Until July 2022, it was not possible for Neal's Yard Dairy, or anyone else, to sell British raw milk cheeses in Australia. After successfully changing the regulations that prohibited this, shipments of raw milk cheeses from Neal's Yard Dairy will soon be arriving in Australia. Read more about how this change happened- and what part Neal's Yard Dairy had to play in it- below.
Australia has some of the most stringent laws regarding cheese anywhere: in 1998 the government mandated that all cheeses for sale in Australia be pasteurised, with only a few exceptions for cooked-curd cheeses—such as Gruyère and Parmigiano Reggiano—whose production methods involve a cooking step equivalent to pasteurisation. Advocates for raw milk cheese, most notably Will Studd, have mounted numerous challenges to these regulations over the years, with some success; Roquefort (a raw sheep’s milk cheese) is widely available in Australia. However, raw milk cheeses with a long track record for safety in the UK, including benchmark styles such as Cheddar, Red Leicester, and Cheshire, have remained out of reach to Australian consumers.
In recent years, members of the Australian Specialist Cheesemakers Association have also entered into dialogue with the government and worked successfully to demonstrate that a wide variety of domestic raw milk cheeses can be made safely with careful controls in place. In no small part due to this work, in early 2018, the Australian government published guidelines that held the promise of opening the door to a wider variety of raw milk cheese imports. The stipulation was that the cheeses needed to meet the same stringent standards of safety applied to the newly-allowed and very limited production of Australian raw-milk cheeses.
With an active Australian export program with our Australian partner Calendar Cheese Company already in place, Neal’s Yard Dairy jumped at the chance to pursue this opportunity. The requirements for pasteurisation of all cheeses for Australian export had meant that we had to ask producers to pasteurise batches of cheese that was normally made with raw milk specifically for the Australian market. Being able to select great batches of raw milk cheese for customers in Australia—and never having to ask our producers to pasteurise, which just didn’t seem right—would be a dream come true.
Soon after the Australian guidelines were published in early 2018, we contacted Defra (the government ministry responsible for food export) and launched into the task of showing that a select group of British cheeses met the strict Australian requirements, a process that drew upon many different resources: the Specialist Cheesemakers’ Association’s Assured Code of Practice, the SALSA plus Cheese Audit standard (a third party audit specifically addressing the risks and controls best suited to cheesemaking), and a variety of microbiological modelling tools. Critical to the process was control over the raw milk supply, which meant that all the cheeses that ultimately were covered by the application are farmhouse cheeses, made with from milk produced under the direct control of the cheesemaker.
In order to ensure that the process represented all British cheesemakers, we also put out a call to any producer (even those whose cheeses we do not sell) to get in on the process so that we could coordinate the application on behalf of all. Needless to say it was an intensive process, but we were pleased to see it yield even more concrete evidence emerge of the safety of our British raw milk cheeses, measured according to even the most stringent standard. Along the way, we were very grateful to work with a wonderful policy advisor at Defra, who coordinated the application’s submission to the Australian officials and fielded and responded to questions from both sides.
The initial application was completed just before Christmas of 2018, and then the wait began...Trade policy wheels turn slowly, to the point where we began to wonder whether anything would ever come of our application. At cheese selection visits, where we asked producers to make more batches of pasteurised cheese for Australian export—to be sold more than one year in the future—it became a bit of a running joke. Both the people who coordinated and submitted the applications at Defra and Neal’s Yard Dairy went on maternity leave and returned; their children—younger than the application—are now walking and talking. But every so often we’d hear a snippet of news, keeping hope alive that the application was somehow, years later, still in progress!
And finally, in February of 2022, we heard again from Defra, saying that the final stages of the process were taking place and confirming the wording on the health certificates that would be required on forthcoming export shipments. After a brief flurry of back and forth, the agreement was signed (over a cheeseboard full of beautiful raw milk cheeses) at the Australian High Commission in London on July 20th 2022.
We look forward to sending our first pallets of raw milk cheeses to Australia very soon!
Raw milk farmhouse cheeses now approved for export to Australia:
Appleby's Double Gloucester
Hafod Welsh Organic Cheddar
Isle of Mull Cheese
St Andrew’s Anster
St Andrew’s Farmhouse Cheddar
Australian stockists will include:
Victoria: Simon Johnson, Maker & Monger, Harper & Blohm
Tasmania: Hill St Grocer
New South Wales: Simon Johnson, La Boite a Fromages, The Artisan Cheese Room
Queensland: The Standard Market Company
Western Australia: Simon Johnson, Little Sister Delicatessen, Boatshed Market
South Australia: Lucia’s Fine Foods