COMMUNIST Ukraine is a long way from rural Victoria.
But when Ukrainian-born twins Andriy and Taras Kogut found themselves on the opposite side of the planet, working on dairy farms around the state, the greatest culture shock was not the language, weather or food, but farming practices.
"We grew up on a small farm, a mixed farm, in the Carpathian mountains, very isolated. Grandma had a few cows, goats and poultry. We were self-sufficient," says Andriy, in his strong accent.
"It was very different here. One of the most different things was working on the dairy farm and seeing the farmers not drinking their own milk from their own cows.
"They would go and buy it from the supermarket. I found this very funny."
Funny enough that the 37-year-old twins, who arrived on working visas in 1999, decided to stay. And they transformed their Ukranian and Australian dairy knowledge into one of Victoria’s best artisan cheese productions, Blue Bay Cheese, on the Mornington Peninsula.
Using second-hand cheese-making equipment bought from a Camperdown share farmer, the brothers have created a range of more than 10 hard and soft cheeses; yoghurt; quark; a traditional Ukrainian milk drink, kefir; as well as kosher cheese for the Jewish market.
They hand process about 600 litres of cow and goat milk a day, in small batches, using no preservatives, except salt and natural acidity, all sold in their Mornington factory shop, as well as farmers’ markets throughout the peninsula and Melbourne.
Most of the recipes are from their grandma, still living back on the home farm at the age of 92.
"My first memory is of waiting and standing in the cow barn until grandma finished milking by hand. Waiting for the bucket fresh with froth on the top and my little hand would hold a big cup and drink it," Andriy says.
Despite this being a "good, simple life", the brothers’ parents wanted a better life for their sons.
"My brother and I grew up under the communist machine. It’s not about poverty. It’s about dictatorship. It’s all about freedom. It was a very tough time," he says.
"My parents wanted us to see more than they did." So Andriy and Taras drove 16 hours to the capital Kiev, where they studied agricultural production for six years.
When Communism fell near the end of their degree, they decided to apply for a working holiday visa to Australia "because it was so isolated and so far away".
One of Andriy’s first jobs upon landing was as a jackaroo out of Toowoomba, while Taras worked in WA.
They worked their way around the farms of Australia, including dairies in rural Victoria, before landing in Melbourne in 2001, working for a cheese factory.
"Both of us always dreamt of doing something for ourselves. It was a spirit in our body. I thought, "I can’t be taking directions any longer. I’m sick of it. I don’t want to do what I’m told, but what I want to do’."
Blue Bay Cheese was the answer.
They established in Mornington in 2006 after falling in love with the bayside town on a day trip.
"We stopped at the pier to have lunch and the bay was so blue and so beautiful. That same day we saw a food processing factory nearby for sale and we bought it."
Andriy admits while working with a twin is not always harmonious, the business became a bigger family affair when their parents moved to Australia six years ago, now helping in the shop and with cheese making. Once a year the family makes the trek back to grandma on the home farm.
"Here you can be free, or say something freely, rather than constantly worrying about how it’s going to be tomorrow or in the future."