Meet the makers: Whey to go! Cheesemaking for beginners in Bungendore

Michelle Rowe 11 January 2021 63
Yes Cheese, Contentious Character

Amateur cheesemaker Ricardo does the mozzarella stretch. Photo: Michelle Rowe.

The thought of attending a three-hour class involving a lot of stretching would normally have me running screaming for the hills. But it’s a new year, and I’ve resolved to work on overcoming my pathological fear of exercise and also to learn a few new things.

I seem to have found the perfect combination of the two with a cheesemaking class at Contentious Character winery in the hills of Wamboin just outside Bungendore, 30 minutes’ drive from Canberra.

Today our group of 11 amateur cheesemakers will be making ricotta and mozzarella, which we’ll take home once we’ve finished, as well as enjoying a wine tasting and a light lunch. The stretching that had me a little twitchy will not feature unseemly gym gear and a yoga mat. Instead, it turns out to be quite an enjoyable exercise involving freshly formed balls of mozzarella and a bit of arm movement that even I can handle without falling into a wailing heap on the ground.

Cheesemaking class at Bungendore

Bridgette Cathles (centre) teaches cheesemaking at Contentious Character winery. Photo: Michelle Rowe.

Leading the class is Bridgette Cathles, who combines her day job as a schoolteacher with her love of making food from scratch through her thriving little business, Yes Cheese. Bridgette visits Contentious Character three or four times a year to conduct cheesemaking classes which are perfectly complemented by wine tastings delivered by Contentious Character’s effervescent head of brand, marketing and sales, Tony Mansfield.

Our class is being held in the winery’s atmospheric cellar, lined by wooden wine barrels and fairy lights cascading from ceiling to floor. It’s a lovely space secluded from the action in the dining room and bar upstairs, where visitors to the 20-acre vineyard drop by for wine tastings and to have lunch or dinner inside or out on the deck.

Tony Mansfield, Contentious Character

Contentious Character’s Tony Mansfield leads the wine and cheese matching session. Photo: Destination Southern NSW.

Contentious Character took over the 24-year-old winery from previous owners Ruth and Steve Lambert in 2016. They have injected their own quirky style, including events and classes such as the one we’re attending today.

Alongside limited-edition Founder’s Museum and Founder’s Reserve wines from the previous Lambert Vineyards stock, Contentious Character’s chief winemaker Jeremy Wilson is turning out contemporary New World styles. They’re names you won’t forget in a hurry. Among the five or six we will try today, Tony pours a drop of the ironically named 2020 No Riesling to Worry into our glasses. There’s also the 2017 Redhead and a Lightweight shiraz/pinot blend and a 2019 pinot grigio, 50 Shades of Grape. Today is not the day to get stuck into the Dry as a Dead Dingoes Donga 2018 riesling, which is probably for the best.

Cheeses

A selection of cheeses are ready for the wine matching at Contentious Character. Photo: Michelle Rowe.

“We all have input into the names, but sometimes Jeremy does go a bit far,” says Tony, raising a 2020 rose, Between a Rock and a Hard Place, to pour into our glasses.

On each table is a wooden platter featuring four kinds of cheese (a labneh, a Havarti, a blue and camembert). Tony is adamant that the old saying about cheese needing to be paired with red wine is fake news, and the drops he’s selected for today’s pairing prove his point.


READ ALSO: A food-lover’s guide to Bungendore


While we’re doing our wine and cheese matching, Bridgette sets us up with the gadgets and ingredients we need for the cheesemaking session.

“You don’t need fancy equipment, pH tests or that sort of thing,” she says, dropping a few small vials of liquid, milk and various pots and pans onto each table. “My friend uses a pool filter for hooping her ricotta.”

We soon find out that even the most incompetent cook is capable of making ricotta. One of the easiest cheeses to make at home, and with little more than milk and vinegar as ingredients, it’s also very economical.

Bungendore food and wine

The idyllic setting at Contentious Character, Wamboin. Photo: Supplied.

We each heat a litre of milk (you can use UHT, fresh, goat or soy) to just before boiling point, then Bridgette instructs us to add the vinegar (or lemon juice), give it a quick stir and leave it to rest for the curds to form.

After 20 minutes, my classmates Ricardo and Margi (far more adept kitchen hands than I am) begin gently lifting the curd out of the saucepan and dropping it into a ricotta hoop – a small strainer that allows the whey to run off. A colander with muslin or a Chux wipe on a clean sink top will also do the trick, says Bridgette.

