Trouble at the old cheese show! The Germans are coming, and they’re scooping up all the awards:
AUSTRALIA’S artisan cheese and dairy producers are up in arms after a global supermarket chain wiped the floor with them at the annual Sydney Royal dairy awards.
Aldi, based in Germany but with stores across Europe, the United States, Britain and Australia, picked up 49 medals, including eight gold, and was named the most successful dairy produce exhibitor at the Royal Agricultural Society of NSW 2013 Cheese and Dairy Produce Show awards.
The results have prompted local crafters of fine cheese, butter and yoghurt to call for an overhaul of the judging system that would pit generic brands against one another only, while boutique producers would compete in separate categories.
Well, that’s one approach. But for the small cheesemakers – who are undoubtedly the good guys in this fight – it is also the wrong one.
From the outside looking in, special pleading for special categories needlessly gives the game away, suggesting that the little guy can’t compete, and worse, that the supermarkets are in fact making a superior product. When a representative of the Australian Specialist Cheesemakers’ Association complains about the show ”taking … big, industrial products and putting them in the same category as hand-made, artisan products” and then going on to win, it sounds like the same sort of sour grapes French winemakers indulged in after they got the culottes beat off them by the Californians in the famous 1976 Judgement of Paris.
But Aldi’s supermarket sawdust is not Stag’s Leap. And the Sydney Royal is not a boutique event: have a look at some of the categories and awards. “Shredded or grated cheese. Retail or Food Service Pack. Exhibitor to specify cheese type on the Application for Entry” is one. “Cheddar Cheese, matured, Retail pack, Minimum Exhibit of 1kg” is another. As a Facebook commenter was seen to note, “There’s a category you can win with class. To be eligible your entry must be in a bag and weigh more than a large cat.”
Small cheesemakers should not complain about the ruling body. They should become the ruling body, go on the attack, and state the obvious, which is that any judge who thinks Bega makes the best cheddar cheese in Australia has his tastebuds in his ass. Then, they should get together and hold their own awards, complete with a tasting event and gala dinner (invites can be sent care of this site), publicising the hell out of it every step of the way while leveraging off the broader fight between big supermarket chains and hard-pressed small dairy operations.
Some dairy producers, including the legendary Pepe Saya, are already going down this road by boycotting the whole affair. Next year it would be great to see Coles, Woolies, and Aldi left alone at the show to fight for the spoils of their Pyrrhic victory and the right to slap little shiny stickers on their plastic packages of plastic cheese.