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Adventures of a Cheese Maker in Kununurra

Posted by Tanya Barretto on

There’s something magical about Kununurra and it’s never more lively than during the Argyle Diamonds Ord Valley Muster. This amazing event recently took out the Gold Medal for the Best Festival and Event at the Western Australian Tourism Awards, and for the last two years, The Cheese Maker was lucky enough to feature in the program of activities and soak up some of the joys of the East Kimberley.

And it was quite the adventure….

Getting around town

We fell in love with Kununurra in 2013 – when as part of the 10 day Muster program we ran a Haloumi adults and a Haloumi kids course, and a two hour Seven Cheeses course. Running cheese courses off-site away from Perth is a full on job for two people, so it was myself and fellow The Cheese Maker Instructor Karina that headed up. Neither of us had visited before and our first year had some very funny moments we’ll never forget. We didn’t have a car the first year, so we carted gear between our hotel and the course venue in a suitcase (the bitumen wasn’t kind to the wheels so I had to buy my husband a new suitcase after that!). Tip 1: Hire a car.

Tip 2: Do the most special day tour of your life

The bitumen may have been rough at first…but we still found ways to get around and see as much of the area as possible in the small amount of time we had off. All I can say is that one day in the El Questro Wilderness Park is like 5 days anywhere else.

We did a full day tour that has to be the best tour I’ve done anywhere in the world that I’ve travelled. It was dark in the morning when the bus picked us up, and it was dark when we returned. 

Emma GorgeZebedee SpringsChamberlain Gorge

Our first stop was Emma Gorge (the entire walk and the waterholes are spectacular). Next stop has to be one of the most amazing places on the planet ‘Zebedee Springs’. We got to soak in the beautiful warm springs there. The water was so clear and it felt like all our stress melted away… there was something magical about laying there looking up at the crystal blue sky blending with the green palm fronds. If I could be teleported somewhere to truly relax whenever I wanted, that’s where I’d go every time! 

After lunch at El Questro Station we arrived at our final stop – and this was another magical experience – cruising the Chamberlain Gorge. As the sun set the colours of the rocks towering the edges of the river were amazing…and the whole experience was even more special with two wonderful guides – one playing the harmonica and the other reciting Australian poetry…while we sat back with a glass of champagne! All of that in one day….with all of that no wonder everyone on the bus fell asleep on the way home.

Tip 3: The locals are amazing…and there are some secret gems in terms of food too

Kununurra Treats

It’s not just the beauty of the place that had us want to come back when we were invited back in 2014, it was the beautiful people too. There’s a sense of true appreciation of you being there….of gratitude and generosity and big hearted people. In one of our courses the first year up we mentioned that we’d eaten at the hotel every night (due to no car and a couple of elusive taxi experiences). Next thing we knew we were told we’d be personally picked up and dropped off for dinner by one of our students. 

On the final day when we were trying to hunt down some beautiful Kununurra honey to take home, another local went and visited Bob from Kimberley Beez, and brought it to us at the airport on her scooter. We’re now addicted to Bob’s honey (my favourite is the Dragon Flower and Honeydew Melon, Karina’s is the Chia Honey). I tried to buy enough for at least another year….but think I may need to get some shipped in the mean time! We serve it with warm ricotta all the time, spreading the Kununurra love. 

We also have to admit an addiction to Mandy's (from Boabs in the Kimberley) Boab products (we love the chilli, mango and boab chutney). They’re often in short supply but amazing…even Lyndey Milan was captivated by these fascinating Boab tuber products, featuring it in her Taste of Australia episode filmed during the Muster.

And what did we get up to this year? (aside from teaching cheese making)

After our teaching schedule completed we headed out to El Questro Wilderness Park – knowing how much we enjoyed it last year, we managed to get two days off there this time (and a 4WD!!).

The Emma Gorge Resort became our base for the couple of days. Lovely grounds and the perfect base for another visit to the Emma Gorge waterhole… we were sure to work in a cheese picnic to our visit to the Gorge this time (call it continuous improvement). We re-visited our favourite places like Zebedee Springs, and even managed some new sites… including a lovely swim at Moonshine Gorge before tucking into a vegemite sandwich at Jackaroo’s Waterhole.

Moonshine Gorge

Did someone say something about cheese making?

It’s so easy to get caught up in the magic of the place and the scenery, I almost forgot to tell you about what started this adventure off in the first place – cheese making!

Cheese making’s been a bit of a hit with the locals in Kununurra in particular, as well as some tourists visiting from around Australia, some who have since been to more of our courses here in Perth, or sent friends along.

Cheesemaking course

This year we ran two full day home cheese making courses which included cheeses such as camembert and fetta, together with an on stage session with local kids at the Moon Fair. We had quite a distraction this year in the adults classes – Manu was working in the kitchen where the students had to wash their hands…so there was no grumbling from students about having to wash their hands a lot this year!

I’m a big believer in making home cheese making as practical as possible, and this is even more important in more remote areas where for example, there may not be as much access to special milks. We teach techniques and processes to enable people to make an array of great cheeses from home – with milk and cream that they can get from their local Coles or IGA – even in Kununurra! 

We got them started and now then there’s no stopping some of them – I love getting calls and emails about their cheese making adventures, and how they’re ‘localising’ what we taught them further. I think ‘creative, ambitious, and quietly competitive’ sums up the Kununurra students and the classes up there have been some of the most gruelling (in terms of the behind the scenes work) but the most rewarding. It has ignited a new passion for some and people enjoy making their cheeses and sharing them with their friends. 

Certainly the cheese category of the Kununurra Agricultural Show has massively increased in entries since our classes – a number of the students entered home made cheeses this year, including star student Sharon who this year set herself the challenge to see how many different cheeses she could enter --- an impressive 14 cheeses this year (pictured below)! Sharon took out first place for her Baked Ricotta – it's amazing. The flavour creations the locals come up with (often with local produce, from the sweet juicy tomatoes, to chia seeds, to boab tubers) are really delicious.

Sharon's home made cheeses

We came, we introduced the people of Kununurra to the wonderful world of home cheese making, and we remain touched by the magic and beauty of the people and the place.

Visiting Kununurra

Flights are increasingly reasonable to Kununurra and it’s such an amazing place.

The 2015 Argyle Diamonds Ord Valley Muster will be held 15-24 May, 2015. From rodeos, dinners, and everything in between, the culmination of the event is a massive concert on the banks of the Ord River…the iconic Kimberley Moon Experience, which will be staged on Saturday, 23 May. Believe it or not, we didn’t manage to stay for the big concert either of the two trips yet…leaving this, visiting Lake Argyle and going horseriding on one of the stations on my bucket list.

Final tip - Don’t leave planning to the last minute, especially for accomodation and event tickets. Some of the people we fell most in love with in Kununurra were the Kununurra Visitors Centre staff. They’re incredible and can help with the best times of year to visit Kununurra, accomodation and activity bookings. Call them or email them: [email protected]

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