A SHEEP-milk cheese handmade and matured for 18 months at Cardinup near Nannup has won a prestigious WA Grand Champion Dairy Product award for the third year in a row.
Cambray Cheese, a family business run by Bruce and Jane Wilde, their son Tom and his partner Maddie Kirkhouse, claimed the Grand Champion Dairy Product 2019 prize with its Farmhouse Gold mature cheese at the recent Diary Industry Association of Australia (DIAA) annual WA awards presentation.
Farmhouse Gold also won the Champion goat or sheep product award and a gold award.
The Grand Champion Dairy Product award win replicated Cambray Cheese's breakthrough 2017 achievement with Farmhouse Gold - which is made from East Friesian ewes' milk - when it became the first sheep-milk cheese to beat a host of products made from cows' milk for the top DIAA WA award.
Last year Cambray also won the Grand Champion Dairy Product, Champion cheese and Champion non-bovine cheese awards at the Perth Royal Food Awards with Farmhouse Gold, making this year's Grand Champion win the completion of a hat-trick.
Farmhouse Gold was also the first sheep-milk cheese to break through and win the IGA Perth Royal Show Grand Champion Dairy Product award ahead of cows' milk products back in 2006.
Tom Wilde said everybody involved with Cambray Cheese was very proud of the latest Grand Champion award.
While Tom is cheesemaker for Farmhouse Gold - his mother is also a cheesemaker and Cambray's flavours innovator and a third cheesemaker has just been employed - he was unable to accept the award.
He and Maddie were returning from a New Zealand sheep milk conference when the awards presentation was happening at Cottesloe, so his parents accepted it.
"We entered five cheeses and mum and dad came home with three gold awards - for Farmhouse Gold and two of our cows' milk cheeses, Cumin Gouda and Blackwood Blue - and two silver awards for Cheddar (cows'milk) and Friesette, which is another of our sheep-milk cheeses, plus the champion and grand champion awards," Tom said.
But Farmhouse Gold, made in wheels which weigh about 15 kilograms green but end up about 10kg after maturing for 14-18 months, was Cambray's standout hard cheese variety, with production doubling from the previous spring to last spring to meet demand, Tom said.
"The awards help, but it's a pretty good cheese so it basically sells itself, we don't have to market it, once people taste it they'll come back for more," he said.
"We make Farmhouse Gold in the spring flush when there's plenty of milk.
"We milked more sheep (the Cambray flock of 280 ewes gives milk for almost nine months of the year and has just dried up) this season and we milked them twice a day to keep up with demand.
"We could have put the rams in and kept them going (milking) a bit longer, but then we would have had to buy in feed for them and that could be expensive."
Cambray buys cows' milk for some of its cheeses from Ben and Caroline Letchford, Chapman Hill, who continue to be listed each year in the top 100 milk suppliers across Australia with the lowest aggregate bulk milk cell counts.
While Farmhouse Gold cheese wheels are made and stored on shelves in a coolroom to mature, that did not mean the staff at Cambray sat around with nothing to do in the meantime, Tom explained.
"All the (cheese) wheels are turned daily when they are green, then twice a week and then after a while once a week.
"Then there's cheeses to be cleaned and coated, there's always plenty to do, it's almost a full-time job in the coolroom," he said.
Another boutique cheesemaker, Dellendale Creamery from Denmark operated by Swiss-trained cheesemaker Chris Vogel, won the Champion cheese category of the DIAA WA awards with its Churchill Rd Raclette.
Parmalat-owned Harvey Fresh won Champion milk with Harvey Fresh Lactose Free Full Cream Milk.
Harvey Fresh also won Champion flavoured milk with Harvey Fresh Chocolate Flavoured Milk and the Champion dairy desert award with Harvey Fresh Vanilla Flavoured Country Custard.
Brownes Dairy won the Champion Yoghurt award with Brownes Natural Lemon Créme Yoghurt.
The Junction Icecreamery, Midland, won the Champion ice cream award with its Expresso Chip flavour.
Bannister Downs Dairy, Northcliffe, won the Champion cream award with its Fresh Cream product and Ha Ve Harvey Cheese, Wokalup, won Champion butter with its Cultured Butter Chives and Garlic.