I contributed several entries to this major international reference work - the Australia New Zealand regional entry, three Australian cheese retail stores and the entry on FSANZ.
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Australia and New Zealand are both ranked among the top ten cheese-producing countries in the world. Most of the cheese made and exported is industrially-produced, with cheddar as the mainstay, but artisan and speciality cheese-making has flourished in the region in the past three decades.
Much of Australia is desert or semi-arid land, so most cheese production takes place along the fertile south-east coastal zones between Brisbane and Adelaide, and in a small region south of Perth. New Zealand’s temperate climate, combined with consistent rainfall, sunshine and fertile soils, create conditions ideal for dairy farming throughout both islands.
Dairy farming began in Australia with the arrival of the British in 1788. Commercial cheese-making started in the 1820s, south of Sydney, and by the mid-19th Century bulk production of mostly cheddar cheese was widespread.
Italian-style cheeses were made commercially in Melbourne in the 1930s, but it wasn’t until the influx of Italian, Greek and other European migrants after World War II that continental-style cheeses became widespread within migrant communities. For most Australians during the 20th Century, cheese meant mass-produced cheddar, such as Bega “Tasty” and Coon brands.
In the 1980s a new generation of cheese-makers, inspired by their European travels, began making specialty cheeses on small farms. In Victoria, Milawa, Tarago River and Jindi created some of the first white mould, washed rind and blue cheeses, and Meredith became the first farmhouse producer of sheep’s milk cheese. Many of these early pioneers were assisted by visionary cheese-maker, Richard Thomas, who had travelled to Italy in the late 1970s to learn the art of making gorgonzola. In Western Australia, Gabrielle Kervella pioneered the production of farmhouse goat’s milk cheese, and her legacy is continued by producers such as Holy Goat in Victoria, and Jannei in New South Wales. In Tasmania, Swiss cheese-maker Frank Marchand set up Heidi Farm, and the renewal of King Island Dairy put a tiny island in Bass Strait on the Australian cheese map. Both are now owned by industry giant Lion, and continue to set benchmarks for quality and innovation under head cheese-maker, Ueli Berger.
Specialty production continued to flourish in the 1990s, with the revival of traditional, cloth-bound cheddar by Pyengana, Ashgrove and Maffra, and the introduction of buffalo milk cheeses by Shaw River. Others such as Woodside, Yarra Valley, Red Hill, Grandvewe and Bruny Island created original styles that are uniquely Australian. There has been an increase from 20 cheese varieties in 1960 to over 100 today, with widespread use of sheep, goat and buffalo milk, as well as cow’s milk.
While more than half of the cheese sold in Australia is through supermarkets, most specialty cheese is sold by smaller, independent retailers, where individuals such as distributor/retailer Simon Johnson and importer Will Studd have had a significant influence on consumer trends. A proliferation of farmers’ markets throughout the country in the last decade has provided new opportunities for artisan producers to market and sell their products.
Industry associations include Dairy Australia, the Dairy Industry Association of Australia (DIAA) and the Australian Specialist Cheesemakers' Association (ASCA). Annual cheese competitions, such as the Sydney Royal, are hosted by agricultural societies in most state capital cities.
New Zealand’s dairy industry began with a small herd brought to the new British colony from Australia in 1814. The first cheese-making factory was established in 1871, and by the 1920s co-operative dairies were commonplace throughout rural New Zealand.
Prior to the 1980s, sporadic attempts were made to produce cheeses other than cheddar. The Saxelby family made blue cheeses under the Antler brand in the early 20th Century. From 1951, Galaxy Blue was produced commercially, and is still exported widely as New Zealand Blue Vein. Most New Zealanders, however, were brought up on the ubiquitous 1kg "family" block of factory-produced cheddar.
Dutch migrants to New Zealand in the 1980s signalled the revival of small-scale, artisan cheese-making. Producers such as Mahoe, Mercer, Meyer and Karikaas led the way, and are renowned for their excellent Dutch styles. In 1985, cheese-maker Ross McCallum opened Kapiti Cheese, and introduced New Zealanders to white-mould Aorangi, blue Kikorangi, Hipi Iti (sheep’s milk), Mt Hector (goat’s milk) and Trappist-style Brick.
From industry giant Fonterra and big players like Whitestone and Barry’s Bay, to boutique producers such as Over the Moon, Aroha, Crescent Dairy, Blue River and Clevedon Valley, a vibrant cheese culture has developed, with local interpretations of European styles alongside cheeses that celebrate New Zealand’s distinct heritage and character. The use of sheep, goat and buffalo milks is now widespread, but cow's milk dominates, accounting for more than 99% of total cheese production.
The main industry group is the NZ Specialist Cheesemakers Association (NZSCA), which hosts the annual NZ Champions of Cheese Awards.
Australia and New Zealand share a joint food standards code governed by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), but they have different regulations concerning raw milk cheese. While the New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries allows the production and import of all raw milk cheeses, Australian regulations only allow cooked-curd cheeses and Roquefort, although plans are underway to approve local production and import of some other varieties. Regulations in both countries are so strict, however, that very few producers have been licensed to make raw milk cheese.
