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five questions with Neil Willman

October 29, 2013

neil willman profile

Meet Neil Willman

 

…Master Cheesemaker, Master Cheese Grader, Master of Cheese and one of the judges at the 2014 Australian Grand Dairy Awards.

There are some traits that run through families – eye colour, the shape of your nose, relative height – and then there are others that are quite, quite different. When Neil Willman’s great-great grandfather was transported to Australia in 1829 for the crime of stealing cheese he probably wouldn’t have guessed that almost 200 years later, cheese would continue to run through the family bloodlines.

Having been born and bred on a dairy farm in Victoria, Neil Willman (fondly known as “Mr Cheese”) has seen the Australian dairy industry transform from the land of milk and cheddar to a varied and competitive market. He’s long had milk flowing through his veins… and after a rather painful sounding accident in 1972, has had brevibacterium linens (the essence of washed rind culture) travelling through them as well.

More obsessed than your average cheese aficionado, Neil studied Dairy Technology at the Gilbert Chandler Institute of Dairy Technology, worked for Murray Goulburn (one of Australia’s largest dairy co-operatives and the producers of around 1/3 of the nation’s milk products) and then headed back to Gilbert Chandler to research and educate people on dairy produce. The results of his industriousness in the dairy industry are everywhere – as the author of most of the training manuals circulating in the Australian & New Zealand Cheese Industries, as the appointed Australian Cheese Master in a five-nation competition, and most recently, as the author of two books for would-be home cheesemakers.

It’s no wonder then that Neil was selected as one of the judges for the 2014 Australian Grand Dairy Awards, the results of which will be released in November this year. Even though judging is currently underway, he managed to squeeze in a bit of time in between sampling to answer five questions with us at onebitemore.

Judging underway at the Australian Grand Dairy Awards 2014

and this is what we asked him

 

Q1: What was the very first cheese you made and how did it turn out?

The first cheese I made was in 1972 and was to be a Cheddar.  Everything was successful on the day I made it but during maturing it dried out to be as hard as a rock and rather than risk breaking teeth I threw it out.

Q2: You’ve probably tasted thousands of cheeses in your career as a Master Cheesemaker, Master Cheese Grader and Master of Cheese… do you have a favourite? (Or if it’s too hard to choose, a favourite type of cheese will do too!)

This is a bit like asking which is your favourite child.   If I had to choose one it would take hours of debating with myself.  I couldn’t choose between; a ripe smelly gooey washed rind; an extra vintage Cheddar and an aged Gruyere.

Q3: When you’re judging cheeses, what kinds of features are you looking for to determine the quality of a particular batch?

The cheese must be very well presented and have “Cheese appeal” it’s the foody equivalent of “sex appeal”!  Then the flavour must be true to type and well balanced.  This will only happen if the texture is well broken down as the texture drives the flavour to the taste buds.

Q4: Having been raised on a dairy farm in the 1950s, what are the major changes you’ve noticed in the industry between then and now, and what direction would you like to see the Australian dairy industry moving towards in the future?

I was raised on processed block cheddar during my early days and occasionally mature cheddar. Nothing else was available in rural areas.

In the 60s and 70s Italian and Greek cheeses were being made and became available in the capital cities and then in the 80s and beyond production of European cheese styles expanded rapidly.  Now Australian cheesemakers produce most types of cheese.  Recently there has been a flood of cheap imported cheeses from Europe mostly made in large mass producing companies.  This is putting the Australian industry at risk and the smaller producers will feel the pressure.

I would like to see these smaller companies given more support in the areas of marketing, cheesemaker education and technical assistance.  This would help them improve their product consistency and profitability.

Q5: After a full day of cheese tasting and judging, what’s your favourite meal to go home to?

A warm chicken salad.

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Find out more about the Australian Grand Dairy Awards at Legendairy.com.au/agda

Disclosure: This post was sponsored by the Australian Grand Dairy Awards 2014. (You can see onebitemore’s editorial and sponsored post policies here)


  • #1
    November 5th, 2013

    I love the fact his great great grandfather was exiled out here for stealing cheese, quite ironic. I would be the size of two houses if I had Neil’s job, love my cheese way too much.

Shez