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Could raw milk cheese take dairy profitability to the next level?


Thursday 2 May 2024

Making specialty cheeses from raw milk could help Australia’s dairy industry unlock significant value, according to a report published today by NSW sheep dairy farmer and cheesemaker Mike Cains.

The findings are contained in the Nuffield scholar’s report – the result of travel to America, the UK, Ireland and France. Mike’s scholarship was sponsored by the Royal Agricultural Society of NSW’s RAS Foundation.

“Australia has great potential to have a thriving domestic and export cheese industry but at the moment, our production is skewed towards the commodity liquid milk market,” Mike said.

He found the Australian cheese industry – across cattle, sheep and goats – could follow the “extraordinary pathway” mapped out by craft beer and wine, which have promoted high quality artisanal Australian products.

“There's no reason why Australian cheese can't follow the same pathway. But it needs supporting structures around it to make sure it happens,” Mike said.

He explained regulatory burden would need to be reduced, and domestic distribution channels broadened.

Mike and Cressida at Coopérative Fromagère Jeune Montagne in Laguiole, France

Mike and his wife Cressida have a deep understanding of the regulations, with their business – Pecora Dairy – becoming the first to be licensed to make raw milk cheese in NSW when regulations changed in 2016.

Mike said it was difficult and expensive to meet the additional requirements authorities imposed on them to prove the safety of raw milk cheese, compared to more conventional products.

“As an industry, we need to increase the profile of our domestic cheesemaking; we need to celebrate our best products more enthusiastically, allow more flexible arrangements between processors and farm gates, because at the moment it's very difficult for cheese makers to access raw milk unless they're prepared to milk the animals themselves.

“Raw milk cheese can be a pathway to profitability for farmers, especially smaller farmers, who are otherwise choosing to leave the industry.”

Demonstrating the potential quality of raw milk cheese, Mike and Cressida won the coveted Royal Agricultural Society of NSW (RAS) President's Medal at the Sydney Royal Easter Show for their Pecora Dairy Yarrawa, a semi-hard, raw sheep milk cheese. The top honour is awarded to the best product across food and wine categories, and considers taste as well as the product’s environmental, commercial and social impact.

Mike making cheese at Applebys Cheshire, Shropshire, UK

Mike’s travels further cemented his belief in the potential for raw milk cheese and he has no doubts about consumer demand for Australian raw milk cheese.

“Australia imports over 100,000 tonnes of specialty cheese from Europe every single year. And Australian specialty cheese production is tiny compared to the amount that we that we import.

“We have a great appetite and great appreciation for quality cheese.”

Mike said Australians love quality locally grown products, such as our wines and craft beers, and dairy is well positioned to benefit from this.

“We have fantastically run dairy industry that produces milk of flavour, quality and complexity. And we just turn all of that into a commodity. There's definitely a place for Australian cheeses.”

Mike is also enthusiastic about the benefit of Nuffield scholarships.

“You come back a different person – you grow and become a stronger, more worldly human through a Nuffield scholarship.”

Applications for 2025 scholarships are open, until Friday 31 May. The scholarship includes $40,000 to fund 15 weeks of study overseas, across 18 months. Nuffield Australia awards around 20 scholarships each year, with a focus on advancing sustainable and profitable primary production.

The scholarships provide a unique global learning experience, allowing scholars to remain competitive and grow their skill sets. Scholarships build capacity for individuals, their businesses and the broader industry.

Mike's full report is now availible to read here.

Watch Mike's presentation at the 2023 National Conference.

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