Cheese king Aldi prompts Royal dairy show outrage

Saffron Howden
"The awards have become a parody" ... Michael McNamara of Pecora Dairy with some of his sheep cheese.
"The awards have become a parody" ... Michael McNamara of Pecora Dairy with some of his sheep cheese. Photo: Sahlan Hayes

The dominance of global supermarket chain Aldi at this year's Sydney Royal dairy show could see an overhaul of the show's rules following an outcry from small and artisan cheesemakers.

Aldi, based in Germany, 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.

While the Agricultural Society praised Aldi's performance, the committee that governs the dairy show will meet next week and will consider separating retailers and manufacturers in future.

"We do value the feedback we get from our contributors," said George Davey, the society's general manager of agriculture.

"And we may well introduce changes to better reflect what our exhibitors are expecting from the show."

Mr Davey said the dairy produce, which must be Australian-made, was judged by a panel of experts, including industry representatives, chefs and food writers, on the same criteria using a point system.

"What our competitions actually do is lift the quality overall," he said.

But Mr Davey said he would also like to see food labelling laws changed so the exact provenance of the food was acknowledged on packaging.

Crafters of fine cheese, butter and yoghurt have called for an overhaul of the Sydney Royal dairy show 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 for Qantas's first-class meals, said while he fully supported the work of the Agricultural Society to grow the dairy industry, he 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's show, and McNamara insists his criticism is not sour grapes.

By granting the same medals to cheap, mass-produced cheese and expensive, hand-crafted products, the RAS was undermining its potential support of rural communities, 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 yesterday.

Comment is being sought from Aldi Stores.