Artisan Cheesemaker Andre Kogurt

Melbourne food writer Richard Cornish recently caught up with artisan cheesemaker Andre Kogurt of Mornington, Victoria’s Blue Bay Cheese company; an interview that was long overdue. But learning to be patient in all things dairy it seems, is par for the course.

Cheesemaker Andre Kogut is a patient man. He spends a lot of time waiting. He waits hours for his milk to turn to curds. He waits weeks as the curds set in their hoops. He then waits years for his cheddar to slowly mature. ‘Good things can’t be rushed,’ says Andre with a warm smile. Born in The Ukraine countryside he learned to ferment milk into kefir (traditionally fermented, non-homogenised probiotic yoghurt product) and soft cheeses at his grandmother’s side. Fifteen years ago he started producing dairy products under the Blue Bay label making products familiar to him such as kefir. ‘Fermented products are now so popular but our family have been making them since before we can remember,’ he says. ‘We’ve always known the health benefits of live probiotic cultures. Not that my grandmother would use those words,’ he says with a laugh.

artisan cheesemaker Andre Kogurt of Mornington, Victoria’s Blue Bay Cheese

artisan cheesemaker Andre Kogurt of Mornington, Victoria’s Blue Bay Cheese

Andre is also a perfectionist in the best sense. He sources his milk from a single herd of dairy cows grazing in the green rolling hills of Gippsland. The farmer uses organic practices such as eschewing chemical fertilisers and pesticides, instead employing natural weed and insect control and spreading compost and manure, alternatives to super phosphate and ammonia nitrate on the pasture. The farmers are also well known for their humane animal husbandry such as not separating the calves from their mothers and not sending poddy calves to the abattoir. Andre appreciates the quality of the milk and pays the farmers properly.

When the milk arrives at his small factory, hidden in the back blocks of the small industrial park in the seaside town of Mornington on the Mornington Peninsula, he is there waiting. Like all cheesemakers he takes a sample of the milk testing it for fat, protein and other technical parameters. Andre also does something different. He takes a glass of the milk and smells and tastes it like a sommelier would wine. ‘Every season, every day the milk can be different,’ says Andre. ‘Some milk is better for cheese than for kefir.’

Andre agreed to take the excess seasonal milk from the farm. With this he makes great semi hard cooked-curd gouda style cheese and a rich creamy cheddar. The gouda has all the hallmarks of Dutch gouda with its firm pliable texture and lovely nutty caramel flavours. Aged for 6 months this is a cheese perfect for melting or adorning a cheese platter. Andre also makes a cheddar that is rich and creamy. Using vegetarian rennet and traditional Cheddar cultures he sets the milk and cuts the curds. The curds are milled and salted then hooped into a 6kg wheel. They are partially drained and then left to set for several weeks with constant turning before being sent to the cellar, where maturing for 2-3 years, they develop those rich floral and ‘cheesy’ aromas one expects in a cheddar. The texture is smooth and velvety, a more refined version of the Mersey Valley Cheddar style of cheese.

Andre was selling extensively to the big supermarkets but they were not playing fair. Instead he chooses to work with good food stores and selling direct to the public through his factory in Mornington and via farmers markets in and around Melbourne. ‘I love the contact with the general public,’ says Andre. ‘They give me so much feedback. They tell me what they like and don’t like about a product and we can make changes to adapt to what they want. It’s the same relationship with the farmer. I have constant contact with my primary producer and our end customers. It is complex. But it is so rewarding’

In Love with Kefir

Blue Bay’s founder Andre Kogut is a gentle man with a generous smile and a burning passion for kefir. He has been producing one of the best-fermented yogurt products in the nation at Blue Bay Cheese in Mornington, about 60km south of Melbourne, for the past 12 years. It is only now, however, that the world is catching up to him.

Kefir is a traditionally fermented, non-homogenised yoghurt product and is an amazing source of probiotics – beneficial bugs that are great for your gut health. It is only in the past few years that the world has caught up with the benefits of this ancient way of preserving milk. Now, looking at global food trend reports, kefir is about to go the way of kale and coconut water. Andre is not fazed. ‘My grandmother drank kefir everyday,’ he says in his soft Ukrainian accent, ‘She worked hard every day until she died at 89. She was a fit woman right until the very end.’

