Alexandrina Cheese Company. Handmade cheeses from our farm on the Fleurieu Peninsula, South Australia.
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Alexandrina Cheese Company. Handmade cheeses from our farm on the Fleurieu Peninsula, South Australia.
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Dan McCaul – third generation cheesemaker

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Kevin McCaul – second generation cheesemaker

 

 

Kevin McCaul – second generation cheesemaker

Specialty Cheesemaker

Kevin McCaul –– second generation cheesemaker

It would be hard to find a man more steeped in the whole business of cheese making or taking a greater pride in his work than Kevin McCaul. His father was a cheese maker for 58 years, and Kevin’s whole life has also been devoted in one way or another to cheese making, which has been devoted in one way or another to cheese making, which has been both a hobby and a job for him.

Kevin was born next door to a cheese factory not far from Toowoomba, on the Darling Downs in Queensland. It was a good place for a cheese maker to start out in life, for south east Queensland has a long tradition in the craft. Kevin’s father was Manager-Secretary of the factory; he did everything, including a good share of the work over the vats. He had started in cheese making at the age of fifteen and become manager at twenty. He was a very skillful cheese maker and a good manager. Kevin used to go into the factory as a small boy, and when he was at primary school he used to spend his holidays in the factory. It hardly needs saying that Kevin’s own skill and great knowledge of the all important fundamentals of cheese making grew from his father’s influence and tuition. Judging cheese was another skill Kevin learned from his father, and has since put to good use not only in competitions, but in the assessment of cheese from his own factories and others which cam under his supervision in more recent years.

Kevin left school when he was sixteen and started work at his father’s factory straight away. He was just in time to receive a truly basic grounding in his trade. It was seen to that he made the most of his opportunity to develop skill in using wooden rakes, scrubbing milk cans in the trough and running the hand driven mill, and other such tasks. Having proved himself in these endeavours he was given more responsibility and his temporarily flagging interest in cheese making was quickly reawakened. Soon after he started, the factory was modernized; a new boiler and a steam engine were installed providing steam and power to run a dome pasteurizer and a belt drive system for the agitators, separator, mill and pumps. In the next few years Kevin obtained his Testing, Grading, Cheese Maker’s and Third Class Engine Drivers certificates; the last one was required to permit him to operate a stationary steam engine and a steam boiler, and he had to be twenty years of age before he could receive it. By the time Kevin was eighteen however, his father had sufficient faith in him to leave him in charge of the factory when we went on holidays.

After about ten years Kevin left the factory and took a job with the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Stock, doing extension and advisory work in dairy factories. This work took him to many factories and broadened his horizons. In visiting factories to pass on knowledge he also learned a great deal himself.

Kevin left the Department to go to a small factory at Yamsion at the foot of the Bunya Mountains, not far from Dalby. ‘I went there as Manager-Secretary, with my young wife who was a great help to me. She did the books, and I did the hard work. We brought it from being a very run-down factory to a factory with large local sales’. The Bunya Mountains were, and still are a popular place for tourists and local people, and they all used to pass Kevin’s factory; he soon became well known for his cheese.

Kevin put to good use at Yamsion, and many other factories, what he had learnt about starter cultures from his father. He had found that if a starter did not set when it was supposed to, it would clot if it was left for another day or so. If it was then propagated every half hour for a few hours, the resulting culture would work well for a long time. Two or more cultures would be kept in readiness all the time, so if one had to be withdrawn, cheese making was not affected. The important thing was to keep the cultures adapted to the factory environment, and producing the right sort of cheese. The ‘Factory Derived’ starter system introduced by C.S.I.R.O in the 1970’s is a refinement of these old methods.

In 1955 Kevin was appointed Manager at the Maclagan Valley Cooperative, where he had two factories to supervise. He was there for eight years, and was involved in implementing some major changes. The Maclagan Co-op, and two other factories where early trials had been done, received the first licences issued in Queenland for the export of rindless cheese. Bulk milk collection was introduced soon afterward, and Kevin did all the groundwork with the suppliers, and organised the necessary alterations to the factory.

It was at Maclagan that Kevin began making fancy cheese. He started with Edam, importing plastic moulds from Holland, and packing it in red plastic shrink bags. This sold very well, and encouraged further trials. Pepato, which contains whole black peppers, was made for sale to the Italians in North Queensland. This was also a success, as might have been expected there were plenty of migrants, and imported cheese was rather scarce and expensive in those days. Other flavoured cheeses were also produced, and identified by local place names; one contained cumin seed, another smoke essence, and another cloves.

Supervising two progressive cheese factories, and introducing all these changes, as well as helping to raise six children would have been enough to keep most men fully occupied, but not Kevin. He inaugurated and edited a forty page company newspaper which was published quarterly and sent to suppliers, customers and every dairy factory in Australia. It was called the Planet News, ‘Planet’ being the company’s brand. It was financed by advertising and contained all sorts of information about the company’s operations, products, show successes and so on, as well as contributions from people such as the Department of Agriculture advisers. ‘Cooking with Cheese’ by ‘Crystelle’ was Mrs McCaul’s page.

