Food & Wine

Blessed are the cheese makers, and the Tilba dairy queen will show you the whey

Lisa Herbert9 February 2020
Early stages of camembert creation at the Tilba Dairy cheese workshop.

Early stages of camembert creation at the Tilba Dairy cheese workshop. Photos: Supplied.

Erica Dibden and her husband Nic run Tilba Real Dairy, deep in the green-hearted hills of Tilba, NSW.

Erica, with her passion for nutrition and food provenance, has developed an intensive cheese-making workshop, which she runs in the kitchen of her farm’s homestead, precisely where she taught herself these skills many years ago.

As a wife and mother, Erica has long held a passion for nutrition and health, whole foods “and a burning desire to grow and make food for my family”.

In between milking cows and dealing with kids, Erica began experimenting with their beautiful jersey milk and found it created the creamiest, most delicious cheese. The passion and their business grew.

On the blessed art of cheesemaking, Erica says “I travelled across Australia to learn what I could about this ancient skill, lucky enough to get placements at various cheese factories”.

“I also won a Cheesemaking Scholarship which sent me to Italy, France and England to gain international experience, plus a six-month ‘theory’ placement in Australia’s one and only Cheesemaking College at Melbourne University.”

Little baby cheese, camembert a little further along.

Little baby cheese, camembert a little further along.

The cheesemaking course itself is wonderfully hands-on and plumbs the depth of Erica’s knowledge.

I and about 10 other cheese lovers found ourselves elbows deep in tubs of curds and whey, handling and cutting, tickling, draining and pressing, and taking in large amount of information throughout the day.

These passionate cheese-loving students were all looking forward to putting these principles into practice, well supplied with extensive notes and the facilities to take our hand made product home safely. We ended feeling pretty capable of making batches of very good-quality cheese at home. What a thrilling prospect!

The simple things are sometimes the best. Butter made from Jersey cream in 5 minutes.

The simple things are sometimes the best. Butter made from Jersey cream in 5 minutes.

During the full day, peppered with breaks and some stunning catering, we made camembert, halloumi, Greek-style feta, plus butter (from the divine Tilba cream) and watched the process of stovetop ricotta.

The course covers the 11 steps of cheesemaking, the uses of various milks, raw, non-homogenised and more, and issues around the pasteurisation processes.

Happy haloumi, poached and ready to eat.

Happy halloumi, poached and ready to eat.

These small classes also cover starter cultures and ingredients that influence flavour, texture and smell. In addition to the cheeses we made, we also covered some theory, hygiene and cheese storage. And Erica’s vision.

“As well as the dairy and the farm, I’d like to create a program of farm-based education. So while keeping everything running smoothly, I’d like to teach people how to grow food, teach them about nutrition, animal management, animal slaughter, all that.”

Being taught by Erica is inspiring. Her passion and her love of education is evident.

“I’d like to see generations in the future have more balance with, and connection with the earth and the food that comes from the earth.”

Over a fabulous Tilba cheese board at morning tea, I asked Erica why she decided to pass on her cheese-making skills to her, well, customers.

“It is not driven by financial gain, more from a desire to educate people on how to fend for themselves, how to nourish and feed their bodies and souls with food that is vibrant with life.”

The proud moment, frying and eating your very own haloumi.

The proud moment: frying and eating your very own halloumi.

“This is the motivation, the desire to spread knowledge so that mothers and fathers can provide their offspring with truly nourishing food. Food from close to the source that will feed more than a gnawing desire to eat, that will lay the building blocks of life.

“I teach because I love empowering people, we are not slaves to a system, we can break free from this to nurture ourselves and the easiest way of doing this is to sustain the body with real food. You are what you eat!”

Over the decades since industrialisation, we the people have been removed further and further from the activity of growing and making our own food. So thank you, Erica. For me, learning to make cheese has been completely empowering.

Erica plans on running two cheese-making courses each month, from February to December 2020.

Exact dates will be announced through Facebook.

For information on cheesemaking classes, and to register your interest email [email protected].

What's Your Opinion?

11 Responses to Blessed are the cheese makers, and the Tilba dairy queen will show you the whey

Jo-Anne Jones Jo-Anne Jones 5:29 pm 09 Feb 20

Delicious cheeses 🧀

Margi Mansfield Margi Mansfield 4:13 pm 09 Feb 20

Linda Squire Justine Goodson Coombe maybe we could have a drink tomorrow evening 👍✅

    Justine Goodson Coombe Justine Goodson Coombe 4:33 pm 09 Feb 20

    Margi Mansfield that sounds like a wonderful idea. This place looks incredible. I am craving grilled halloumi now! Looks delicious.

Mary Grealy Mary Grealy 11:41 am 09 Feb 20

Dominique Greenaway Jessica Patricia who is interested in doing a course with me (at some stage) - says two per month from Dec- Feb - dates to be announced - not sure if this will be changed due to fires.

    Amanda Kenyon Amanda Kenyon 7:01 am 10 Feb 20

    Mary Grealy I want to make mozzarella but can't find anyone who teaches that, only ricotta, haloumi and feta

    Mary Grealy Mary Grealy 7:21 am 10 Feb 20

    Amanda Kenyon hmmm there may be someone in Victoria - I will ask my mate - she did a course in Werribee.

    Amanda Kenyon Amanda Kenyon 7:22 am 10 Feb 20

    Mary Grealy thank you. She can teach you then you can teach me

Colleen Kennelly Colleen Kennelly 9:26 am 09 Feb 20

Dibden family awesome congratulations many years tilba wonderful man god bless

Kerry Jones Kerry Jones 8:44 am 09 Feb 20

Best Persian Feta I’ve ever tasted!

Sharon Hayward Sharon Hayward 7:58 am 09 Feb 20

Emma McIntosh, Karina McIntosh, Lauren McIntosh. We should do this.

    Lauren McIntosh Lauren McIntosh 8:01 am 09 Feb 20

    Sharon Hayward sure. We can do make cheese