Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Cheese Presses

On the weekend I viewed two cheese presses worthy of a new post- one ornate and the other quite unique in its design. Both cheese presses are in the collection of the Bega Cheese Heritage Centre, a treasure trove of over 160 items which will be keeping me busy in cataloguing mode for some time.

The first is a double screw press manufactured at the Days Foundry in Scotland in 1890.

The other cheese press of interest in the collection has the model name "The Gang" and its intriguing design has me wondering how many others of its type may be found in Australia. Please feel free to comment if you have any useful information.

The press was last used in 1908 at Elmgrove, a farm whose material legacy is well represented in the centre's collection.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

A Slice of Goodness

Each morning at tables and benches across this nation, bleary eyed contestants aspire to accomplish a task commonly blundered by amateurs. Far from a reward for some innate gift, the prize recognises in the successful a skill that has taken a lifetime to nurture. I am speaking-of course-of the elusive triumph of spreading butter on toast, crumpets or muffins with minimal wastage of their heavenly, crunchy outer coating.

Though it may sound like a whimsical premise for a blog, indeed the problem of the perfectly portioned slice of butter without an incursion of pesky toast crumbs on the remnant butter block has surely existed for millennia. The method of slicing the butter, though, has evolved.

c. 2005 The "One Click" Butter Cutter
The butter cutter (left) is one of the newest, and arguably the least necessary, of utensils crafted for cutting butter. With a simple click a perfectly portioned butter section falls from the device.

Is this the best invention since sliced bread?
I surely hope not.

Image Source:

Factory Butter Cutters

Other machines were used in the past that enabled workers at butter factories to manually slice large butter blocks into marketable portions (in imperial terms- half pound portions). These butter slicers most commonly worked by moulding the butter onto the basic, and then forcing down the upper frame which had a grid of steel wires. This would slice the block into half pound portions which could then be wrapped in waxed paper and sold. One common design of the butter cutter was sold

The Burwood Butter Cutter, pat. Caudle & Caudle, re-patented June 18th, 1915 [Pat.No. 11815].

A butter cutter with a very similar design is collected by the Berry Museum and in my experience this particular item of dairy machinery is rarely found in local museums.

Image Source:
Anthony Horden & Sons, 1924, p. 850

But the award for the most interesting butter cutter in terms of functionality and appearance undoubtedly goes to one collected by the Gippsland Heritage Park in Victoria. The butter cutter is mentioned in a recent blog titled "Commercial Dairying Equipment". See link below;

From Small Beginings - A History Of Dairying In The Illawarra (Cream of the Crop entrant)

Check out this SlideShare Presentation:

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Cautious Takeup of Milking Machines

When milking machines were first available in New South Wales dairy farmers expressed caution towards their use. In a Royal Commission into the price and supply of food in NSW conducted in 1913, a number of those brought before the Commission reveal their hesitation towards the new machines.

1. Many farmers claimed the machines would cause harm to their herd.
Commissioner: "You prefer hand milking?"
Robert Hugh Strong, Dairy farmer from Berry, explains;
Again, unless the machines are carefully worked, and the vacuum pressure regulated, there is a tendency to inflame the udder. Of course, that can be avoided, but the average man will not do it.
2. While others believed they required milkers to be more vigilant to prevent the spread of disease throughout a herd.
Commissioner: "What results have you seen?"
Michael John Hindmarsh, Dairy farmer from Ivy Mount, Gerringong responds;
I think it requires great cleanliness in the use of the machines, and they are not kept sufficiently clean. If you milk by hand you recognise the symptoms immediately when you begin to milk.
You prefer hand milking?
……Again, unless the machines are carefully worked, and the vacuum pressure regulated, there is a tendency to inflame the udder. Of course, that can be avoided, but the average man will not do it.
But even with hand milking is it not necessary to give personal supervision if you would secure cleanliness?
Yes, and I am mostly there myself. With the machines, my impression is that there is a greater likelihood of disease being spread if they are not properly attended to.

The discussion is further furnished by the report given by another farmer in nearby Dunmore.
Commissioner: "What is your objection [to the use of milking machines]?"
Edward Richard Bigg, dairy farmer from Dunmore explains:
I think the hand milking is cleaner, because you cannot see what is in the tubes of the machines, and cannot be sure that they are perfectly clean.
3. While other farmers found the machines unnecessary for their small scale dairying activities.
Joseph Daley, Dairy farmer from Unanderra explains;
Commissioner: "Do you employ any men?"
Daley: Not at present. I can do the milking with the aid of a boy. I do not use machines, but one of my neighbours uses them and he seems satisfied. They would be of no use for a small herd. There would be no compensation for the trouble of looking after them.
4. There were many farmers who took up the milking machines due to persistent labour shortages.
Commissioner: "Generally speaking, do the farmers prefer machine or hand milking?"
Robert Hugh Strong, Dairy farmer from Berry responds;
In every case, so far as I can see, the machines are put in because of the labour difficulties.
Not because of greater efficiency?
I take it that you experience difficulty in obtaining labour here?

Want to know more?

The above references come from transcripts of interviews conducted as part of the 1913 Royal Commission. For extended transcripts of some of the interviews, see:


Guest pswd: dairycow

A document specific to the farmer's attitudes towards milking machines is also available. The document is titled: Milking Machines- Use and attitudes towards.

