Trevor Hart thinks outside the box. Mal and Margaret Thompson also know a thing or two about problem solving. So it was a marriage of like minds when they joined forces to make cheese.

So, if it’s not a rude question, how exactly did a musician, composer and history teacher come to be making artisan cheese in the Sunshine Coast hinterland? Trevor Hart takes a deep breath.

“It was crunch time,” he explains. “I was teaching high school music, tutoring history at QUT, as well as juggling lots of gigs and we had two little girls. Basically I woke up one day and realised there must be an easier way to make a living. I gave myself 18 months to come up with something that represented a challenge knowledge-wise, but that allowed me to work from home. Making cheese satisfied both criteria, though I’m not sure you would ever call it easy.”

Of course there’s more. Trevor’s back story goes all the way to growing up in Cairns in a musical family. “At the age of four someone gave me a cornet, and as luck would have it, it just happened to be my instrument,” he recalls. “I used to play in a brass band and my brother and I used to go in competitions. Well that was until I was kicked out for improvising … as is my nature.”

With history honours from James Cook University under his belt, Trevor moved to Melbourne where he studied harmony and composition and toured with bands as a session musician, and then to Brisbane where he worked in theatre and cabaret and wrote an opera. “Well, it was a kind of low-life opera,” he explains. “James Joyce’s Ulysses is my travelling companion and my opera is a version of Bloomsday in Brisbane. It’s a contemporary piece in which complicated ideas are delivered in the clearest possible way. It’s much the same with cheese. You take a simple product — milk — and give it complexity with texture and taste.”

Mind you Trevor’s cheese is not made with any old  milk. Serendipitously his wife (ceramicist Shannon Garson, who featured in the December issue of Australian Country) had grown up in Maleny and her family were friends of octogenarian dairy farmers Mal and Margaret Thompson, who live on what was once Margaret’s grandparents farm at nearby Witta. The Thompsons had had their own epiphany in the wake of the deregulation of the dairy industry. With milk prices plummeting they looked around for a diversification. “We looked at camels, llamas, sheep and goats and dismissed them all for various reasons,” Mal explains. “Then we hit on the idea of buffalo, because the best Italian cheeses are made from buffalo milk. So we sold our dairy cows and bought a couple of cheap tickets to Darwin. Getting there was the easy bit. It probably cost us $25,000 to get out of Darwin as we bought five buffalo cows to start our new herd.”

This story was originally published in the February 2016  issue of Australian Country. Subscribe to the magazine here.

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Words Kirsty McKenzie
Photography Ken Brass