Trevor has been judged a top producer for his buffalo haloumi and mozzarella, a magnificent achievement for this latecomer to cheese making.
Trevor spoke exclusively to Hinterland Times editor, Michael Berry about his new limelight status and where he goes to from here.
TREVOR WAS FEATURED in the Hinterland Times just three years ago as he embarked on his crusade to produce fresh cheeses using buffalo milk from Maleny dairy farmers, Mal & Margaret Thompson.
In the short time since, Trevor has shot to prominence as a top niche producer of his soft cheeses – haloumi, mozzarella, and bocconcini. That recognition also comes in a very practical way from restaurants up and down the east coast that buy Trevor’s cheeses. Importantly for the Blackall Range, Trevor, Mal and Margaret are showing that a focus on high quality produce can make a success out of niche farming.
Trevor’s tiny cheeserie is beneath his home in Maleny. On the other side of the wall his wife, Shannon is a producer in her own right … with a studio that produces equally delicious white clay porcelain pieces that are part art work and part kitchen utility.
Trevor is a self-taught cheese maker who began thinking seriously about cheese a few years ago. He was then a jazz trumpeter and composer, with a composer’s approach to food.
“I had travelled a lot around the Mediterranean and I had spent a lot of time in rural France, and I knew the quality of cheese. When I decided to make cheese I didn’t want to reproduce cheeses that were imported from overseas.
“So with my haloumi, I really wanted to make a cheese in which you could actually taste the milk, because most of the haloumi you buy is like cardboard. I had concepts in my mind of balance and taste and texture, saltiness and
freshness. Buffalo milk has the taste that I want to draw out in the cheese, because it is a beautiful sweet milk. There is no secret to what I do but I start by respecting the milk, and I pay a lot of attention to the process, which is all by hand.”
Like many creative people, Trevor struggles to define in words the creative process and he feels more comfortable using the musical analogy. “As a musician and particularly as a composer, you are always making nano decisions.
For many years I had trained myself to make nano decisions, so when it came to making cheese I was prepared for that kind of creative decision-making.”
Creative he may be, and he has been seen playing to his cheeses, but Trevor is not precious about what he does. To him cheese making is a high level craft, not an art. He doesn’t work to a formula but accepts that each batch of cheese is subtly different from the last.
As in music Trevor has been composing a new soft cheese that he calls Love Supreme. He had put down the first notes to this composition when we got together three years ago. “It comes from my observation of the cheeses brought to markets by farmers in provincial France … a moist fresh cheese that once again brings out the taste of
the milk, but having a resonance of its own.” A busy week for Trevor is making up to 100kg of cheese.
So does winning top national recognition mean he has to ramp up production?
“No. Obviously it’s a recognition or an affirmation of what I have embarked upon and the way that I’m doing it. Even before I got these gongs I was supplying the best restaurants in the country and I was in dialogue with them. And that’s important to me. I don’t just want to be a supplier but also to have a dialogue with those who buy and use my cheese. All I want is for people to respect my products.”
“Apart from restaurants, In Maleny I supply the IGA deli, and I sell through farmers markets. I am a real believer in farmers’ markets… that’s where for $12 people can buy a freshly-made cheese and usually from the cheese maker… and I can get instant feedback from people on what they’ve done with it, their recipes, how they’ve enjoyed it. And how they think it’s different from the last time they bought it.
“I have a symbiotic relationship with Mal and Margaret Thompson. As dairy farmers they are able to sustain a buffalo herd which supplies me with a constant supply of milk for my cheese. Each one needs the other and it’s a
good thing. That’s going to be the way of the future. Just as I have a conversation with restaurant owners, so too with Mal and Margaret. We are always talking about the quality of the milk and how it’s affected by the environment, or what cows are calving and so on.”
The future for Trevor Hart is clearly not in producing more cheese but in seeking new and creative ways to define his own signature.
“In the future I want to look at the traditional cheeses, almost deconstruct them and create modern versions of them. For example, I wouldn’t mind going to Turkey and up to the historical region of Cappadoccia … into those mountain villages to see how they make their cheeses. A lot of my cheese-making has been inspired by seeing people bring their cheeses to markets in Europe.
“To me things are just starting to open up. I am not sure what I am going to do next but I feel in my bones that the next cheese I make will be like a soft French provincial cheese.
“One of the things I learned through playing improvised jazz was that you can open up yourself more and more and more. You know that in jazz, by opening up you are being brave. It’s the same with cheese-making.”