The Tweed Coast of NSW is an area of riches be it from sugarcane, tea and modern day activities. It sits on a caldera of an ancient shield volcano and is large encompassing fishing villages and rainforest. Today we take a more urban look at the area with a cheese making class, dinner and a tea plantation.
“See that mountain over there?” Mr NQN pointing to a mountain range that looks like a person’s sleeping profile. "It’s Mount Warning, the first place that the sun hits on the mainland of Australia" he says.
“You’re a good tour guide,” I say to him smiling. He has spent the last three days telling me about all the stops in which he has taken his first steps, fallen over, broken his toe or run up a mountain and this is literally the first tourist fact that he has given me. "I can’t wait to fill in your trip advisor review,” I say drily. “For enthusiasts of you only."
We are driving to Murwillumbah, about 20 minutes drive from Halcyon House. We rose late and skipped breakfast due to still being full from last night. The sunrise was obscured by clouds and the wind was strong so there was no call to get out from underneath the covers this morning. We are a little early for lunch so we poke around the shops-there are cute boutique stores like Bowerbird and Modern Grocer and we become a bit confused when trying to find our lunch destination Juju’s. The signage is subtle and not easily seen from the street. Nevertheless once we find it it is busy inside.
Juju’s owner Johnnie changes the menu once ever two days depending on what he produce he finds at the market. The lunch specials appear on the chalkboard high above and considering the high humidity and 33°C/91.4°F weather outside we choose salads.
Chai Latte and Juju’s tea
To start with we refresh with a chai latte, thankfully not too sweet and a Juju’s herbal tea.
Thai beef salad $17
The Thai beef salad is just the ticket for the weather. With a mixed leaf salad and slices of tender, medium rare steak, soft Persian feta, black olives this is a bit of Thailand and a bit of Modern Australian.
Saffron Yamba prawns $18
It has been ages since I last ate tempura but I am tempted by the many plates of this that go past me. Plus the fact that it has salad too because I am almost melting here. It’s half a dozen large prawns from nearbyish Yamba coated in a saffron tempura batter and a crunchy Asian style salad. on the side is some wasabi mayonnaise which is light in wasabi but the meal is perfectly proportioned for a light lunch.
Dessert comes straight from the front cabinet and it’s all house made (everything bar the croissants and fruit bread is made in house). We try the strawberry cheesecake, a nice double layered delight. There’s also a blueberry cheesecake which is elegant in its sufficiency as well as a gluten free chocolate mousse cake which is rich and intense.
Mindful of the time we need to keep moving so we are off towards Burringbar. We pass through a town called Moobar and Mr NQN points out the sugarcane growing nearby and we wind down the window to smell the aroma of the sugar cane processing plant. It’s sweet and vegetal in aroma.
There are things that I have always wanted to tick off my bucket list. Some are grand gestures requiring a measure of persistence, luck and perhaps money that I don’t possess. Some are easier things. Such as making my own halloumi and mozzarella. It’s a good thing that today we will be attending a cheese class held by Debra Allard of Cheeses Loves you.
“Cheese is my religion,” says Debra straight faced. Seven years ago the cheesemaker started an award winning cheese business with a former business partner. The business partnership dissolved as her partner wanted to take it within the family. Despite what would have no doubt been a traumatic time for her, nowadays she is pragmatic and considers it a blessing in disguise. She found herself out of a company and out of a job but within 2 weeks of the factory shutting down she was teaching cheese making classes. Her recent trip to France and Italy meeting cheesemakers who share her passion confirmed that this was indeed the best way forward and she and her family are using some of their land for a dairy which will supply her with jersey milk for her cheese.
Deb’s specialty is halloumi cheese although she makes all sorts in her 1 day classes that regularly sell out. There are two types of cheese making classes: the first where students learn how to make halloumi, ricotta, yogurt kefir and labne which are the simpler cheeses. Once people master those they can also do the second class which shows how to make blue, brie and a hard cloth bound cheddar. Her classes are very reasonably priced at $140 per student for the whole day and they get to take the cheeses home with them.
She shows us the basics for cheese making with a halloumi. First equipment must be spotlessly clean - don’t use pots of pans that you’ve made heavy stews or curries in the night before. Also you need to use non homogenised milk-Paul’s Parmalat brand is a widely found one in Australia where a lot of milk is homogenised. The next is to use a syringe to correctly measure out the rennet. This allows you to get very precise measurements - too much and it becomes hard and too little and it doesn’t set. Deb cautions against using tablet rennet as that is unreliable which has been my downfall in the past.