The nearest good high school was a long way away, and the options of having the children leave home at the crack of dawn to catch the school bus and get home late, or sending them to boarding school, were not very appealing. Although he was happy, and going well at Maclagan, Kevin kept an eye open for a better located job. In 1963 the South Australian Farmers Co-operative Union advertised the job of Superintendent of Cheese Factories. Kevin applied, had an interview in Brisbane, and visited Adelaide. ‘I went back and told my wife things looked pretty good, and we should have a go at it. We flew down as a family and settled into our new surroundings in Adelaide’.

The six factories Kevin had to supervise were Woodside, Meadows, Hindmarsh Island and Murray Bridge, in the Adelaide area and Moorak and Glencoe West in the South East. In 1968, Kongorong was added to this list, although by that time Hindmarsh Island was closed. Kevin’s initial and main task was to see that at each factory cheese was made properly and hygienically, with proper quality control. He also had to play a big part in ringing the changes which began soon after he arrived and continued unabated.

One of the first problems for Kevin was to develop Romano type cheese, made from pasteurised milk, to replace the raw milk product made at Hindmarsh Island before it was closed in 1966. Experimental batches were made at Meadows, using an animal lipase preparation to replace the natural milk lipase which was inactivated by pasteurizing. Different starter cultures and techniques were also tried, and the buyers of Hindmarsh Island cheese were invited to sample them. Romano cheese is normally made with special starters which prefer high temperatures, and it came as something of a surprise when a batch made with normal starters and temperatures met with great approval. This unique and convenient method was adopted and used ever since. It is made in a flat 5 kilogram rinded cylindrical form, and has become popular locally, interstate and overseas. It is in great demand in Malta, where it is preferred to much cheaper products from nearer countries.

Pepato cheese has always been popular in Malta, and their importers have set strict standards for it. After seeing the first shipments of Romano they asked if Pepato could be supplied in a similar form. Kevin obliged, and a few crates were sent over to be examined. The story is that when the first cheese was cut in half the number of peppercorns showing on the cut surface was exactly that specified by the importers. After that auspicious start things never looked back as far as the Malta market was concerned. The cheese is also being popular in Australia.

Pepato and Romano can be eaten young as table cheese, or matured for many months when they appeal to strong cheese lovers, and are excellent for cooking. The maturing of Pepato is interesting because of its two separate and changing flavour components. When it is new the peppers predominate, giving a mild peppery flavour. As the cheese matured the normal cheese flavour develops, and the pepperiness permeates the cheese more and more, resulting in a very pleasing combination, best complemented by good ale.

With the closure of the Meadows factory in 1967 the Romano and Pepato cheese making were moved to Woodside, which had been extended and upgraded.

Woodside had a long tradition of fancy cheese making dating back to the days when the Hansen brothers made Edam, Gouda and Swiss cheese there. Swiss had been discontinued, and Ricotta introduced since then. During its final ten years of operation, the factory produced rinded Cheddar for the local market, rindless Cheddar for export, and some of it coloured almost brick red for the Scotland market, Edam, Gouda, Romano, Pepato and Ricotta and a ‘country style’ Cottage cheese which Kevin developed.

Towards the end of the sixties much of Kevin’s time was taken up with meetings, discussions, and a trip to New Zealand with Norm Zupp, the Manager at Murray Bridge, and Colin Charlton the Company’s Chief Engineer. There concern was the construction and equipping of a brand new factory at Murray Bridge, a subject covered in more detail in Norm Zupp’s chapter.

Kevin’s work at Murray Bridger before, during and after the move presented him with his greatest challenge and culminated in great satisfaction for him. Conditions in the old factory by the river were not good, and the announcement of the decision to rebuild must have been a great relief for him. His worries at Murray Bridge might have been much worse if he had not been able to depend on one of the best teams of management and staff ever assembled in one cheese factory. They kept up a good quality record in the old factory and lifted it in the new one. Kevin, himself was part of a great team during the rebuilding project, and although his knowledge and experience in cheese making were his chief contributions, he had a say in just about everything. How much ‘midnight oil’ he burned is anybody’s guess. The chapter about Norm Zupp centres around Murray Bridge and mentions many of the factory’s achievements. However, there is no doubt that the satisfaction with which Kevin remembered his contribution was well deserved.

