by Andrew Thomson on June 7, 2012
The Australian cheese making industry comprises about 88 different companies sprinkled across South Australia, Victoria, Tasmania and Western Australia. The industry is dominated by the top four major players in the industry namely Bega Cheese, Fonterra Group, Lion Nathan national Foods and Murray Goulburn Co-op. Their market share of the industry accounts for 91.5% of industry revenue valued at $4 billion dollars with an annual growth from 2007-2012 of 4.1%.
There are some medium size players in the industry that account for a smaller proportion of revenue, along with other smaller operators in niche markets that produce organic or specialty cheese varieties.
The Australian cheese making industry has proven itself to be of equal quality and in some cases better than the European and New Zealand imports. While imported cheeses remain highly popular, local product is developing a reputation (and winning awards) in Australia and internationally. There was a time when only French cheese was the best to have on the cheese plate, but consumers are becoming more discerning and preferring local product.
With the advent of shows like Master Chef, more people are entertaining at home and daring to try more gourmet type of products.
One of the biggest issues of contention presently in Australia is the use of raw milk vs pasteurized milk. Many cheese makers will tell you that when consuming a raw milk cheese, you can taste the breed, the grass the animal ate and whether it comes from the mountains, hills or valleys. For many producers, this is what makes the product superior to others in addition to being unique and desirable.
The biggest argument against raw milk cheese is that it is made from milk that has not been subjected to pasteurisation or an equivalent process to remove bacteria. Just how high the risk is and how much flavour is lost through pasteurisation is a long debate well argued during the past few years. Assessing the dangers of unpasteurised milk to Australian consumers is difficult because there is not much of it around.
Slow Food’s Australian raw milk cheese consumer campaign was started by Carlo Petrini and has centred on the fundamental role that milk has had in human nutrition and health for millennia. The campaign believes that much of the cheese eaten today is pasteurised, sanitised and uniform. Technology and scientific understanding have been used to limit the choices of cheese. The campaign also does not want to jeopardize Australia’s enviable reputation as a ‘clean food’ nation, but their argument for raw milk hard-curd cheeses being imported from France and Italy calls on the government to liberate cheese makers and not harness them. If raw milk products are to be permitted, then why can’t Australian cheese makers make their artisan products from our own raw milk?
Their other argument reveals bans on raw milk usage in half the US states were lifted during the past decade…
This belief among many cheese producers like Will Studd, believes that this food diversity will return the skills, knowledge and opportunity to Australia’s rural heartland which will ultimately enhance the value chain of producers.
One such artisan producer is Kris Lloyd, manager and head cheese maker at Woodside Cheese Wrights. Kris comes from a family of winemakers in McLaren Vale, who purchased a failing cheese manufacturer in 1999 and admits to having absolutely no knowledge of cheese making what so ever. Her steep learning curve allowed her to take cheese making to another level. Her company now manufactures around 25 different types of cheese made from both cow and goat’s milk and distributes 60 tonnes of product throughout Australia.
Her passionate production team use traditional methods of cheese making that result in plenty of flavour and individual character. All of her cheese is made from pasteurized milk and has been winning awards at various competitions throughout Australia and the world. Some of these awards were the Grand Dairy Award in 2002 and 2011, the South Australian Premiers Food Award in 2002, 2004, 2005 and 2006, a gold and silver medal at the renowned World Cheese Awards in Dublin in 2008. Woodside was the only Australian cheese maker to receive a gold medal in these awards. Because of the unique flavor of the milk she sources from dairy farms throughout the region, Kris has also pioneered a range of seasonal cheeses to take advantage of the seasonal flavor profiles.
Her success has been due in large part to working the value chain from the farmer to the distributor, in addition to her innovative approach to product development.
Her more traditional products like brie and camembert allowed her to gain a foothold in the industry, but it was her uncommon offerings like using buttermilk in cheese or adding flowers to cheese products that stretched the boundaries of cheese making that attracted attention from the media and top chefs in the country.
In 2004 Kris established the South Australian Specialist Cheese Association “CheeseSA” to promote specialty cheese and introduce industry driven education and training programs in South Australia. Kris is currently the Chair of the association. Kris is also the Director of CheeseFest, Australian Alfresco Cheese Festival, a Board member of the South Australian Tourism Commission and Chair of the Artisan Cheese Making Academy.
Her innovative nature goes far beyond the boundaries of cheese making and also includes a cheese maker-in-residence program where French and American cheese experts are brought to Australia and visit with cheese makers to help them with troubleshooting, R&D and product development.
Artisan-based business is different from the conventional, scalable business because its very nature requires it to be small and hands on. Lloyd is always cautious in maintaining her artisan brand and sets a goal for modest growth of 5-10 per cent annually but her business model has allowed for growth of certain products to grow beyond the artisan moniker in the future.
Kris Lloyd’s love of a challenge may come sooner than later, and may extend to some of her cheeses being made from raw milk. At present, it is not permitted according to Australian food law however FSANZ is almost certain to legislate federally on new dairy legislation that has been introduced and is currently under review. This Proposal known as P1007 defines Australia’s dairy standards as too restrictive on the sale of some hard grating cheeses made from unpateurised milk. However, raw drinking milk is still believed to present too high a risk for public consumption and will not be considered for commerce. Their recommendations and resulting decisions are highly anticipated by one and all in the industry.
If you would like more information on Woodside Cheese Wrights, you may contact Kris directly at
22 Henry St Woodside SA 5244