Students’ cheese the bee’s knees

Published 5:00am 20 December 2023

Students’ cheese the bee’s knees
Words by Nadia Chapman

Students at Caboolture State High School have been honoured with two awards in a prestigious competition – in only their first attempt at cheesemaking.

Year 11 Science in Practice students Ashlee Hope and Archie Huxtable came away with an almost perfect score, entering after their teacher, Rhana Ralph, completed the three-day RNA Teachers’ Cheese Making Workshop in May.

They took out first and second place in the Mould Ripened Cheese – Blue category at the EKKA for their entries, with the first-place cheese being rated a 19.5 out of 20 and an overall group score of 18 out of 20.

Chief judge and dairy expert Russell Smith says the cheeses were some of the best he’s tasted.

“Overall, this year, the cheeses were better than we’ve ever judged in this competition,” Russell says.

“Both Mark and I found it hard to believe how consistently good the cheeses were – we even scored them higher than a lot of commercial cheeses we judged in the Royal Queensland Cheese and Dairy Awards in May…”

Teachers are given the opportunity to participate in the free workshops and are guided by Russell through the process of making either camembert or blue cheese.

The teachers then begin the cheese-making process in the classroom, which usually takes six to seven weeks.

Year 11 Science in Practice teacher Rhana Ralph says the preparations were very exciting for the students.

“We studied microorganisms in food, as well as hygiene and safety in food,” Rhana says.

“We also had an excursion to Kenilworth Dairies, with commercial cheese making talks and cheese tasting.”

When it came to making the cheese, the students were blown away by the entire process.

“There was a full day of cheese making, including maintaining a water bath at a specific temperature,” Rhana says.

“The students then added the ingredients, such as milk, starter, mould and rennet. Then they cut, rocked, stirred and hooped curds.

“After that, they tested and brined the cheese, pierced the cheese, turned the cheese for eight to 10 days, and finally wrapped and matured it for six weeks.”

But the most important part of the process was what everyone learned along the way, which has led Caboolture State High School wanting to continue studying fermentation and cheese making.

“We all learned that mould can be used in food and actually taste good,” Rhana explains.

“The importance of hygiene and having to constantly sanitise our hands and equipment was another big lesson, alongside the discovery that cheese making is very hands-on.

“It was so important to follow all the steps and procedures and fully understand the science behind cheese making.”

When asked how it felt to win first and second place in this competition, Rhana says: “We feel cheese-tastic, surprised and super proud!”

Students’ cheese the bee’s knees

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