Andre grew up in the Ukrainian countryside in the green valleys of the Eastern Carpathian Mountains. He learned to make kefir by his grandmother’s side. It was made in small batches from a small herd of hand-milked cows and sold or bartered to locals. ‘My grandmother would keep it cool by storing it in a jar that was kept in a basket and lowered by rope into the well water. She would consume it as part of a meal for breakfast,’ he remembers.

With this Andre shows us a sample of his just-fermented kefir. It has the lovely dairy aroma of milk with a mild ‘tangy’ taste. Although slightly viscous it has a clean mouth feel and finishes smoothly. It has the length of flavour of the lightest curd cheese and a pleasing savoury sensation. When it hits the stomach it doesn’t cause the heaviness of having consumed milk (think drinking a milkshake or Big M). As kefir is a traditionally fermented, non-homogenised probiotic yoghurt product, it just feels good.

That pleasing tang and softness on the tummy comes from the fermentation of quality milk. It is an ancient process that Andre has brought into the 21st century by applying traditional techniques to modern equipment and standards and by using some of the best organic milk in the country. This he gently and slowly heats to 65C to kill potential pathogens while retaining fat structure and enzymes. The milk is never homogenised. A mix of 12 strains of beneficial live cultures – good bacteria that consume the lactose in the milk and turn it into lactic acid – are then added. The lactic acid gives the kefir its clean taste and makes the proteins in the milk change their structure to form a net or matrix that captures the liquid and other nutrients in a lovely smooth thick texture. It’s a thorough process that takes 16 hours. When the kefir is bottled the unhomogenised butterfat rises to the top and solidifies, forming an airtight plug that stops the kefir from oxidising. It also protects flavour, nutritional value and extends shelf life. Blue Bay Kefir – with no added thickeners or preservatives – can last a good six weeks on the fridge shelf.

Blue Bay Kefir

Kefir contains probiotics capable of colonising the gut where they improve cholesterol metabolism and promote a healthier immune system. They also help balance good and bad bacteria and are effective in managing gastroenteritis. There is evidence to show that kefir consumption has been associated with improvements in people suffering from diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, allergies and autoimmune disorders.

No surprise, then, that Blue Bay Kefir – available around Victoria and across NSW – is becoming popular with consumers keen to improve their health. And more recently, it has more than doubled in sales within South East Queensland.

Andre has a small file of letters from customers who report their symptoms, including arthritis and asthma, improved after they made kefir part of a healthy diet. ‘My grandmother always said that kefir made you happy,’ says Andre. He reckons she was dead right. Modern science proves that good mental health is associated with a healthy gut.

While kefir is great to consume on its own daily, cooking and preparing food with kefir is also versatile and easy. Just store it upright in the fridge so the fat cap stays in place. Because it is acidic it can be used in recipes where cultured buttermilk is called for. The lactic acid activates baking soda, making for fluffy pancakes. It is perfect blended with ice and fruit – and perhaps a little honey – to make delicious yogurt-based desserts. Because it has a subtle savoury flavour it can also be folded through with some olive oil, salt and a little garlic and used as a side dish for salads and grilled meats, such as lamb.

‘Kefir is simply a way of life,’ says Andre. ‘It’s the healthiest way of having dairy in your diet for all the nutrients, almost zero lactose plus the probiotics that will keep your gut healthy. It has been keeping my family healthy and happy for scores of generations. And now we’re continuing the tradition in Australia.’

Privacy Settings
We use cookies to enhance your experience while using our website. If you are using our Services via a browser you can restrict, block or remove cookies through your web browser settings. We also use content and scripts from third parties that may use tracking technologies. You can selectively provide your consent below to allow such third party embeds. For complete information about the cookies we use, data we collect and how we process them, please check our Privacy Policy
Consent to display content from - Youtube
Consent to display content from - Vimeo
Google Maps
Consent to display content from - Google