A little over six years ago, while at my daughter’s school swimming carnival, I struck up a conversation with another mother whom I hadn’t met before. She mentioned to me that she was a cheese maker, had just recently returned from an international cheese festival in Italy and was hoping to get something similar off the ground here in Adelaide. During the course of our chat I was struck by her energy, quick intelligence and drive, so it is no surprise to me that Cheesefest – the brainchild of that same woman, Kris Lloyd, of Woodside Cheesewrights – has become a nationally recognised event, sets the benchmark for the development of specialty cheese in Australia and is about to celebrate it’s 6th anniversary.
With my eldest child out of school, the middle one in year 12 and the youngest one hoping and praying that no-one realises I am actually related to her, I don’t spend much time at school these days and it has been quite some time since that first meeting – time that Kris has put to very good use. Now recognised nationally as one of Australia’s premier artisan cheese makers and with a 2010 Telstra Australian Business Women’s Award under her belt, Kris has also won numerous awards for her products including a clutch of South Australian Premier’s Food Awards, The Grand Dairy Award and a Gold – the only Australian cheese maker to do so – and two Silver medals at the prestigious World Cheese Awards.
Cheese making in Australia has come a long way in the last 20 to 30 years. With one of the most efficient dairy industries in the world, we have an annual production average of 375,000 tonnes of cheese (in the the five years up to 2007/08) and produce over 160 different varieties of cheese. We are gifted with many dedicated and skilled Australian artisan cheese makers, over 100 of them nationally, but Kris’ passion for making the most of the seasonal differences in both cows and goats milk sets her apart from many of the others.
Kris’ goal for her Woodside Cheesewrights cheeses has always been to make them stand out from other artisan products. She strives to be different and unique, offering a number of cheeses that are utterly seasonal – many only available for a short time. In the early days of her seasonal products the market struggled to understand what Kris called her “uncommon offerings”, often contacting her to ask why certain products were not available all year round. She has seen it as her role to educate and encourage the public to accept and enjoy the flavour variations that seasonality brings. Gradually, the public has learnt to appreciate the seasonal variations in her products and she is now thrilled that many of her customers anticipate some of the seasonal regulars and call her to check on their progress.
The inside of Kris’ head must be an incredibly busy place – she is constantly thinking about her next concept and following up on her ideas. Some of her products are a result of a specific request from clients – often chefs – who come to her with their own ideas and others take their shape visually in her mind, setting her off on a quest to bring them to life. Her beautiful, garlic and black pepper infused goats cheese, “Manon”, evolved from an interest she has in working with other producers and her discovery of a premium, organic garlic grower in Beachport, South Australia. She designs her own recipes and, with her staff, is constantly tasting her product – searching for the benchmark for each cheese and challenging the flavours.
The Woodside Cheesewrights began producing their artisan product in the glorious Adelaide Hills in 1994 and have grown steadily since then. Demonstrating that the public can embrace the concept of seasonal eating, Woodside Cheesewrights has gone from strength to strength. They now offer up to 30 different cows milk and goats milk cheeses, conduct popular cheese making classes on site, produce between 60 and 70 tonnes of cheese per annum and have experienced a growth rate of 25% in the last 12 months. The factory premises has plenty of capacity to expand and Kris will increase her production to meet demand – but on one very strict condition. It is of prime importance to her that hers remains a hand-made, artisan product and production will cease to expand once that is no longer practicable.
Cheesefest 2011 will be held over two days on October 15 &16. Check out Cheesefest on Facebook to keep up with the details.
For a comprehensive list of Woodside Cheesewright stockists check here.