Also relevant to the topic, the Berry Museum has in its collection a milking machine releaser. The variety of milking machine was introduced for the purpose of minimising the harm to the cow in the process of milking by the mechanical method. An image of the releaser is available here.

Warrilla Butter Wrapper

The "Warrilla" brand of butter was produced at the Illawarra Central Cooperative Dairy Factory [see earlier post]. It was first retailed in 1955, with a change in the name of the ICCD's butter brand from "Allowrie" to Warrilla".

The butter wrapper held by the Tongarra Museum is significant in that it is has been dated to c.1956- soon after the brand name change.

Whats in a name?

The name Warrilla corresponds to a nearby suburb of the same name, but can this explain the origin of the word? Actually both the suburb and the butter brand have taken the same name, "Warrilla", which is a derivative of the term "Illawarra".

Want to know more?


Above right: Warrilla Brand Butter Wrapper, collected by the Tongarra Bicentennial Museum
Left: The former Illawarra Central Co-operative Dairy Factory in 2009. The rail siding is visible on the far right.

Image Credit: Photos of the Warrilla Butter Wrapper taken by Carly Todhunter on 9/12/2009.

Cheese Press

The Cheese Press depicted here forms part of the rural and agricultural machinery collection of the Illawarra Museum in central Wollongong.

What is a press used for?

A cheese press is used to remove excess whey by imparting pressure for an extended period, often overnight. When the cheese is removed from the press it should be firm.

For an extended description of the cheese press, follow this link.

Evolution in Design

The design of cheese presses varied considerably, in terms of their size [single or double] and the materials used in their construction. Simple cheese presses may comprise a mould with a large heavy stone placed on top to provide the necessary downward pressure. A more sophisticated design was later developed which comprised a frame of iron or wood with the stone lowered by a threaded iron bar.

Later designs replaced the use of levers and weights by having a spring that compressed to produce the necessary pressure. In simple designs of cheese presses that may be made at home, the spring press model is often used. To achieve the desired level of pressure, the springs need to be calibrated by turning the wing nuts that connect to the threaded rod.

The cheese press provided the cheese producer with control over the level of pressure being applied. This is essential in the delicate craft of cheesemaking because too little pressure results in inadequate firmness and a susceptibility to spoilage, while too great pressure will result in cheese that is too hard or dry.

Design of Cheese Press at the Illawarra Museum

The design pictured above is known as a double lever press and it is made with wood and iron elements. The cheese press is a "double" rather than "single" simply because it enabled two moulds to be pressed at any one time. The press was lowered by a metal thread which enabled a more precise tightening of the mould. Weights were hung from the ends of the press to increase the downward force. The additional weights are visible in the first image on the left end of the press and stacked on the base (not in use).

Want to know more?

A good guide to building your own spring cheese press may be found at:


Source: Information on change in cheese press design over time found in: Ingram, A. 'Dairying Bygones', Shire Album 29.

Image Credit: Photos of Cheese Press collected by the Illawarra Museum taken by Carly Todhunter on 1/11/2010 and 4/11/2010.

Alfa- Laval Cream Separator

The introduction of mechanical cream separation marked a period of rapid transformation in the early dairying industry in Australia. Pictured left is the Alfa-Laval Cream Separator, a widely used model that was manufactured in Sweden.

How does it work?

The mechanical method of separation would soon become an industry standard. Based on the principle of centrifugation, the cream separator enabled the rapid separation of fat globules that are suspended in fresh milk from the less dense skim-milk by product.

The separator worked by having milk introduced into the centre of a bowl that would be spinning at a high speed by the rotation of a hand crank. The bowl consisted of a column of circular narrow discs with a narrower space in between (through which the milk passed). The centrifugal force separated the fat globules which rose to the top of the bowl assembly and was released from a collection spout, while the skim milk of lesser density was collected from another spout situated beneath the cream spout.

Source: Darracot McBarron Hatch, Shellharbour Library Manuscript, 1987 [available: Tongarra Museum]

Production Notes

Invented by Carl Gustav Laval, a Swedish engineer, the first cream separator was manufactured by the Alfa-Laval company which had been established in 1883 in Stockholm, Sweden.

The agency for the De Laval separator was acquired by Mr. D. L. Dymock on behalf of Waugh and Josephson engineering firm based in Australia. Mr. D. L. Dymock travelled to Europe and America in 1883 to enquire into the latest methods of manufacturing and marketing butter. He held a commission from the NSW Government for the Amsterdam exhibition. Before leaving, he was banqueted at Kiama and Broughton Creek (Berry) and presented with about £500.

History Notes

The introduction of the mechanical method of cream production replaced previous methods of manual separation. In the past, cream would be separated by pouring milk into wide shallow pans (most pans were made of tin) for a period of 48-72 hours. After this time the cream would be skimmed off from the underlying skim milk with a wooden or metal skimmer with perforations. This manual method was slow and the quality of the cream produced varied according to the condition of the dairy building.

Want to know more?

Read more about De Laval Cream Separators at: www.old-engine.com/delaval.htm

View the cream separator in person at the following museums:

+ Tongarra Bicentennial Museum, Tongarra
+ Illawarra Museum, Wollongong
+ Berry Museum, Berry
+ Gerringong Museum, Gerringong

Images Credit: Photos of the De Laval Cream Separators taken by Carly Todhunter on 11 April, 2010.