Smelly Cheese Shop, The is located in the iconic Central Market in Adelaide, South Australia. It was opened by Peter Heaney in 2001 as a sister store to Say Cheese, which had been operating in the Central Market since 1995. Say Cheese was already a strong business, but it offered a fairly conventional range of cheeses, similar to that of other delicatessens and gourmet food stores at the time. Specialised cheeses such as washed rinds, goat’s milk varieties and cheeses made from mixed milk were under-represented, but more Australians were gaining a taste for their complex flavours. The Smelly Cheese Shop became a showcase for cheeses with bolder flavours, including artisan Australian varieties from small producers. A crucial feature of the business’ success is the direct relationships it has with cheesemakers in Europe, the British Isles and the USA, through Peter’s partner, Valerie Henbest. French-born Valerie regularly visits producers overseas, and all of the cheeses she sources are freighted by air, resulting in products of a higher quality than those available from many other Australian importers. Another unique feature of the business is the maturation room (which is overseen by a full-time, French-trained affineur), where hard cheeses from Australia and Europe are carefully matured before sale. The Smelly Cheese Shop also has a wholesale division (which distributes cheeses to restaurants and other retailers in all Australian States), an online store and cheese club servicing customers Australia-wide, and hosts regular cheese appreciation events for members of the public.
Formaggi Ocello was opened by Carmelo and Sogna Ocello in 2009, and is one of the only specialty cheese shops in Sydney, Australia. While other shops in Sydney feature cheese counters within delicatessens or large food stores, Formaggi Ocello exists exclusively as a cheese emporium, selling more than 200 artisan cheeses from Australia and Europe, cheese accompaniments from Italy, and cheese accessories and equipment. The store features an immaculate cheese counter, a cafe/bar for enjoying cheese and wine on the premises, and a viewing area to the large maturation room where hard cheeses are aged prior to sale. Before the store opened in 2009, the Ocello brand was already well established on the Sydney food scene. In 2001, a chance meeting with a goat farmer from Queensland lead to Carmelo opening his first stall at one of Sydney’s weekly produce markets, selling a small range of locally-made cheeses. On a trip to Italy in 2004, Carmelo and Sogna discovered many artisan cheeses that were not available in Australia, which inspired them to expand their range at the markets when they returned. By 2006 they had established their own import company, which now sources cheeses directly from Italy, Spain, France, Switzerland, the UK and The Netherlands. Today, the store also features a selection of cheeses from Australian artisan producers. Other aspects of the business include a wholesale division (supplying cheese to restaurants and other retailers in Sydney and elsewhere), an online shop servicing cheeselovers Australia-wide, and regular cheese and wine appreciation events.
Cheese Room, The at Richmond Hill Cafe and Larder (Melbourne, Australia) was opened in 1997 by a partnership including renowned cook and restaurateur, Stephanie Alexander, and cheese importer, Will Studd. While neither is still associated with the business, the original concept of cheese shop and produce store within a neighbourhood cafe/restaurant remains largely unchanged. The Cheese Room was the first walk-in, temperature-controlled fromagerie in Melbourne, and while many in Australia have copied the concept, few have replicated it successfully. Cheeses are displayed and matured on wooden shelving, tasting is encouraged, and all cheeses are cut and wrapped to order by enthusiastic and knowledgeable staff. The range includes Australian artisan cheeses from small, farmstead producers, as well as established local brands and benchmark cheeses from Europe. The cheesemongers work closely with local suppliers and importers to ensure the range changes frequently, and is seasonally appropriate. Cheese accompaniments, made in-house by the restaurant chefs, are available for sale in the produce store. One of the unique features of The Cheese Room is that cheeses are always showcased on the cafe/restaurant menu, either incorporated into dishes or simply to enjoy as a cheese platter. An online shop and Cheese Club (offering exclusive cheese selections throughout the year, and discounts on purchases) service cheeselovers Australia-wide, and cheese appreciation events, such cheese and wine matching workshops, are hosted regularly. Almost 20 years since it opened, The Cheese Room at Richmond Hill Cafe & Larder is still considered a Melbourne institution for food lovers.
Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) is a bi-national Government agency that develops and administers the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code. Enforcement and interpretation of the Code is the responsibility of state and territory government agencies within Australia, and the Ministry for Primary Industries, public health units and local governments in New Zealand. Following the creation of the National Food Authority in Australia in 1991, a treaty between Australia and New Zealand – aiming to reduce compliance costs, harmonise food standards and remove regulatory barriers to trade in food between the two countries – came into force in 1996. The joint Code was introduced in 2000 under the former Australia New Zealand Food Authority, and FSANZ was established on 1 July 2002. Food standards in the Code are developed with advice from other government agencies and input from stakeholders. A risk analysis framework ensures food regulatory measures are based on the best available scientific evidence, and public input is an important part of the decision-making process. When FSANZ develops standards, the Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation has the capacity to adopt, amend or reject them, and to ask FSANZ to review them, or create new ones. One significant area of the Code where the two countries differ is in Primary Production and Processing (PPP) Standards, which only apply in Australia. The PPP standard for Dairy includes amendments made in 2012 to allow the production and sale of hard to very hard cooked-curd cheeses made from raw milk. Significant further changes, encompassing provisions for a wider range of raw milk cheeses, became law in February 2015. In New Zealand, the Ministry for Primary Industries allows the local production of specific styles of raw milk cheeses, and import of raw milk cheeses from the European Community only.