THE dairy industry in the Narooma district is making a comeback thanks to the entrepreneurial spirit of two local producers who have embraced value adding opening their own new cheese factories and milk distribution companies.
The Bodalla Dairy Shed is in line for more awards and is ramping up its cheese production while ABC Cheese at Central Tilba has also been in the news this week and is also about to release new lines including yoghurt and cream.
The Sydney Morning Herald this week reported in the age of the supermarket “milk wars”, where the major stores discount milk to $1 a litre, many dairy farmers have been forced to run at a loss or get out of the industry.
But the milk wars have produced an unlikely victor: tiny, independent dairies such as the one at Bodalla and Tilba are re-entering the market and thriving.
Erica and Nic Dibden's dairy farm in Tilba on the Far South Coast was increasingly unviable when they decided to take control of the prices they were getting for their milk.
They took “a big risk” to begin processing and bottling milk from their 600 jersey cows last year, selling locally under their ABC Tilba label. They now employ 15 people in their milk and cheese business.
“We came in halfway through the $1 milk wars, but we've found the perception of the public is they are happy to support farmers directly, and happy to know the money is going back to sustaining farming generally,” Erica Dibden says.
Mike Logan from industry group Dairy Connect NSW credits the thriving farmers' market sector for the re-emergence of small independent dairies.
“It's true that the little farmers' businesses are growing; it's all based around the food provenance issue,” he says. “There's a bit of a revolt against the control of supermarkets … Smaller farmers couldn't get on the shelves and farmers' markets are providing that path to market. It's a limited market but it is a new way - well a bloody old way. Perhaps that's part of it.”
The burgeoning paddock-to-plate market is estimated to represent 7 per cent of all fresh food sales and growing fast: since 1999, more than 160 farmers' markets have been established, about 40 per cent operating weekly and 93 per cent financially viable, according to 2012 research.
The Bodalla Dairy Shed meanwhile continues to put Bodalla on the map and is fast regaining the town’s reputation for fine boutique cheese and milk.
They are once again finalists in the 2013 South Coast Regional Tourism Awards for Tourism Excellence in two categories - Tourist Attractions and Tourism Café held in Shellharbour next week.
The Dairy Shed has also been successful in gaining a position on the ‘Flavours of New South Wales’ stand at the Fine Food Australia 2013 exhibition at the Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre in September.
“The list of rules and regulations for the Fine Food Australia exhibition is unbelievable,” Proprietor of the Bodalla Dairy Shed, Sandra McCuaig said.
“We will be taking our range of cheese chocolates that include lemon myrtle, ginger and wild pepper berries along with a selection of our cheeses to the Fine Food Exhibition where we hope that we will be able to attract some overseas distributors,” she said.
Sandra McCuaig and cheese maker Lucas Klekowski have also been working on a special ‘bushfire smoked brie’ as well as some other exotic Australian flavoured varieties of cheese.
“Not long after we return from the Fine Food exhibition we are off to the House and Garden fair on September 20,” she said.
Recently the business has expanded their milk production and is now pasteurizing twice a week in order to meet local demand and also supply their milk to local IGA’s including the Super IGA that opened in Moruya last week.
“We are now making 29 crates of nine by 2 litre bottles twice a week,” Sandra said.
The Dairy Shed also has two sessions a day where people can come along and feed the farm animals, an award winning milk bar, cheese museum and art gallery to attract visitors to the village.