15 October 2019

Tilba's dairy maids: hardy, passionate and with lovely long eyelashes

| Lisa Herbert
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Creamy, rich Jersey milk is used in the Tilba cheese factory

Creamy, rich Jersey milk is used in the Tilba cheese factory. Photos: Supplied.

ABC Dairy was the original name of the famous co-op here in Tilba on NSW’s South Coast. The name still sits proudly over the doorway of the heritage building at the bottom of the quaint main street.

There were around 100 local dairy farmers in the area at one point, but when the Erica and Nick Dibden bought the building in 2012, there was no local Tilba milk being used in the factory; in fact, there was no cheese being produced there at all. But now there is Tilba Real Dairy.

Erica Dibden’s passions include sustainability, food provenance and nutrition. In stark contrast to these values is the buying and selling of smaller food enterprises by large, more global organisations. The story of the ABC Cheese Factory highlights this modern phenomenon.

Cutting the Feta

Cutting the Feta. A recent upgrade has expanded possibilities.

“Bega Cheese bought the whole lot in 1970s,” Erica says, “and there was local Tilba milk being used in production then”. Tilba Club Cheese was being made at this time and became quite famous.

“A person by the name of Peter Storey bought the place in the 1980s then, 20 years later, King Island Cheese bought the factory. This included all plant and equipment, everything”.

“When King Island Cheese was purchased by National Foods in 2002, all the Tilba plant and equipment was moved to Melbourne.

“Not long after that, National Foods was bought by Japanese company Kirin. Then Kirin was bought by San Miguel … And while the plant in Tilba was not being used, Tilba Club Cheese was still being made so, in a way, Tilba Club went around the world!”

The Tilba based factory is now producing a wide range of table cheeses

The Tilba-based factory is now producing a wide range of table cheeses, with some of the product continuing to be cut and waxed at the Tilba factory.

They repackaged and re-opened the shop, selling all kinds of wares to tourists, wanting to put some life back into the economy of the Tilba Tilba township.

In 2012, the Dibden’s approached the owners and after 12 months’ negotiation, bought the ABC Dairy. Needless to say, there was no plant and equipment.

“Now the building is back with local dairy farmers and using local milk, which hasn’t been the case since the 1970s,” Erica tells me with pride.

Meanwhile, back in 2007, the Dibden family had begun the process for approval to build a cheese factory on their Tilba Dairy Farm.

Nick Dibden is a second-generation Tilba-born dairy farmer. They bought their own farm in a beautiful, lush, flooded peat-swamp valley in 2000. Nick worked hard building their herd while Erica was learning to make cheese in the kitchen. ”

“And you know,” Erica says, “it had to be Jersey milk!”

Jersey cows and milk tick a lot of boxes, not only when it comes to manufacturing:

  • Jersey milk is creamier (although less is produced by the herd)
  • It’s higher in A2 protein
  • Has a good mouthfeel with a buttery, yellow tint
  • Jersey cows produce 10-times their own weight in milk per lactation
  • They stay close to home, don’t eat as much as Friesians, and being lighter, are easier on the soil.

Jersey cows are hardy, shy, they don’t produce as much milk as other breeds but it is of a higher quality. They are heat tolerant, have fewer calving issues and, Erica smiles, “they have lovely long eyelashes”.

Tilba's main street bustles with tourists

Tilba’s main street bustles with tourists, the cheese factory is important.

In 2006 Erica had received a scholarship from Dairy Australia to travel to Europe. She went to France to a cheese college south-west of Dijon, to Cornwall to make Cornish Yarg (cheese wrapped in nettle leaves), and also to Milan to visit a more industrial factory to learn some more craft.

Under the scholarship, Erica also visited and learned from Australia’s King Island Dairy, Lactos Cheese in Burnie and Milawa Cheese in the Yarra Valley.

“I learned so much about the science of cheese making,” Erica says.

“The process and expense of building our own cheese factory on our own property were prohibitive. We brought much of the equipment we’d purchased here to the ABC Factory building and 14 months ago went through an extensive upgrade.”

Lower impact, rich milk, and lovely long eyelashes

Lower impact, rich milk, and lovely long eyelashes. Photo: Supplied.

Erica smiles as she remembers carrying buckets of Jersey milk when she was young, and scooping the cream from the top. She and Nick were determined to produce a non-homogenised product, so everyone can have the experience of scooping the cream.

Tilba's ABC Cheese Factory back in business

Staff outside the historic ABC Cheese Factory, producing under the Tilba Real Dairy label.

Tilba’s ABC Cheese Factory back in business.ABC Cheese Factory, which is the home of Tilba Real Dairy, is open all year round, selling their premium cream, milk, yoghurt and cheese products, plus a beautiful selection of other local gourmet products. Visit Tilba Real Dairy or their Facebook page.

Original Article published by Lisa Herbert on About Regional.

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