Twenty minutes later, the ricotta is ready to eat as it is, or to be used in the likes of cheese and spinach pastries, cannelloni or whatever else takes your fancy.

The mozzarella is slightly more involved, even though we are making a 40-minute version (it usually takes a few hours).

Separating the curds

Separating the curds during the ricotta making session. Photo: Michelle Rowe.

After a bit of backwards and forwards heating, mixing, dipping the curds back into the whey and folding them a few times, it’s time to start the stretching.

I limber up, iPhone in hand, ready to take some shots of my teammates as they do all the work (old habits die hard).

Margi and Ricardo quickly get the hang of things and are stretching with the best of them; the elasticised cheese remaining satisfyingly intact at every stage. Once coated with a bit of cheese salt and massaged a bit more, the balls of finished mozzarella are dropped into a container of cold water, destined for the fridge.

Contentious Character wines

The 2015-2017 Contentious Character range. Photo: Supplied.

As we eat a lunch of haloumi salad (we marinated the haloumi ourselves, along with the strawberries in sugar and balsamic reduction served with mascarpone, mint and black pepper for dessert), I resolve to check the Contentious Character events calendar to line up the next big day (or evening) out.

There’s a lot to choose from. At the end of this month, local musical satirists John Shortis and Moya Simpson will present an original show focusing on the hellish year that was 2020; there’ll be classic Aussie tunes courtesy of Canberra-based acoustic covers band The Advocates (and a python called Sylvester) to support regional wildlife recovery on Australia Day; and for Valentine’s Day, weekend dinners are featuring live music and a new Summer Tasting Menu.

Even the morning yoga in the vines sounds appealing, accompanied as it is by a brunch including cheeses, homemade focaccia, pate and preserves, plus a regenerative glass of rose.

I could get used to this exercise lark.

Contentious Character is open for lunch and dinner from Thursday to Sunday. Check online for upcoming events. For more ideas to explore the Treasure Trail – Braidwood, Bungendore & Queanbeyan – see Visit Queanbeyan Palerang.


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63 Responses to Meet the makers: Whey to go! Cheesemaking for beginners in Bungendore
Emma Murray Emma Murray 9:54 pm 11 Jan 21

Tiffany Widdowson Ciara Dowling we are doing this post baby Dowling arrival fo sho

    Tiffany Widdowson Tiffany Widdowson 7:10 am 12 Jan 21

    Emma Williams omg heck yea we are

    Ciara Dowling Ciara Dowling 8:23 am 12 Jan 21

    Emma Tiffany this will be happening 😍🙌🏼

Naomi Birkett Naomi Birkett 9:39 pm 11 Jan 21

There’s nothing these amazing people can’t do! ‘Grate’ to see! 🧀

Michelle Taylor Michelle Taylor 6:48 am 11 Jan 21

What a fun idea!!

Margaret Hughes Margaret Hughes 5:20 pm 10 Jan 21

Highly recommend this class. I was at the table with Michelle and Ricardo. ☺👍

Alison Carter Alison Carter 4:23 pm 10 Jan 21

Stewart Oxford, Karen Evans, Tony Evans - anyone for cheese making?

Heather Whittle Heather Whittle 8:01 am 10 Jan 21

Erin Kate Shearwood we should suss this out!

    Contentious Character Winery Contentious Character Winery 9:16 pm 10 Jan 21

    Heather Whittle next one sat 13 feb - nice Valentine present!

Elysha Fordham-Young Elysha Fordham-Young 6:54 am 10 Jan 21

Jade Burnell up for a cheese making date with me?

    Jade Burnell Jade Burnell 5:27 pm 10 Jan 21

    Elysha - yes I am!

    Contentious Character Winery Contentious Character Winery 9:16 pm 10 Jan 21

    Elysha Fordham-Young next one sat 13 feb - nice Valentine present!

Tara Summergreene Tara Summergreene 10:15 pm 09 Jan 21

Jane - come to the big smoke and make cheeses!

    Jane Summergreene Jane Summergreene 6:58 am 10 Jan 21

    Tara Summergreene let's do it.xx

    Contentious Character Winery Contentious Character Winery 9:17 pm 10 Jan 21

    Tara Summergreene next one sat 13 feb - nice Valentine present!

Peter Wood Peter Wood 9:02 pm 09 Jan 21

Angela Andrews for Pete.?

    Contentious Character Winery Contentious Character Winery 9:17 pm 10 Jan 21

    Peter Wood next one sat 13 feb - nice Valentine present!

Tegan Harvison Tegan Harvison 7:01 pm 09 Jan 21

Kylie Wickham we should do this!

