Birchs Bay Wool
Updated: Aug 26
I drove out to Birchs Bay to go for a cheese tasting, but I found so much more. I love Tasmania. I don’t know why it has such a hold on me. I first went in 2007 and rented a yacht to sail up the Derwent River to Moorillo a winery, restaurant, glass cube rooms hanging over the river bank and art collector’s mosaics museum. But I had to go back. I took advantage after being again in Australia.
Over 50.4 % of Tasmania is protected reserves of 6.81 million hectares, their extensive system encompasses spectacular landscapes. And with only ½ million in population you can drive for easily an hour without seeing a car or person. Coastlines, mountains and forests are uninterrupted by man-made structures.
Driving to Birchs Bay I passed Oyster Cove, I made a mental note, roads like Snug Harbor, Sandfly Road, Long Stretch Beach all seemed like places to explore. But I kept to my windy two lane road as my stomach was growling for some cheese. I followed the dirt road up to the 80 acre farm….avoiding the sign that said, Udder Parking Only. Grandvewe was a very informal place with the barn door open. I went in and met Nicole Gulliver, instead of cheese making today she was the manicurist, clipping the nails of her herd. As a fairly small young lady she had no trouble catching and flipping the sheep between her legs and clipping, no polish required.
In 2007 the family managed to procure a mob of abandoned pure Middle Eastern Awassi ewes. There are two strains of Awassi – a meat strain (highly prized for their fat tail amongst Persians/Middle Easterners) and a milk strain. They have both on farm and they are absolutely key to everything they do here. They are browsers. They forage for food and select intuitively what they need seasonally. They are the fattest of fat tailed breeds. This means, like a camel, they store fat in their tails for ‘lean’ fodder times. They have not come from areas where their genetics have been ‘engineered’ to suit modern farming and thus they’ve retained desert like hardiness.
Upstairs is the cheese making facilities, a shop, and a lovely terrace for tasters and diners. Not only did this look over the sheep fields below, but the oyster beds out in the bay. I selected four cheeses for my tasting board and savored their signature Sapphire Blue, a champion beating out 6000 other cheeses in competition. White Pearl, a Persian style feta, Blondie which is an earthy traditional molded crottin, and a Brebichon based on a Savoy Roblechon. Sheep’s cheese has twice the calcium of cows’ milk, no cholesterol and 98% of lactose intolerant people can have sheep cheese.
What I really came for was my admiration of their commitment to sustainability. The farm has been there for 16 years and they had made a commitment to reduce waste in a 360 degree way. Ryan Hartshorn set up a micro distillery to use the whey from the cheese production, creating a vodka that has won World’s Best 2017. It took 2 years discovering how to turn the complex sugars held within the whey protein and convert them into basic sugars to then ferment into alcohol and eventually distill. Now he has moved on to gin. It was worth it! Boxes of the spirits are shipped using sheep’s wool as packing.
The cheese makers now make The Gin Herbalist cheese, using the spent Native Australian botanical’s saved from the gin process and then rolled onto the outside of this cheese. You will experience rare Australian natives with floral and sweet characters as well as Lemon Myrtle, Anise Myrtle, Wattle seed, and Tasmanian pepper leaf. Other products made at the property are Pinot Paste made from the marc of pinot noir grapes, a perfect accompaniment to cheese; Gin and Juniper mustard, caramelized onion and vodka jam, and of course Mutton Kransky sausages.
This family business is founded on respect for their sheep, respect for the environment and a love of exceptional cheese. They definitely get 5 stars for sustainability and 5 stars for delicious cheeses!