We add 4.5mls of rennet to the 15 litres of jersey milk and stir it a little before letting it settle. After about 30 minutes the milk sets and becomes almost tofu like in texture and we can cut the curds. A square pot is ideal as this allows you to cut them quickly and deeply into cubes. This is to release the whey from the milk and to increase the surface area-the smaller you cut the curds the drier the cheese (e.g. a hard cheese) whereas a soft cheese can have larger cuts. You make a cross hatch pattern and stir the whole time while cutting making sure that the curds don’t clump together. Then leave it for 2 minutes to keep the proteins in. You scoop the curds out making sure to break up any small curds and place it in a hoop to drain.
Ricotta or a twice cooked cheese is made from the leftover whey and can be used when the whey from the halloumi remains in the pot. Deb adds 4 litres of milk to the 12 litres of whey and then adds a little rennet. What we are looking for is a clear, green whey which appears when it separates and she scoops it out to produce about 1.5 kilos of fresh ricotta. But the whey isn’t quite finished yet. After we remove the halloumi from the hoops and slice it we pop it back into the whey where it cooks for 45 minutes to an hour before we get our precious halloumi! And it's truly delicious as we bring some home to Sydney with us to have on salads or fried on a mezze platter.
Dinner is at Fins tonight. This is located in a new shopping and apartment complex in Kingscliff less than 10 minutes’s drive away. Fins is known for its wine list and its approach to sustainability and has been open for 23 years.
We take a set in the dining room and look around. It’s busy for a Monday night dinner. Mains aren’t inexepensive at $45+ and I’ve noticed that a lot of restaurants charge extra for bread but they do seem to take a bit more trouble with the butter or additions to it. The service is a little mixed. Most of the staff are friendly although one seems so introverted as to serve in complete silence.
A dozen oysters $44.90
There are three types of oysters: two natural and one tempura. We go for the two natural types of Sydney Rock oysters: natural with yuzu vinaigrette and mint and natural with shiso leaf and house made pickled ginger salsa. I prefer the second ones as the yuzu vinaigrette is a tad too dominant for the oyster taking over the flavour of it.
Hot and cold sashimi $27.90
My favourite entree is the yellow fin tuna sashimi topped and tailed in nori dust and served with avocado, seaweed mayonnaise, herb salad, ginger chips and hot shallot oil and dollops of caviar. It’s perfect balanced and I enjoy the pops of caviar and creamy sashimi and avocado. And seaweed mayonnaise? I’m making that for sure!
King Prawn Chowder $22.90
We also enjoyed the other prawn chowder although it’s different from a creamy chowder than we are used to. It’s a mild flavoured soup with with well cooked Tweed King prawns, cuttlefish ink croutons and a "saffron pillow” that resembles an egg yolk. They pour the soup over this and it bursts and cooks the saffron orb.
Hot and sour king prawns and squid $46
Our mains arrive and the first one is made of Tweed King prawns sautéed in a spicy red lemon myrtle paste, with smoked mussel and saffron rice filled squid. Served with lightly sautéed organic green salad. I don't mind the three elements separately but I don’t think that they necessarily go well together. The squid is very smokey and rich and really dominated against the simply cooked prawn and mild greens.
Moroccan tagine of fish $
We both preferred the Moroccan tagine of fish using snapper (there was a choice of either mahi mahi or snapper). The fillet is coated with chermoula, cooked in terracotta with African spices. Accompanying this is a delicious medley of sweet potatoes, chickpeas, fresh dates and preserved lemon which I could eat all day long. The vegetables are coated in a rich, slightly sweet sauce that just begs for bread or rice to mop it up.
Mango and coconut bavarois $18
Mr NQN likes the mango and coconut bavarois with a bottom layer of sponge. It is topped with a kaffir lime and mango bavarois layer and a thick scoop of coconut cream shiso sorbet.
Spiced pumpkin, quince and apple tarte tatin $18
I prefer the tarte tatin but then again I’m obsessed by pastry. You need to allow 20 minutes to as this is baked to order. The pumpkin, quince and apple tarte satin is served warm and comes with a scoop of deliciously aromatic and rich prune and Pennyweight Ruby Port infused ice cream.
