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Breaking the mould on organic cheese



He held the rich, dark soil and its clump of weedy plants in his hands with reverence.

I've never seen someone so excited about a lump of dirt before.

But it's not just any dirt or any farmer,  I'm on John and Winnie Smith's organic dairy farm in Victoria's south west, part of a group of farms which supplies about 80 per cent of the organic milk in Australia.




I've seen cows trotting happily in with swollen udders ready for milking and cute calves that think I have their breakfast.  I've tried milk warm from the cow and the same milk chilled from the fridge. It tastes like milk used to taste, fresh, creamy and full of goodness.  Nothing like the weak, watery stuff with little flavour that I'm used to buying at the supermarket.

It's eight am and the farm has been busy for several hours. They are just finishing milking the more than 200 cows on the farm.




There are pails of creamy frothy milk on the dairy floor saved for the hungry calves waiting in pens outside.


Some of this milk is going down the road where third generation French cheesemaker Matthieu Megard from L'Artisan Cheese Timboon,is using it to create a new range of cheese rarely seen in Australia.

  
Matthieu has partnered with the Organic Dairy Farmers Australia Co-operative - which is owned entirely by organic farmers across Victoria - so he can provide a quality organic cheese unlike anything on the market.

The ODFA co-op, which was started by a small group of farmers who bucked traditional methods to go organic a decade ago, now has some 22 members, who all firmly believe in the long term sustainability of their farms, the well-being of their cows and how that translates to remarkable, certified organic milk.

It's that pure, untouched milk which has Matthieu excited.

Cheesemaker Matthieu Megard and Bruce Symons Organic Dairy Farmers Co-op CEO

The Frenchman, whose family has been in the cheese industry for a century, moved to Australia five years ago with a desire to create quality local cheeses.

After re-opening the Timboon factory two years ago he achieved that and L'Artisan Cheese was born.

Its products now range from fresh curd cheese to semi hard cheese and are available across the country in gourmet delis; and used by some of the country's best restaurants including Vue de Monde, France Soir and Jacques Reymond.

Matthieu says he wants to go a step further and create a hand-crafted gourmet semi-hard mountain style French cheese - something he couldn't achieve without untouched organic milk.

"Our emphasis on using the best local products has naturally pushed us to source truly pure, unique organic milk because it has such a significant impact on the cheese, from its texture, taste and colour to its creaminess.

Matthieu believes so much in the impact organic milk has on cheese, that he is converting his entire range.

Organic Dairy Farmers Co-op CEO Bruce Symons says it sees its role no different to a winemaker.

"Just as the quality of grapes and the types of grapes can impact on a wine, we truly believe that the quality of milk is no different, and by putting our milk in the hands of someone like Matthieu, it can produce incredible products."

He says the result is a win-win for everyone.

"For the consumer it means more choice and a gourmet product created using the best organic milk available which is hand-crafted by a respected artisan cheese-maker, and for our farmers it will showcase the truly unique aspects of their milk."

So what's the long term plans for this artisan French cheese-maker.

Matthieu says his ultimate dream is to create Australian raw milk hard cooked cheese, which is far superior in taste and allows the true flavours of the milk to come to the fore.

But for now he says the focus is on creating something reflecting the taste of his home-town using unsurpassed milk products  - "it's what we call in France 'Vraiment remarquable' - something truly remarkable."

The new cheese range will be available from early 2013.

Disclaimer: E,d+bK travelled to Victoria courtesy of the Organic Dairy Farmers Co-op

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