Tales from Winnaleah’s former cheesery
By Daisy Baker
13 February, 2019
WHILE Clare and Bevis Howard both grew up on farms, at Branxholm and Cressy respectively, neither expected they would become prize cheesemakers.
The couple moved to Winnaleah in 1969 after buying a farm off Clare’s uncle, George Lefevre.
Mrs Howard says her uncle sadly passed away the same day they moved to the farm.
“One of Mum’s other brothers, Uncle Claude moved to St Helens, but he came up regularly and taught us to make the cheese,” she says.
They began making cheese not long after they moved, using an old boiler left at the farm.
“I thought I knew everything there was to know about farming as I was reared on one, but I soon learned that I didn’t know much at all,” Mr Howard laughs.
“These are the moulds we used to use,” he says, pointing to a photo of a series of tins, ranging in volume from three pounds to 80 pounds.
Each night when they milked the cows, they put the milk in a big vat and covered it overnight.
“When morning came, we’d add some starters Clare had made and some of the fresh milk from that day and stir it,” Mr Howard explains.
“When we finished milking, we’d heat the milk up until it was about hand temperature. I put some milk in with the starter and then I’d tip it in and keep it stirred, I’d put some rennet in too.
“We’d go home and have some breakfast – we had about forty minutes and we’d come back and it would be set like a junket and then you’d have to cut it into little pieces, horizontally and vertically and you’d have to wipe it off the sides of the vat,” he says.
They would process up to 1,000 litres each time.
“In the autumn you’d have less but the milk would be richer and therefore you get more cheese per gallon of milk that what you would in the spring time.”
Mrs Howard explains they gradually warmed it up to 102 degrees, testing the acidity and if it was going well, they would separate the whey from the curd to be fed to pigs and calves.
“We’d then put it up the top of the vat and cut it into slabs and turn it over and keep going until the acid was high enough,” she explains.
“We’d put it into a shredder that cut it up like potato chips and then we pressed them into the mould and put them on the shelves.
“The next day people would come in and some people would buy them and others would buy more mature ones. We had tourist buses and all coming to the farm.”
At the time, they were one of three cheesemakers in Tasmania selling their product.
They often exhibited their cheese in the Scottsdale Show, collecting many prizes for their cheddar.
While helping make their much-loved cheese, Clare was a relief teacher at Winnaleah District School.
This was a return to the school where she trained as a teachers’ aide while completing her secondary education.
After 21 years on the farm, Mrs Howard moved to Sandy Bay to support their two daughters while they studied at university.
“I was coming home one day [to Winnaleah] and I thought ‘I’m mad doing this’ so I went into Scottsdale and put the place on the market,” Mr Howard says.
He worked at Sandy Bay at Hazell Bros for several years, then the couple moved to Longford.
Today, they have 13 grandchildren and Clare keeps busy writing poetry, scrapbooking and visiting nursing homes, while Bevis maintains their splendid garden.
While the Howards no longer live in the North-East, many of Mrs Howard’s Singline and Lefevre relatives remain in the area.
The famous story of her great aunt Annie Beechey’s remarkable survival, after nine winter days lost in the wilderness, is written on a sign at Pyengana at the entrance of the St Columba Falls walking track.
Annie went into the bush looking for the family’s dairy cowfor evening milking, when she became disoriented.
A search party found no trace of Annie and after several days of freezing temperatures, the search was abandoned.
On the ninth morning, after being stalked by a Tasmanian Tiger for days, and surviving on stinging nettle roots and bird eggs, Annie laid down to die, when a voice spoke to her.
“She heard this voice which said ‘Annie, stand up and walk a few more steps in front of you’. She did so and emerged onto the bush track, just as a buggy was approaching her,” Mrs Howard says.
“She lost several toes to frostbite and as you can see in this photo here, her skin was blackened, burnt by wind, sun and frost, but remarkably she survived.”
Mrs Howard says her great aunt’s story has been passed down through her family and it will no doubt be repeated for generations to come.