Family business feeds Australia cheese to save an iconic industry

Cheese Therapy

TODAY is National Cheese Day and people all over Australia are celebrating by supporting small artisanal cheesemakers who have taken on big retailers and revolutionised selling food online since Covid forced them to rally.

Many cheesemakers in rural areas were already reeling from impacts of the bushfires when coronavirus hit in March and saw shops and towns close. No longer able to sell from their own door, several traditional cheesemakers feared losing everything and laid off staff.

A tiny cheese company in Queensland, Cheese Therapy, came to the rescue and to date has sold 12 tonnes of cheese online and shipped it all over the country to cheese lovers from NT to Tasmania. Dairy Australia has never seen such huge quantities of cheese sold by any company, let alone entirely online.

Partners Sam Penny and Helen Shadforth founded Cheese Therapy five years ago from home, delivering artisanal cheeses made by traditional cheesemakers to fill a gap that big, bland supermarkets overlooked.

Sam says National Cheese Day is ideal for starting a revolution – rallying cheese lovers to back handmade, Australian cheese by buying it direct.

“Today is a real call to arms for cheese lovers to support this small but vital industry; cheesemaking is a centuries old craft, but they were at the mercy of big retailers and mass distributors, until now!

Today, Cheese Therapy has more than 27,500 followers and represents ten small family cheesemakers across Australia, singlehandedly keeping some remote cheesemakers open.

Custom cheesemakers are in lockdown with strict rules for any visitors, animals to feed and unable to travel, attend markets, supply their usual retail customers or adapt quickly to online sales.

“We created the Therapy Box in January to support Aussie cheesemakers impacted by bushfires and we’ve since revamped it to support more cheesemakers struggling to survive financially,” Sam Penny said.

“In one case, the cheesemaker is one of a kind and his unique approach to his craft will be lost if he’s forced to close. In turn, he is the sole customer of a local milk producer in their remote region, so both families would be ruined. They cannot simply “pivot” – so I’m selling for them and teaching them to get online to survive and thrive in future.”

Master cheesemaker Barry Charlton lives at Fish Creek, South Gippsland in Victoria and his tiny team creates a range of award-winning handcrafted cheese that is vegetarian friendly, using only non-animal rennet.

“We usually make 10 to 14 vats a week and now we’re just making two and operating only one day, so I had to let everyone go; about 99% of my cheese was going to food services – we supplied four airlines, cruise ships and other stockists that have all closed recently. Work just evaporated, it was suddenly dire straits,” Barry said.

“Without Cheese Therapy and the tireless work of Sam and Helen we’d have no choice but to close our doors. They’re helping us stay afloat and sane too, I’m now looking at introducing a new cheese that will help other local farmers as well,” he said.

“We are not throwing in the towel easily!”

Sam speaks to Barry and other cheesemakers he is supporting every day, checking in on their business and welfare.

“We know we’re a lifeline and frankly I’m blown away by the way our customers have rallied, ordering the Therapy Box that directly supports Australian producers, plus other products as well.

“In one day we sold 400kg of cheese and sales keep growing, we’ve seen a doubling in sales each week; I’m scrambling to employ new staff, lease new warehouses, overcome delivery problems and I’ve begun giving free webinars for Dairy Australia to help cheesemakers set up for direct sales,” Sam said.

“We are very conscious that a lot of small businesses have to adapt to survive so we are doing our best to support others, giving people jobs and creating new opportunities,” he said.

“We love the Monty Python movie quote “Blessed are the Cheesemakers” and it’s true they are bringing us all together across Australia now.”

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