5 February 2021

Sue's big plans to bring South Coast cheese factory back to life

| Kim Treasure
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Sue Melotte sitting at table reading development application.

Sue Melotte is aiming to revive a historic cheese factory in Moruya, and add a microbrewery by the end of 2021. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

When Brigadier Sue Melotte considered her retirement, the ACT woman approached it with all the planning and precision that stood her in good stead as the Department of Defence Director General Logistics Systems.

She knew whatever she chose would have to be a passion; a project that would challenge, but not consume her.

“I’d been looking to buy something down the coast, looking for opportunities, for some time,” says Sue.

“I’d really given up when a friend spotted this property – an old factory – at Moruya. I said, ‘What do you mean it’s a factory?’ Then I found out it is a heritage building, and I’m a sucker for old things.”

The property in question was Cheddar House, in Hawdon Street, Moruya.

The original site of the Moruya Co-operative Dairy Society Factory, built by the Ziegler Brothers for 800 pounds and opened with a celebratory ball on 16 November, 1892. It proved to be very successful.

A completely new factory was built in the early 1930s, with the modern machinery and equipment necessary to cope with the extra milk supply and needs of the district at the time.

Exterior of Cheddar House in Moruya.

Cheddar House in Moruya as it currently looks with a fresh, new roof. Photo: Alex Rea.

It went through a rocky period in the 1950s, when much of its supply was diverted to the newly established Streets Ice Cream factory, but survived that and continued operations until 1971.

The property was used for cheese storage until the late 1980s, but eventually went on to become a family home and then a bed-and-breakfast before Sue purchased it in 2017.

“The home has a very European feel about it,” she says. “Then you go inside and step back into a 1950s, 1960s factory.

“It was very run down. I spent 12 months just stabilising the roof damage.”

Sue also engaged Malua Bay architect Paul Dolphin to prepare a heritage conservation management plan.

“I wanted to use its history to inform its future,” she says. “I wanted to make sure I didn’t compromise on history; I wanted to build on it.”

Sue’s dream is to open an artisan food and drink facility.

“I want to recommence cheese production because I love it,” she says. “But if you are a single shingle business, it’s hard to be sustainable so I’d like to add a microbrewery and cafe to it.

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“The Moruya Cheese Factory was the most technologically advanced cheese factory on the Australian east coast in its time. It was sustainable and self-reliant. I’d like to capture the old philosophy they had back then.”

The current development application (DA) with Eurobodalla Shire Council is for alterations and additions to create multi-dwelling housing as well as an artisan food and drink premise, creating The Moruya Artisan Factory to showcase local history, produce and talent.

But the project is not without its detractors, with two neighbours raising concerns about noise, increased traffic, parking and pollution from cleaning the brewery tanks. Sue believes all of these concerns have been addressed in the resubmitted DA that went in just before Christmas 2020.

“Council said it was the first time they have had more positive submissions than negative,” says Sue. “The local community has been fantastic.”

The first stage of the project would see development of Quantum brewery and GraniteTown cafe. Stage two is for cheese production. As well as a local venue, Sue would like to see Cheddar House reborn as a tourist attraction.

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“I already run a wine club – Artisan Vinum – there,” she says. “I’d like to be able to offer simple pizzas and platters – locally produced food with cheese front and centre.

“All the byproducts would be reused. My partner creates soil supplements. We are partnering with a local farmer to use the spent grains and hops to create a natural soil supplement. The whole operation would be fully sustainable.”

With military precision, Sue has developed an ambitious timeline for the development.

“If I can get council approval within four weeks and we can get the tradies I need, I’d like to think stage one could be up and running by the end of the year,” she says.

“My background is logistics and business management. I just happen to love beer and cheese as well.”

Original Article published by Kim Treasure on The RiotACT.

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