Kevin’s responsibilities in the South East were fewer but just as demanding. Len Pridham was in charge of Glencoe West, and doing remarkably well under difficult circumstances. The whey separator was in the manufacture room and was also used for standardizing; the belt drive system was still in use – hardly conductive to complying with prevailing export specifications. Later in Cedric Voumard’s time, these problems were rectified, other improvements were made, and a further lift in cheese quality was achieved. They won the smaller factories’ section of the Continuous Grading competition one year. Cedric moved to the Company’s factory at Mile End in 1970, and Ray Herbert was the factory’s last Manager until it closed in 1971. In 1967 The Kongorong Co-op became a subsidiary of the Company, presenting Kevin with its own special problems, mentioned elsewhere. Production increased dramatically, with some of the biggest herds in the state supplying Kongorong. Moorak was the biggest and best of the three factories in the South East, and Kevin’s major achievements in the area was the upgrading of that factory to allow the close of the other two.

Much of the supervision of operations in the South East was carried out by John Jaensch. John had worked at Murray Bridge since 1958, and was appointed as Cheese Production Officier, assisting Kevin in 1965. John’s work took him into all the factories, often making cheese and doing other jobs himself. After Glencoe West and Kongorong closed John spent most of his time at Woodside, managing the factory with the hlp of Trevor Lorke who held the fort when John was helping Kevin. Since Les Harrison’s time, Woodside had been managing by Keith Copping, Fred Brown and Ron Braun, all of whom controlled the meat and cheese sections, the cheese section being directly supervised by head Foreman Fred Bridge and Trevor Lorke.

In 1975 South Farmers bought out Jacobs Dairy Product Company, inheriting their factories at Macclesfield and Mount Barker. Ludvig Hansen retired soon afterwards, and John Jaensch was appointed Manager at Mount Barker. John had some health problems at this time and, after a year, asked to be relieved of some of his responsibilities. By this time Murray Bridge had been rebuilt after the fire, Moorak was operating smoothly, and plans were in hand for closing Woodside and made all fancy cheese at Mt Barker. At this point Kevin as appointed Manager to replace John (who became Assistant Manager). Kevin continued to supervise other factories as well.

Kevin relished the opportunities presented by his new appointment. After the takeover the butter section had been closed, but the other Jacobs cheese varieties had been kept going. To these were added the other varieties made at Woodside, some of which, such as Edam and Gouda, were the same, but where still packed under the two companies’ brands. To a man as keen and knowledgeable about cheese making as Kevin this was the perfect place to be. To make it even better, the Company spent a lot of money on extentions and renovations during the next few years. The factory was the last in South Australia to receive milk cans. When this ceased the receival area was enclosed and converted to a milk storage area. The old butter section was converted to a milk storage area. The old butter section was converted into a Cottage cheese and Quark making area, and a new starter room was constructed where the cream pasteuriser used to be. Large new cheese stores were built at the rear of the factory.

Cheese making continued to be done by the conventional in-vat methods, as the amounts of each variety made were too small to justify mechanisation. One exception was Quark. After acid development and curd formation in the vat overnight, this cheese is traditionally put in bags for drainage, and then packed. A Quark separator and cooler were purchased from Germany; the entire contents of the vat could be passed through the separator, giving instant, continuous separation of the whey from the curd which would be discharged into a hopper and pumped through the tubular cooler from which it would emerge ready for packing. Another piece of equipment Kevin experimented with was a cheese processor. He developed two excellent products, plain and smoked flavoured, which were sold in 2kg packs.

Kevin was justly proud of the range and quality of his products at Mt Barker. Their ‘short list’ was: Rinded Cheddars, Coloured Cheddar (Kongorong Red), Romano, Pepato, ‘Hamper (500g) cylindrical cheese, sold while very young), Edam and Gouda in various forms, Ricotta, three types of Cottage cheese, Quark, Baker’s cheese, plain and smoked processed cheese, cultured cream and traditional clotted cream. Some of the cheese makers who worked under Kevin were Kelly Addison, who had worked for most of his life at the Macclesfield factory, Lou D’Angelo, a very keen ‘new boy’ from Echunga, and a Swiss cheese maker, Alain Muehlenthler. Neil Paige succeeded his father Lance, as Engineer. In 1983, the decision to close Mount Barker was announced, and alterations were soon underway at Murray Bridge to accommodate much of Mount Barker’s production. John Jaensch was transferred to Mile End, and Robert Cavies was appointed Assistant Manager. At the time of writing the factory was still in production and likely to continue making at least Pepato and Romano until the end of 1984. Kevin was still in charge of Mount Barker and supervising Murray Bridge, but also contemplating a busy retirement. Several years previously he had established himself on a small farm near Paris Creek, and was turning off from it all manner of produce. It would be hard to imagine him living there in retirement without continuing to indulge in his life’s work and hobby – making a bit of cheese.

Perhaps the best assessment of Kevin’s work with Southern Farmers came from Bob Barker, the Company’s General Manager. He considered Kevin had made a great contribution to the cheese industry in South Australia, and had been one of the major influences in putting the company’s reputation for cheese quality in the ‘pre-eminent position it enjoys…throughout Australia’.

“People, Places and Cheese in South Australia 1842 – 1984”
Gordan S. Pickhaver
Wakefield Press - Published 1986
SA Division of the Dairy Industry Authority of Australia
Pages 167- 174

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