Meet the Maker – Jack Holman, Stone & Crow Cheese
Cheesemaker Jack Holman is the master of Stone & Crow making cheese at the micro-dairy called Crow’s Nest, located at Rob Dolans Wines on Wurundjeri country, Yarra Valley, Victoria. Here Jack dabbles in new styles and unleashes his cheesemaker creativity on a small scale.
Each season, Jack gets together with some special mates and they head out into the bush for a night walk. On one night walk, Jack pulled out a new cheese he had been working on and his mates loved it. The cheese was named Night Walker, and it now makes an appearance on every night walk.
We caught up with Jack for a quick chat in the second of our Meet the Maker series of interviews.
What was the food culture in your family growing up?
I grew up on a farm and my family is Eastern European so it was quite the mix. We had access to our own meat, mainly lamb, mutton or beef; we also raised pigs, chooks and ducks. The Eastern European (maternal) side of our family food culture was about sausage making and using all parts of the animal.
We’d grow heaps of veggies at home so there were lots of dishes from different sides of the family including lots of salads, borscht, pierogi etc.
I've always been interested in food and as a kid we always had cows but we never made cheese. If I’d had an opportunity to make some good sausages, maybe I would have followed that.
How did you get started in cheese-making?
I was around 20/21 years of age and I was travelling with friends in India. We became friends with some French guys and ended up back in France on their farm. They happened to be cheesemakers so I went to the factory to give them a hand. At lunchtime they’d go into this maturing room to grab some cheese then go back to the house for some lunch.
That was the moment that changed everything, that was the first time that I ate cheese that was handmade. Artisan cheese that really tells the story of the land, from those animals. That's where it all began - in the south of France on a goats cheese farm.
I kept travelling for a bit then came back to Australia and finished studying environmental management which led me to Canada where I had some work in agroforestry on a cool little island called Salt Spring Island (British Columbia, Canada). When that job finished, there was a job at a small 12 Jersey cow organic cheese farm. So, I went and chatted with them and they saw how passionate I was about cheese and my job. So, there I was working in Canada learning how to make cheese.
At some point you have to return to Australia?
My little sister decided to have a baby and I thought that was cool. She rang back a week later to say she's having twins and I thought that's too big to miss out on. So, I came to the Yarra Valley and I haven't left.
How long did you work with Yarra Valley Dairy?
I was with Yarra Valley Dairy for about 20 years and started Stone & Crow as a side hustle which grew into being full-time. Stone & Crow is probably about 6 years old and I've been doing it full-time for 18 months.
Can you think of a mistake that has taught you something?
The older I become, the more I realise there is still so much to learn. There are so many variables with cheese making and you can control a lot of them but sometimes something comes out of the blue and you've got to think on your feet and adapt during the cheese making session.
If you weren’t making charcuterie, what would you be doing?
Being a hermit (slight laugh)
When you get a chance to cook a meal for family or friends, what do you like to make?
I love making pierogi. You can use any hard cheese (like Shaw River Special Reserve) and make a cheesy mashed potato. Fry up some onions in butter while you boil the pierogi and then finish them in the fried onions and butter.
Last Christmas - when we were able to see family - I made about 200 pierogi and froze them in anticipation of Christmas. That way, when there’s drinking on Christmas day, you don’t have to worry about making pierogi.
Tell us something interesting to do with a Stone & Crow Night Walker cheese that someone may not have thought about.
I will often have it on potatoes in the oven cause it melts really well. I’ll even fry some onion & celery, mix that in with parboiled potatoes then cut the Night Walker in half and place the halves on top. You then put it back in the oven until the cheese melts in the oven all over the potatoes. It’s like tartiflette.
Describe your ultimate cheese toastie
I like it pretty simple. One I make for my kids starts with some simple sourdough and Joe Crow (cows milk semi-hard) cheese ‘cause that melts really well. After toasting, I'll open it up and put in some pickles or sauerkraut so it stays nice and crunchy with the melted cheese.