Milk and cheese production begins at Tilba

FOR the first time in many decades, milk and cheese are again being bottled and hand-crafted at Tilba.

Tilba Tilba dairy farmers Erica and Nic Dibden last week started bottling their ABC Tilba milk that is now available at shops and supermarkets across the Far South Coast, while they also produced the first cheeses in their spotless, state-of-the –art ABC Cheese factory at Central Tilba.

“We’re a local dairy family that has taken the emotional and financial challenge of building the business up and controlling the whole process from paddock to plate,” Erica said.

Artisan cheese and milk is making a comeback in the district with the Bodalla Dairy Shed also starting milk and cheese production earlier this year.

Plans are afoot to start distributing Bodalla Dairy Shed milk and cheese, including a new line of native flavourings, to more outlets.

The Dibdens meanwhile took over ownership of the Tilba factory some months ago and contracted a New Zealand company to fit out the back factory with all the latest stainless-steel equipment.

The milk comes from their Jersey cow dairy herd located a short distance away down the Princes Highway at Tilba Tilba.

Master cheese maker Geoff Southam of Grandpa’s Garden is acting as an expert consultant helping out with the cheese production. He started his apprenticeship at the ABC Cheese factory back in 1972.

Geoff was a cheese maker and manager of the cheese plant at the Bega Cheese factory for many years before leaving to focus on his Grandpa’s Garden produce shop in Narooma.

Geoff said the last time milk was sold in the Tilba area was when Wallaga Lake dairy farmer Bob Turner used to leave buckets of milk on fence posts at local properties, while it was 1981 when the last cheese was made from milk at the ABC Cheese factory.

After that the factory became a retail outlet packaging and adding flavours to cheddar cheese made in other factory in Victoria.

The first cheese made at the factory last week was a granular cheddar followed by a Havarti semi-soft cheese the next day.

Other varieties that Erica is keen to try include Gouda, Romano, fetta and Camembert.

A big motivation for the Dibdens is also doing their bit for the local economy and keeping their towns alive by putting dollars back into the community, through investment and wages.

“We couldn’t have done it without our fabulous staff and their commitment to their jobs is fantastic,” Erica said.

The core beliefs of the business are transparency, integrity and quality, she said.

“We hope to be here for many years and I hope to build up the business, but not too big so that we stay true to our roots and the community.”

Tilba ABC Milk meanwhile is full-cream, unadulterated Jersey cow milk and the only processing it goes through is pasteurising being brought up to 72.5 degrees and then back down to 4 degrees in a very quick process that kills the harmful bacteria.

“Milk from Jersey cows is heaps richer and we actually have to take out some of the fat to make cheeses, “ she said.

But at the same time she points out that full-fat milk is actually healthier and as the labels proudly proclaim the product is in fact 95 per cent fat free.

“The key with milk supply is reliability and people need to know their milk will be delivered rain, hail or sunshine.”

The milk will be stocked in IGA supermarkets at Dalmeny and Narooma, the Spar and Triple 7 supermarkets in Bermagui, IGA Narooma, Merimbula Fresh Fruit and Veg, Tyrells Store Bodalla, Cobargo Supermarket and the Bega Heritage Centre.

In Tilba itself, the milk will be available at the Dibden’s South Coast Cheese Café as well as Bates General Store and the Tilba Bakery.

The milk bottling equipment can bottle up to 4000 bottles and there are plans to stock the product as far north as Moruya, with a twice-weekly bottling run planned at the moment. She is also encouraging local cafes and restaurants to start serving Tilba ABC Milk.

“It was milked this morning, straight into the bottle,” she said. “It’s fresh, has low food miles and is made by a family business.”

Back to the cheese making and it’s clearly visible for shoppers and tourists who visit the ABC Cheese factory through large windows that open onto the factory floor.

Last week, the soft curds were put into various size moulds to become individual Havarti cheeses that would go on sale after a few weeks maturing.

The new cheeses will be available at the factory, her own South Coast Cheese café at Central Tilba as well as all the stockists of her existing South Coast Cheese label.

Shipping and packing the cheese is a challenge as different varieties require either wax, natural rinds or vacuum packing.

In the long-term, Erica has plans for cheese-making classes allowing people to learn the techniques and make their own cheese, while she would also love to see school groups come through.

NEW MILK: Dairy farmer and now dairy-product producer Erica Dibden with a bottle of her new ABC Tilba Milk while master cheese maker Geoff Southam works on a batch of Havarti cheese in the background.

NEW MILK: Dairy farmer and now dairy-product producer Erica Dibden with a bottle of her new ABC Tilba Milk while master cheese maker Geoff Southam works on a batch of Havarti cheese in the background.

CHEESE PRODUCTION: Hard at work getting the curds and whey just right to make Harvarti semi-soft cheese last Thursday are Geoff Southam, Troy Charnock and Erica Dibden.

CHEESE PRODUCTION: Hard at work getting the curds and whey just right to make Harvarti semi-soft cheese last Thursday are Geoff Southam, Troy Charnock and Erica Dibden.

IN THE STORE: Master cheese maker Geoff Southam in the cheese store that is going to need to be expanded!

IN THE STORE: Master cheese maker Geoff Southam in the cheese store that is going to need to be expanded!

FIRST CHEDDAR: Master cheese maker Geoff Southam with the first batch of cheddar made from scratch at the ABC Cheese factory in more than three decades.

FIRST CHEDDAR: Master cheese maker Geoff Southam with the first batch of cheddar made from scratch at the ABC Cheese factory in more than three decades.

PACKING: A young Dibden and employee Glenn Bywater packing cheese.

PACKING: A young Dibden and employee Glenn Bywater packing cheese.

MILK BOTTLING: Erica Dibden and the milk-bottling equipment that could potentially produce up to 4000 litres.

MILK BOTTLING: Erica Dibden and the milk-bottling equipment that could potentially produce up to 4000 litres.

FIRST CUSTOMER: Jock was the first Tilba local to purchase Tilba milk when from the ABC Cheese factory when production began last Thursday.

FIRST CUSTOMER: Jock was the first Tilba local to purchase Tilba milk when from the ABC Cheese factory when production began last Thursday.

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