where can we sample or buy Pecora cheese locally?
Biota and Bistro Officina in Bowral; The Robertson Cheese Factory, Robertson and a bit further afield at the Kiama Farmers market which is held every Wednesday afternoon.
And finally, please finish this sentence ‘sheep get a bum steer because …’
Sheep have a strong flocking instinct which often makes them appear to do silly things. So ill-tempered sheep that aren’t used to being handled are very frustrating and can do some pretty dumb things out of pure instinct. But a docile sheep breed that is well handled, particularly dairy sheep, is trusting, personable, cheeky and very trainable. They will come when called, remember faces and open farm gates and steel drums to get to feed.