It’s getting late so we take the drive back to Halcyon House, the sky dark above and the immaculately clean, winding road lit up with streetlights. They’ve just finished turndown in our room (curiously, it happens rather late here at Halcyon House) and there’s a hand written farewell note as well as two salted chocolate cookies in a jar for us.
The next morning is another leisurely rise at 9am (heaven!) and we pack and head downstairs for breakfast. Breakfast is served until a very civilised hour of 11am and it is an a la carte menu. For $40 you can have a hot drink, cold drink, main and a side dish and it’s a little hard to choose. I tend to go for something savoury over sweet in the morning whereas Mr NQN is the opposite. I order a carrot and pear juice while Mr NQN goes for a banana smoothie. Our hot drinks are a long black and a chai latte, both very good.
My breakfast is a slice of toasted sourdough spread with sobrassada served with two sunny side fried eggs, a serve of bacon and some excellent roasted beans. I also ordered a pot of herbed feta on the side which is nice and tangy. I don’t even think this needs the bacon and I leave most of it in favour of the spicy sobrassada bread, eggs and ham flecked beans.
Kefir pancakes with macadamia cream, passionfruit
Mr NQN’s choice is kefir pancakes-kefir certainly seems to be everywhere here on the North Coast. Kefir is quite tangy, like buttermilk and it is said to be very beneficial for gut health (along with kimchi and sauerkraut). Here it is topped with macadamia cream and passionfruit and the overall effect is sweet and tangy. Mr NQN is in heaven with his breakfast.
We have just one last stop before we have to fly out and that is at Madura tea, Australia’s only tea packaging and processing plant and grower. It's about 20 minutes' drive from Cabarita Beach and they grow, pack and process the tea here for teabags and teapots using a mix of their estate grown tea and imported teas. They have 6% of the Australian tea market which equates to about 1 million cups of tea a day.
The name Madura is based on Madurai, a city in Southern India that Madura founder Michael Grant Cook lived in. He was a third generation tea farmer that started the tea brand on this disused dairy farm. He was attracted to the property’s volcanic soils, sub tropical weather and rainfall. The two types of teas that are grown here: camellia senensis and camellia samanica. There are also no known pests in the area so there is no need to spray pesticides. Depending on the blend and type, 10-25% of tea is from the estate.It is now owned by four local families and employs 55 people.
We watch as they harvest the top leaves of each tea bush in the distance. The top three leaves grow up high and every 12 days they come along and cut them off to harvest them. Tea bushes harvest for around 120 years although our guide Robyn tells us that some tea bushes in Sri Lanka have are still harvesting since 1870. The top small leaf or the silver tip is the prize leaf and this true white tea fetches high prices at tea auctions. This leaf is very high in tannins and antioxidants.
The flavour of the tea is up to the tea master Michael Sales who has been with Madura for 13 years and who has worked in every aspect of tea from growing to blending to blend the teas. The key is consistency and it is his nose as well as tongue that tells him this. He also says that you can listen to tea-the sound of the crunching can either signal a tea that has still too much moisture after roasting (in which case it won’t have a long shelf life) or a tea that sounds too crunchy means that it has been roasted for too long and becomes crumbly when it is in the packaging - not an issue so much with tea bags but one with loose leaf tea. Tea should always be stored in an airtight container as it can draw in smells and condensation.
Some of the teas from Madura are stocked in the major supermarkets but the whole range is available online including their new organic tea range. Michael also says that the darker the tea, the hotter the water it can bear. Black tea can be brewed with boiling water, green tea with 85°C/185°F water and white tea or dragon pearls with 75°C/167°F. We make our way to the airport laden down with goodies to take home.
So tell me Dear Reader, have you ever made your own cheese and if so, what kind? And what food is your religion? And do you sleep in when you're on holidays or are you up early?
NQN and Mr NQN travelled to the North Coast as a guest of Destination NSW.
2/13 Wharf St, Murwillumbah NSW 2484
Phone:(02) 6672 5483
Cheese Loves You
Salt Village, 5/6 Bells Blvd, South Kingscliff NSW 2487
Phone:(02) 6674 4833
753 Clothiers Creek Rd, Clothiers Creek NSW 2484
Phone:(02) 6670 6000