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The People Behind the Cheese – South Australia

People often talk about “terroir” when they speak about great cheese – the geography, climate, heritage and people of a specific region that influence that cheese’s characteristics. During a recent trip to Adelaide this concept kept coming to the forefront of my mind: not just in tastings, but throughout my time with the cheese professionals themselves…

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I’m lucky: a huge part of my job is introducing people to Irish farmhouse cheese. As well as being absolutely delicious, this also means that I’m never really too far away from home (despite being over 17,000km away on the opposite side of the world!). Irish “terroir” can generally be pinpointed to a small townland and, more-often-than-not, to a specific family – so smelling and eating our cheeses could transport anyone onto Irish soil. And for those who’ve never experienced our green pastures in person, there is no better way to picture the country’s grit, determination and creative spirit than to look at the characteristics and personality traits of our cheesemakers; each with their own unique story to tell, all of which are distinctly Irish in their perseverance or ingenuity… During the trip we went on a whistle-stop tour of the island; visiting Veronica (Milleens) on Beara Peninsula with a one-horned cow named Brisket; appreciating the care and respect Siobhan (St. Tola) shows to her grandfather’s land on Clare’s Wild Atlantic Coast; watching love blossom between Marion (Killeen) and a goat farmer in an old mill-house near Portumna; witnessing a young Paddy (Carrigbyrne) help his mum make cheese in their kitchen; being inspired by 10 farms (The Little Milk Company) taking action to ensure the sustainability of our land; and of course bursting with joy as Jane’s early cheese experiments lead to her accidentally producing our first ever Cashel Blue®!

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But what if “terroir” – that meeting of people, place and pasture – could go beyond giving a cheese its character and could also shape an entire organisation of cheese professionals? In Adelaide I was lucky enough to meet many different members of Washed Rind Pty Ltd; some worked for Say Cheese, others for Smelly Cheese Shop and a few for Cheese Culture; with jobs ranging from cutting the cheese in the warehouse, receiving wholesale orders in the office and working with customers on the cheese counter itself… but the more individual staff members I met, the greater the sense of a common “terroir” appeared. It’s clear to see that from this “terroir” there is a genuine interest at each stage of the cheese-handling process, a passion to learn and a desire to share in one another’s experience – traits which trickle down from the director’s themselves whose commitment and vision to provide Australia with world-class, quality cheese is central to every aspect of the business. Beyond just people, a sense of place also serves to unite the team: each separate cheese entity operates just a stone’s throw away from the Adelaide Market (from where it all began and to where I must return!). In addition, the city itself can’t go under-looked: the inviting pace of life, proximity to the sea and breath-taking mountainous farmlands all help to create a beautiful environment in which to engage with customers and develop a deep understanding of cheese.

I’m sure cheese aficionados would have my head for making the comparison between cheese “terroir” and an organisation’s culture, but since leaving Adelaide I can’t help thinking that it’s no coincidence that such a strong intrinsic passion is both alive in the care of Irish cheesemakers and guides these cheese professionals to provide their exceptional service to Australian cheese-lovers. And if “terroir” is where people, place and climate meet, then I could do a lot worse than sitting out in the Australian sun, while eating some Irish farmhouse cheese with my new friends at Washed Rind Pty Ltd.

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