Méribel Fine Foods is a Melbourne based wholesale dairy distributor who work with a variety of specialty cheeses. The main focus is on produce from Victoria’s abundant countryside, bringing artisanal handcrafted cheese to the table. Director and global cheese judge Ian Roberton shares his passion behind stocking such unique products.
Nearing the 27th anniversary since establishing the company, Ian has witnessed the cheese manufacturing industry change considerably, partly due to consumer’s changing tastes. “Food is fashion and fashion is always changing”, says Ian. “There’s a lot more interest in local produce now.”
As a member on the Supreme Judging Panel for the World Cheese Awards, an Australasian Ambassador for the International Cheese Awards and recently retired Chief Judge for The Australian Specialist Cheese Makers Association, Ian is well versed in determining flavour and texture in cheese.
The International Cheese Awards in Cheshire, United Kingdom, attracts over 4,600 entries from all over the world including Australia where Ian has increasingly noticed Australian cheese varieties entering the world stage. “In the last few years, Australia have had a variety of entries and they have all done very well, with distinctions and gold medals being picked up.”
Victoria’s Abundant Regions
Being based in Victoria is a great business advantage as Ian mentions it has “one of the largest dairy industries in Australia.” In particular, the volume and abundant supply of fresh, clean milk is what makes Victorian cheeses so fantastic. “The Gippsland region alone produces a huge variety of cheeses, and add to that the Mornington Peninsula, Yarra Valley, North Eastern and Central Victoria and of course the Western district, so that’s a real bonus for us,” Ian adds.
Freshness, quality and variety are the main reasons why Ian is such a strong enthusiast for supporting the local industry. “If you want ricotta that’s made this morning, it’s got to be made here. Some people tell you that decent ricotta can only be bought in Italy. In my opinion, that’s not the case at all.”
“I believe consumers are starting to realise that Victoria has a great variety of local produce and here at Méribel, we’re doing a lot of work with Grand Hyatt Melbourne to ensure we source suppliers who produce locally, not just in Australia, but in Victoria.”
The ‘paddock to plate’ concept is also advantageous when it comes to collaborating with small dairies. “When a request for a specific product is made, we can get it delivered relatively quickly which is highly beneficial as it gives us more variety when a boutique product is supplied to a large establishment like Grand Hyatt Melbourne.”
Unique Artisan Flavours
Whilst Méribel stocks an extensive range of artisan cheeses, some 700 in total, there are certain styles which Ian believes are truly one of a kind. Locheilan Dairy is one such example, producing a triple cream Brie that is in the shape of a ring allowing an even ripeness from the rind to the centre. This is also a change from the standard white wheel on the cheese board; a new take on an old style.
“There’s a particular blue cheese made by Maffra Cheese Company in Gippsland,” Ian enthusiastically describes. “This visually appealing full flavoured cheese called Blue Tanjil is named after a local district in Gippsland. “Unfortunately, the cheese maker has only recently started making it, however, early signs and the odd taste is very encouraging. It resembles a very famous English blue cheese called Shropshire Blue. Then there is Milawa Cheese Company in North Eastern Victoria who produce a sensational Capricornia, a hand-made sheep’s milk cheese, with a parmesan texture and a sharp slightly sweet finish.”
“Some of our cheeses are not always available or at their peak, so sometimes we have to wait. That’s what artisan cheese is all about. You want to have it every hour of the day but sometimes it’s nice not to have it and anticipate when you’re going to have it next.”