LION DAIRY & DRINKS
Alice Crawford, Food Technologist
We have two cheese factories which we look after under the Lion Dairy & Drinks company - King Island Dairy, and The Heritage in Burnie, Tasmania.
King Island Dairy was founded in the early 1900’s and produces a range of world class specialty cheeses. We make the most of the fertile soil and high rainfall on King Island with dairy farms supplying us high quality milk that in turn helps us produce some of the best cheese in the country. We are proud to use only King Island-sourced milk and the skill and knowledge of the local workers to handcraft these cheeses.
In 2015 we had our grand opening for our upgraded Burnie cheese plant ‘The Heritage’. The Heritage is one of the southern hemisphere’s largest specialty cheese factories, where a number of different brands and products are made. We have worked through the challenges of maintaining the hand crafted touches of traditional cheese making whilst including automation into the process. Our cheese makers still care for their cheeses just as much as if they were made on a smaller scale, but they don’t have the same physical requirements which helps from a health and safety perspective. Having so many different types of products means my work day is varied and I am learning new things all the time.
How did you get started in the industry?
I got hooked on cheese during my university project where I worked on a project making processed cheese healthier. I learned about the science first, and was able to back it up with industry experience in my first position out of university at Puhoi Valley Cheese, a medium sized specialty cheese plant in Auckland, New Zealand. I started off making blue cheese before moving into other departments to give me a good breadth of experience.
Tell us a bit about your cheeses - what do you make? What makes them special?
As the saying goes, “you can’t make good cheese with bad milk”, and we are lucky to have access to high quality Tasmanian milk at both our Burnie and King Island Dairy plants.
We have a massive portfolio of products which we produce out of Burnie including white mould and surface ripened soft cheese products, pressed cheese, cream cheese, and club cheese. There are also several brands which are produced in Burnie, including Tasmanian Heritage, South Cape and Mersey Valley. Heidi Farm is our premium semi-hard brand, and the Gruyere was recently awarded Grand Champion at the 2016 Australian Grand Dairy Awards. Club cheese (sold under our Mersey Valley brand) was a foreign product to me before I started working for Lion and I have enjoyed getting to know its complexities and idiosyncrasies.
King Island’s white mould, washed rind, blue cheese and aged Cheddar are the epitome of specialty cheese, and the Black Label products are pretty special.
I am very proud when I show off a cheese board full of our products to friends, and I love hearing their feedback about their experiences and memories associated with these brands. My New Zealand visitors are envious at the range of specialty cheese we have here in Australia.
What is your favourite part about being a cheesemaker?
Cheesemaking is a classy skill to have and one I enjoy talking about with my friends and family. There is something special about making cheese and nurturing it through its ripening. I love getting my hands into the vat and feeling how the batch is going. I don’t have kids, but I think the care and attention we give our cheeses would be similar to raising children.
What are the biggest challenges you face in your role?
Cheese is definitely a product with challenges! It is complex and with so many variables which makes it very interesting. Collecting and analysing data is a very important part about being a cheese technologist. If something goes wrong with a batch, then I need to know why and how to stop it happening again.
What opportunities do you see for the future of the Australian specialty/artisan cheese industry?
We are so lucky to have an industry with so many producers, a plethora of different cheese types, and the support networks there to assist cheesemakers. I love the idea of developing ‘terroir’ cheeses, and tasting cheeses that reflect their surroundings. There are always opportunities for new products to be launched to the market place, and I hope that innovation is not forgotten if a cheesemaker has a crazy, amazing idea.
What does being part of ASCA mean to you?
Being in a group with others that share my passion is a great opportunity to hear about what is trending, and any challenges/issues that might be shared amongst us. It is great to have access to support if we need it, and to take part in cheese related activities.