Aldi's show win has artisans cheesed off
Not sour grapes … Pecora's Michael McNamara. Photo: Sahlan Hayes
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.
Pepe Saya, who supplies butter to Neil Perry's Rockpool, Aria restaurant and Qantas first class, said while he fully supported the work of the Agricultural Society to grow the dairy industry, he personally stopped entering the awards after Coles started entering its generic brands.
''I don't believe that a non-manufacturer or a non-producer should be allowed to leverage off the Sydney Royal brand,'' he said. ''Here's a brand that's been given to the philistines like Aldi, Coles and Woolworths. [But] what does it mean to have a gold any more? This is the disappointment. This is the heartache.''
Michael McNamara, cheesemaker at Pecora Dairy in Robertson, NSW, and treasurer of the Australian Specialist Cheesemakers' Association, said the awards should be changed.
''The awards have become a parody of themselves if what they're taking is big, industrial products and putting them in the same category as hand-made, artisan products,'' he said.
''The [Royal Agricultural Society] is shooting itself in the foot.''
Pecora Dairy won a handful of medals at this year awards and he insists his criticism is not sour grapes.
The RAS was not supporting rural communities to thrive by granting the same medals to cheap, mass-produced cheese and expensive, hand-crafted products, Mr McNamara said.
''It doesn't help farmers and it doesn't help create a vital, small producer industry in agriculture out there,'' he said.
A society spokeswoman said she was unable to contact the key dairy show award organisers and judges yesterday and Aldi Stores, based at St Marys, did not return calls.
The RAS, which has been judging dairy produce for more than 150 years, acknowledged Aldi's strong showing in its first year.