By Kirra Grimes

LOCAL cheesemakers are enjoying a boost in sales thanks to the grounding of European air freight during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Multi-award winning South Gippsland cheesemakers Burke and Bronwyn Brandon confirmed they had seen an upswing in sales in recent months as European producers had difficulty exporting to Australia, especially soft varieties like brie and camembert that could not last the journey by sea freight.

Not only has a shortage of European cheese on the shelves shifted consumers’ attention to locally made products, Bronwyn said it had also “started to balance out differences in pricing”.

As recently reported by the ABC, the lack of international flights coming into the country has pushed up the cost of imported cheese by three to four times, equating to an increase of $11 a kilogram in the wholesale price of imported European cheese, or an extra $20 to $30/kg at the retail level.

Artisan cheesemakers in Australia have traditionally struggled to compete on price against European ones because the dairy industry there was heavily subsidised, the ABC’s national rural reporter Marty McCarthy wrote.

But Bronwyn said the pandemic had shifted the advantage.

“There’s not as many flights coming into the country and what is being flown in has increased in price, so there’s high demand for Australian cheese now,” she said.

“It used to be considered costly in comparison with imported cheese, but that’s not so much the case anymore.”

With their Moyarra sheep farm and its popular onsite restaurant closed to visitors during the pandemic, the Brandons have been exploring other ways to win new fans and keep them coming back when imports return to normal.

These include getting on board with distribution companies such as Cheese Therapy and Mould Collective to have their Prom Country Cheese products included with other Australian cheeses in packs available to order online – which have proved a popular gifting idea for families and friends separated by COVID-19 restrictions.

“At the moment, we’re packaging cheese to send out seven days a week, so we are busy, just in different ways,” Bronwyn said.

“Every business has had to adapt, and we’re sending out a lot of cheese now through other methods, which is not something we would have considered in the past.

“We’ve always wanted to go direct to consumer to keep profit margin higher; but we’ve got to find ways to keep the cheese flowing,” she said.

With lambing almost finished for the year and production picking up, the Brandons hope to reopen their restaurant soon, possibly in November, pending the completion of some much needed kitchen renovations, and a comprehensive COVID-Safe plan.

Keep an eye on www.facebook.com/PromCountryCheese for updates.