Bendigo region - Run of the Mill
A former wool processing plant located in Castlemaine has been transformed into central Victoria’s prime culinary destination.
Words by Carrie Hutchinson
“It was more an acknowledgement that I’m getting a bit older,” says Phil McConachy with a wry grin. “And with climate change and the variabilities of farming, we decided to look at this.”
That was in 2014, and Phil, a sheep farmer, and his partner Ronnie Moule saw the potential in a series of rundown buildings near the train line. Located across the road from Castlemaine Botanical Gardens, the site was once a woollen mill, built-in 1875.
“Being a farmer, I wanted to create a food manufacturing precinct and it’s grown from there,” he says of just one part of the development now simply known as The Mill. “We never had a grand masterplan – it’s been a case of seeing ideas presented, talking to the people involved, getting a feel for them and seeing if we had a space that suits.”
The Mill is also home to the incredibly popular Vintage Bazaar – it alone attracts about 15,000 visitors each month – as well as artist studios, furniture makers, wellness studios and small manufacturers. But among its almost 50 tenants, there are 10 food businesses, many of them start-ups, from Sprout Bakery to Icecream Social, Boomtown Wines to Oakwood Smallgoods Co. Here, we meet three of them.
A satisfying cup
When Phil and Ronnie first bought The Mill they knew it needed a strong first tenant, and they already had Edmund Schaerf and Elna Schaerf-Trauner in mind. The two Austrians had a very successful local business in the old hospital site on Halford Street and were the first people approached to move in.
“At first we said no because we didn’t want a triple mortgage,” says Edmund of Coffee Basics and Das Kaffeehaus . “But in the end, we did and were the first business here. In the first year of operation, the rest of the place was still a building site.”
During that first 12 months, they served 135,000 people, attracted by the touch of Vienna in this regional centre. The huge warehouse space has both an industrial edge and, thanks to the addition of a chandelier, old portraits, bentwood chairs and long-aproned waitstaff, a European vibe.
“We tried to marry a 500-year tradition with what we love about Melbourne coffee culture because we’re coffee roasters and there’s a history of coffee in our family,” says Edmund.
And while the roasting and wholesaling side of the business requires less labour, it’s the hospitality side that “creates the beating heart”.
At all times of the week, Das Kaffeehaus is filled with locals and visitors supping on kaiser rolls and knödel (bread dumplings), kransky and schnitzel. Slices of sachertorte and strudels, as well as, of course, a huge range of coffees, keep people satisfied between meals.
“We’ve created a business that can technically outlive our ownership and become an institution,” says Edmund. “As such, it becomes something of value to the community and region.”
Sweeten the deal
She was a Melbourne chocolatier, he had a video production company, but Freya Schellhorn and Thomas Vandaele wanted a business they could work in together. At the end of 2019, the couple launched Cabosse & Feve , a chocolate business with a difference.
For a start, you can look through a big window to see Freya and Thomas at work. They do everything on-site, from roasting, hulling and stone grinding beans to making all their own fillings and nut pastes. They’ve created a range of bars and pralines, chocolate frogs and other confectionaries, and even a selection of vegan products. More recently they launched a hot chocolate range, made using cocoa liquor that’s been ground in-house.
But Freya is also committed to ensuring what they do is ethical.
“We use a Swiss couverture chocolate that is traceable,” she says. “A lot of the times with couverture chocolate, whether it’s from Belgium, France or Switzerland, they won’t know or can’t tell the exact origin of the beans.
“That means you have no idea of conditions on the farms, and unfortunately there is a lot of slave labour in the chocolate industry.”
Freya and Thomas have also forged a relationship with a cocoa grower in the Solomon Islands, and are buying beans direct from them, making Cabosse & Feve one of the only chocolate makers in regional Victoria to offer a bean to bar range.
Local collaboration is also important. They get native ingredients and raspberries from nearby farmers and coffee from neighbours Das Kaffeehaus. In turn, Shedshaker Brewing next door uses Cabosse & Feve cocoa nibs in its Robust Chocolate Porter.
“Phil has created something really unique here,” says Freya. “Everything has to be made on site and I think people know that. When people ask us if we make everything, we just tell them to look in the windows.”
The daily churn
The final food business to arrive at The Mill is actually two: Long Paddock Cheese and The Cheese School . But while only officially launching at the beginning of 2021, it has been at least five years in the planning, according to co-owner Alison Langsley. There was much to map out and establish. Most importantly, though, Alison had met Ivan and Julie Larcher while taking some cheesemaking classes in Europe and knew the French couple needed to be a part of the project. “He is just a great teacher,” she explains.
In the shop, visitors can buy chunks of Bluestone, a cross between an English stilton and French Fourme de Montbrison, or a semi-hard variety that sits somewhere between a raclette and a gouda called Banksia. There’s also a rennet-set rind cheese called Sundew that’s soft and dense while young and becomes increasingly creamy as it ripens.
One of the biggest challenges to getting the business running was collaborating with a dairy farmer near Kyabram who was able to produce the quality of organic milk necessary to ensure the highest quality of cheese.
“We had to find a farmer who could change their farming practice – the type of cow, their diet, the milking procedure, everything really – to adjust to our cheesemaking needs,” Ivan explains.
The plan in the future is to run The Cheese School about one week each month to allow for expansion of the cheesemaking business so the products can be distributed, first to outlets around Victoria then nationally. But the training side is an incredibly important part of the overall vision.
“About 10 years ago, ASCA (the Australian Specialist Cheesemakers’ Association) found there wasn’t a single artisan cheese school in Australia,” says Ivan. “The number of artisan cheesemakers was growing and growing, but a lot of them had to go to Europe to take classes.”
So while there will be basic appreciation and making classes for people with a general interest, much of the focus will be on people in the industry. “We want to be a catalyst for the industry to grow,” says Alison.
More from this series
- Bendigo region - Pots of Gold
Words by Carrie Hutchinson.
- Bendigo region - Vegan touring across the city and region of Gastronomy
Words by Domani Madigan.
- Bendigo region - Discovering our Indigenous menu
Words by Domani Madigan.
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