Do you know how to have a gouda time? Sorry, sorry, no cheese puns here – the people at the Cheese School in Castlemaine take the dairy arts very seriously, as well they should. Not one but two experienced French cheesemakers, Ivan and Julie Larcher, have upped sticks from the French countryside to Castlemaine to open Australia's first 'university of cheese'. The school aims to teach cheesemakers and mongers traditional French techniques to create and sell the most delectable artisan cheeses in the Australian market. Although primarily aimed at industry professionals, the school also offers classes for laypeople to better appreciate cheeses (yes, there are tasting classes), as well as half-day or two-day intensive courses in home cheesemaking.
Love cheese but happy to leave its creation to the professionals? The Cheese School is also connected to retail cheesemonger Long Paddock Cheese, which sells a variety of hard and soft hand-crafted cheeses, all made on site by the Larchers, along with dairy products like housemade yoghurt, butter, buttermilk and crème frâiche. The retail shop is a bespoke space inside the Mill Castlemaine (more on that in a moment), fitted out with reclaimed timber and red gum sleepers and a temperature-controlled cheese room behind glass.
Both are located in the Mill, an 1875 woollen mill given a new lease of life when it was taken over in 2014 by a biodynamic sheepfarmer and a GP and transformed into a giant hub for food and artisan manufacturing. The biggest drawcard is the giant Vintage Bazaar, open seven days a week and packed full with groovy clothes and homewares. They’ve thought of everything: as you browse the furniture makers and artist spaces, kids can be kept amused by the ping-pong and fussball tables, not to mention the Ice Cream Social’s hole-in-the-wall good times. The Mill is also home to the cellar door of the Boomtown Winemakers Co-op, traditional Viennese coffeehouse Das Kaffeehaus, and the Taproom, a haven of craft beer. Make sure you stop by Cabosse & Feve Chocolates on your visit to stock up on artisan chocolates that are as pretty as they are tasty.
In August 2017 an anonymous donor came forth to save the historic Castlemaine Art Museum from extinction. As well as supporting operating costs, the donation also allowed the museum – founded in 1913 – to abolish its $10 entrance fee. This Art Deco building holds significant works of artists from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in its galleries – including Russell Drysdale, John Brack and Arthur Streeton – but has also played host to touring exhibitions, such as Ben Quilty’s After Afghanistan and a major retrospective of Indigenous artist Ginger Riley Munduwalawala: The Boss of Colour. The museum downstairs has many antiquities from the gold rush era and items telling the stories of early Chinese Australians.
Inspired by the artisans of the area and want to try your hand? You can learn a variety of arts and crafts at the Old Auction House, in the heart of Kyneton. Classes range from illustration to marbling to jewellery making to glass fusing, and there are a variety of options for all skill levels. In the beginner glass fusing class, you'll be given a clear glass base for a platter and four smaller bases for coasters. Sifting through the pile of multicoloured glass is like looking for buried treasure as you find the perfect colours and shapes for your design. The staff at the Auction House will fire your pieces (no risk of kiln burns here!), and you can pick up your creations after they're ready.
On the outskirts of Castlemaine, furniture maker Mark Anstey created a lively artspace of studios called Lot 19 – home to mosaicists, sculptors, painters, instrument makers, ceramicists and writers – that’s open to the public. There’s a contemporary art gallery that hosts rotating artists (and live music events), and even an open-access printmaking studio and ceramics studio. The vintage truck-bed stage plays host to the rowdy annual karaoke festival, Castlemaine Idyll, at which a generous proportion of Castlemaniacs take to the stage with the outlandishly brilliant backing band. Community project Growing Abundance harvests and grows local produce to keep Mama’s Kitchen pumping.
The five-strong team behind the historic Theatre Royal – musicians Felicity Cripps and Tim Heath, filmmakers Andrea Distefano and Campbell Hynam-Smith, and director/producer/restaurateur Jono Hill (Heartattack and Vine and Wide Open Road) – have pumped fresh blood into this business, making it a primary hang-out for locals and a massive drawcard for out-of-towners. The espresso bar in the foyer (well stocked with Cripps’ incredible cakes) transforms into a pizza and wine bar by night. The combined cinema and venue has a capacity of around 350 and attracts well-regarded local and international bands. In cinema mode, there are often three to four screenings a day, from big new releases to art-house flicks.