You might not have heard of Coolamon.
It’s a 2000 something strong town 400 kms west of Sydney. But it’s proof that quality, not quantity, is what counts.
When the nearby CSU University closed its cheese factory, the locals rallied behind Barry Lillywhite and his team, to help create what is now an iconic hub for the town and region. Supported by the local Council, crowdfunding and investments of the local townspeople, the Coolamon Cheese Factory is a small town success story.
Taught the trade by a Danish cheese maker, who could make cheese without instruments, Barry has a rich background in all things cheese.
“He was an exceptional cheese maker. He could tell the pH with his senses, rather than using instrumentation.”
From it’s very inception, the factory has created new opportunities for the Coolamon community. The building project itself, which involved the renovation of a derelict IGA building, provided the local tradespeople with valuable experience in commercial project work and management.
A story that Barry likes to tell is one of true Aussie spirit:
Above the front entrance of the factory, you’ll see a rustic brick wall, hand scraped by the local painter. On the wall is a rectangular brick feature. “We didn’t even know it was there.” says Barry, who had originally asked for the wall to be painted to save time.
But the local painter refused. He recognised the quality of the brickwork, and worked through the night to restore the wall.
“You wouldn’t have got that in the city” says Barry with a smile. “We’re lucky we used locals.”
If you visit the factory, a display of brightly waxed cheese rounds will catch your eye. If you look closely, you’ll notice that some bear roman numerals.
There’s a story behind that too.
When the factory was raising funds to get the project on its feet, a significant portion came from crowdfunding. In appreciation for these investors, the factory dedicated one of its first batches of cheese rounds to these investors. The rounds took pride of place maturing in the main cheese display at the back of the factory. One by one, they’ve been slowly claimed, and Barry always makes sure he slices a sample. He says:
“The older they get, the more brilliant they are.”
Now over two years old, the few remaining rounds are looking promising.
The factory has a small, but vibrant range. In a nod to the local region, each signature cheese has a unique name that celebrates native plant and local landmarks, including the nearby monolith formation – The Rock.
In addition to the ongoing employment it provides to the locals, the factory also gives back through supporting local farmers and produce growers. Barry maintains that Riverina Milk, is hard to beat – it’s even been acclaimed as the preferred milk by baristas along the east coast. The factory buys its milk from a dairy farm, only 30 km away at Euberta, and, according to Barry:
“It is exceptionally good milk. I’d say its one of the better milks in the Riverina. “
The cheese factory keeps all the whey from cheese making process, and sends it back to the calves at the farm, helping to strengthen the partnership between the factory and local producers.
But that’s not all the factory does the for local community. It’s four walls, styled with rustic charm, provide an iconic venue and exceptional hospitality experience. Attracting visitors from the neighbouring city of Wagga, the Riverina region, and further afield, the factory brings a welcome economic boost to the small community.
According to Barry, it all comes back to his local community:
“The support we’ve had from the locals is absolutely mind blowing – if we didn’t have the support that we’ve had, this factory would not have worked as well as it has.”