    Kylie Wickham Kylie Wickham 7:17 pm 09 Jan 21

    Tegan Harvison yes please!!!

    Contentious Character Winery Contentious Character Winery 9:18 pm 10 Jan 21

    Tegan Harvison next one sat 13 feb - nice Valentine present!

Dannielle Robinson Dannielle Robinson 4:46 pm 09 Jan 21

Tim Darmody Joanna Haddock Bryce Darmody - let's do the next cheese class!!

    Joanna Haddock Joanna Haddock 1:47 pm 10 Jan 21

    Dannielle Robinson would LOVE to!’

    Contentious Character Winery Contentious Character Winery 9:18 pm 10 Jan 21

    Dannielle Robinson next one sat 13 feb - nice Valentine present!

    Dannielle Robinson Dannielle Robinson 9:20 pm 10 Jan 21

    Perfect, how do we book?

Leith Dudfield Leith Dudfield 3:42 pm 09 Jan 21

Dudfield Chris Lisa Holgate this looks fun!

    Lisa Holgate Lisa Holgate 4:12 pm 09 Jan 21

    Leith Dudfield it does! We might need to have a go

    Leith Dudfield Leith Dudfield 6:07 pm 09 Jan 21

    Lisa Holgate I’m keen!

    Dudfield Chris Dudfield Chris 6:09 pm 09 Jan 21

    Leith Dudfield lets ditch the kids and go with Lisa and Paul

    Lisa Holgate Lisa Holgate 6:36 pm 09 Jan 21

    Great plan!

    Leith Dudfield Leith Dudfield 7:09 pm 09 Jan 21

    Lisa Holgate Dudfield Chris The next one is on 13 Feb. Then 5 June.

    Fenji Stradwick Fenji Stradwick 9:08 pm 09 Jan 21

    Dudfield Chris I'd be interested

    Dudfield Chris Dudfield Chris 9:10 pm 09 Jan 21

    Fenji Stradwick should get a group of work peeps together and go one time!

    Contentious Character Winery Contentious Character Winery 9:18 pm 10 Jan 21

    Leith Dudfield next one sat 13 feb - nice Valentine present!

Sarah Richardson Sarah Richardson 3:27 pm 09 Jan 21

Anne Jones wish I’d known about this!

    Zad Mig Zad Mig 10:48 pm 09 Jan 21

    Sarah Armstrong There are 4 cheese making dates scheduled in 2021. Just head the #contentiouscharacter website for more deets and to book. 👍👍

    Contentious Character Winery Contentious Character Winery 9:19 pm 10 Jan 21

    Sarah Armstrong next one sat 13 feb - nice Valentine present!

Garth Kelly Garth Kelly 12:47 pm 09 Jan 21

Anne Heathwood . This is the thing for you..

Karen Murray Karen Murray 9:24 am 09 Jan 21

Sharon Clewer - an adventure???

    Jude Lou Jude Lou 9:32 am 09 Jan 21

    Karen Murray yeahhhh, you 2 are very cheesy. LOL

    Contentious Character Winery Contentious Character Winery 9:19 pm 10 Jan 21

    Karen Murray next one sat 13 feb - nice Valentine present!

    Contentious Character Winery Contentious Character Winery 9:19 pm 10 Jan 21

    Karen Murray next one sat 13 feb - nice Valentine present!

Fergie Ferguson Fergie Ferguson 9:00 am 09 Jan 21

I was just about to tag you both in this 😂

    Contentious Character Winery Contentious Character Winery 9:19 pm 10 Jan 21

    Fergie Ferguson next one sat 13 feb - nice Valentine present!

Andrew Jordan Andrew Jordan 8:13 am 09 Jan 21

Rachel Przeslawski you should give this a crack!

Kerry Millington Kerry Millington 12:26 am 09 Jan 21

Claire Hansen when I’m allowed out...

    Contentious Character Winery Contentious Character Winery 9:19 pm 10 Jan 21

    Kerry Millington next one sat 13 feb - nice Valentine present!

Nike Paterson Nike Paterson 11:02 pm 08 Jan 21

Emma Jayne was it you who wanted to do a cheese making workshop

Carli Prestwich Carli Prestwich 10:59 pm 08 Jan 21

We need do this Alejandra Brown

    Alejandra Brown Alejandra Brown 11:00 pm 08 Jan 21

    Carli Prestwich yes we do!!! How awesome

    Contentious Character Winery Contentious Character Winery 9:20 pm 10 Jan 21

    Alejandra Brown next one sat 13 feb - nice Valentine present!

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