South-west dairy farmer Julian Benson knew he had to do something different when his farm was battling the challenges of the 2002-2003 drought.
His farm at Cooriemungle near Timboon is only 18 kilometres from the 12 Apostles and was often visited by tourists who wanted to see how cows were milked.
He thought going direct to that tourism market with dairy products might offer better returns.
He started up the Apostle Whey dairy company that produced a range of boutique cheeses and went further two years ago producing gelato and the Apostle Way branded milk.
The Apostle Way Full Cream Milk was pasturised, but not homogenised which meant it was full cream, Mr Benson said.
“It’s how milk is supposed to be, I think.
“The cream rises to the top and you just give it a quick shake to mix it again like we did when we were kids,” Mr Benson said.
“It is important to us that the quality of our milk is the real hero of all our products,” he said.
The family’s dairy herd has been bred to produce milk with high butterfat and protein levels, which is critical to the flavours they achieve with their cheeses.
The business’s growth has also been aided by several awards won by Apostle Whey cheeses.
This week he added to his cheeses’ acclaim with the champion title in the White Mould Cheese category at the Australian Grand Dairy Awards for Apostle Whey’s Southern Briez brie-style cheese.
The Australian Grand Dairy Awards in Melbourne are Australia’s most prestigious dairy awards.
A 12-strong judging panel taste-tested more than 400 products across 18 categories to determine the award winners that were announced on Thursday.
Mr Benson said most of his business’s products were sold through outlets along the Great Ocean Road and the diversification had helped to bolster his milk production enterprise.
But he said taking the paddock to plate approach was not for every farmer and he had found it extremely challenging.
It had involved going to farmers’ markets every weekend for about three years to get the Apostle Whey cheese name recognised by the public.
“You have got to be a people person. You are dealing with people, not with cows,” Mr Benson said.
He also had to get adept at product branding and marketing as well as production.
Mr Benson said he was continuing to invest in developing the business to build up its good brand name with consumers.
“With a higher reputation, if I want to sell (the business), it is worth more money than being obscure,” Mr Benson said.
You have got to be a people person. You are dealing with people, not with cows.Julian Benson