The sustainable whey: How Lyndall Dykes of Coffs Harbour Cheesemaking Workshop and Deli shows home cooks they can save the planet, one wheel of cheese at a time.
If living green starts with what’s on our grocery shopping list, there is one regular, plastic-packed item that even the most conscious households don’t think about giving a miss. It’s cheese.
But shunning the packaging, additives, food miles and expense that almost always come with this glorious foodstuff does not mean missing out. It in fact opens up an exciting new world for family kitchens, says Coffs Coast food artisan Lyndall Dykes.
That’s because making your own haloumi, fetta, or blue vein at home is in fact as easy – if not easier – than baking a cake, she says.
Lyndall has taught thousands of visitors to her Coffs Harbour Cheesemaking Workshop kitchens how to do just that, and empowered them to take charge of their and their loved ones’ health and eco-footprint in the process.
“I’m a hippie,” says Lyndall, a vegetarian for whom sustainability and cooking from scratch has been a way of life since childhood.
“When I first moved to Coffs Harbour, which is over 40 years ago now, the only cheese that I could find was in a little blue box on a supermarket shelf and I said ‘that’s not cheese’.
“I’d been learning how to make tofu and tempeh before I moved up here, and thought if I can have a go at that, I can have a go at cheese.
“My first cheese hoop was a baked beans can with holes drilled in it. I got rusty cheese! And then I’ve just persevered.
“I’ve lived on the Coffs Coast ever since, I love it here. I love the fact that it is a green area and how dedicated so many people are here to sustainable living.”
In 2009, having perfected the home cheese-making process, Lyndall started teaching workshops from a purpose-built kitchen at her and her husband Wayne’s rural property at Emerald Beach.
Last year she opened The Cheesemaking Workshop & Deli in the original plantation homestead at the Big Banana. It includes a deli – run by her daughter Melanie Browne – as well as teaching kitchens, dining room and shop, which sells her home cheesemaking equipment kits.
Lyndall’s workshops have been covered by most major national media over the years. Last month, she and Melanie won four Sunnys Business Awards for their work.
The workshops, taught in Lyndall’s bright airy kitchens with views of the hinterland in the backdrop, vary from basic soft cheeses to cheddars to blue veins. There are also pasta and breadmaking workshops.
The cheesemaking process involves simple, reusable equipment: a lidded plastic tub, cheese hoops, yoghurt maker, as well as the cultures and rennet (Lyndall, a vegetarian, uses plant-based rennet).
Participants experience more than just the hands-on magic of the process – the day includes a lunch with all dishes showcasing the classes’s cheeses. All the fresh produce in the meal is grown and raised on Lyndall’s property, where she and her husband have six huge metre-deep fruit and vegetable beds, plus 50 hens.
“It’s important for us to be as sustainable as we possibly can, cut down on food miles, and take a bit of responsibility for the food we’re consuming,” says Lyndall.
“It’s a lovely and cost-effective process, making your own cheese. It’s really fulfilling and quite empowering to take milk in the morning and by the time you get to that afternoon or that evening you’ve got some haloumi to feed the family.”
“To make haloumi, you warm the milk, add rennet to set the curd, then you cut the curd, and it gets gently turned and warmed. Then you let it sit and the curd settles to the bottom of the saucepan and knits together. You put it into a cheese hoop, press it for a couple of hours, then put it back into boiling whey – take it out, and you can salt it and use it straight away, or store it in brine.”
Is it really as easy as baking a cake? “Easier – easier than a cake,” she says.
On average, Lyndall estimates that the cost of making cheese at home is about a quarter of buying it in a supermarket – without the packaging, unwanted additives such as sugar, and the impact on the environment through food miles. Considering the shop prices of a wheel of camembert, square of fetta or parmesan, or a tub of mascarpone and crème fraiche (all cheeses taught by Lyndall), the savings become even more dramatic.
Home foodies already know the ease of fermenting their own cultured foods such as sauerkraut, kombucha and kefir. Learning to make cheese is an extension of this – and also offers a valuable by-product which is otherwise thrown away in the commercial cheesemaking process: the whey.
The whey is a low-fat, almost all-protein, probiotic-packed liquid that can replace milk in smoothies, says Lyndall. “It’s nourishing and great for your gut health.”
It also means that just by coming to a workshop, attendees participate in a green, self-sustaining ecosystem. “We produce a lot of whey in the workshops,” says Lyndall. “That goes home to the chooks. Our chooks have great gut health – they’re like little bodybuilders, and the reason they’re so buff is the whey they drink.
“So our whey goes through the cheesemaking to make our cheese, it goes to our chooks, we get very high protein eggs, then the manure fertilises our gardens which feeds our vegetables, which come back into our workshops, which feed people who come to our workshops.”
“The amount of equipment you need at home to make cheese is really as simple as the process itself. And all of that’s really green too because you’re just washing and reusing it.”
“And most of all, you save on masses of packaging – especially if you have your own cow or goat.”
The best part, Lyndall says, is that the know-how is attainable within hours. “We take the mystery out of making cheese. Cheese is the oldest form of processed food – it pre-dates breadmaking and is not as difficult as bread. If you can boil a jug, you can make cheese.”