Moving with the times: King Island Dairy

After a seven year hiatus, the renowned King Island Dairy brand has kicked off 2013 with two new product releases, bolstered by the more refined cheese palette of today's consumer.

While many manufacturers might think that in order to resonate in the mind of today's fickle consumers they need to continually launch new products, King Island Dairy advocates for innovating when the time's right.

Naomi Crisante, cheese ambassador at King Island Dairy, told Food magazine, "King Island Dairy has quite a range of products and they did go through a bit of a process of looking at what products are winners and what are the lower performers, I suppose. Every manufacturer will go through that process. They're also not in the space of just doing new product development for new product development's sake – even though retailers often ask for that.

"It's about making sure that they're releasing when it's right and for the right market. It's not that this process took seven years," she said.

The two new products are the King Island Dairy Furneaux Double Cream (above), available in all grocery stores (Coles from September) and Thomas Dux grocers; and the Black Label Huxley Washed Rind, also available at Thomas Dux, in delis and various foodservice venues across the country.

Getting both cheeses on the shelf has been a labour a love, says King Island Dairy's head cheesemaker Ueli Berger.

"Over a year ago we started playing with the Furneaux. We weren't comfortable with the first batch so we adjusted things until we actually found a process we were comfortable with. Then we had to do all the shelf-life trials to make sure it's still good at its best before date, and then we had to adjust some things again. So it actually takes a long time to get a product to market and to be comfortable with it," he said.

"The Huxley was even more work because it's a bit different again. It took us even longer to get it to the stage where we were really comfortable and we felt that we had something quite different."

The Huxley – King Island Dairy's latest addition to its Black Label range of artisan cheeses (see pic below) – is an example of the current trend in Australia where consumers still want affordable cheeses, but are keen to look beyond the popular camemberts and bries.

Washed rind cheeses have always been quite polarising, with their strong flavour and aroma proving disconcerting from less adventurous eaters.

King Island Dairy's Huxley, however, was designed to be a crowd-pleaser. Made without mould, it has a distinctive, but not overpowering flavour and an orange coloured rind thanks to the blend of selected cultures, cloth-washed over the cheese by hand during the maturation process.

"With our Huxley, if you have a look, it's not sticky on the surface. It's actually quite dry, so when you touch it it's not off-putting like some of the other washed rinds, where if you touch it you have the smell on your fingers all day. This one is quite dry and we wanted something that people will be able to pick up and the smell isn't overpowering, but still has a nice, complex flavour.

"That's what we tried to achieve so we changed the texture quite a bit to make it a semi-soft instead of a soft cheese," said Berger.

"Going forward with this washed rind, considering the texture that we achieved, I think we have quite a big chance to use different things like red wine and peppercorns on the surface … and still keep the nice texture there. I think we have opportunities to use the recipe and make two or three quite different cheeses. We have the base now, so we can jump forward from there."

Attention to detail
Not only do King Island Dairy's cheeses need to pass Berger's critical eye and fulfill an obvious need in the market before they can be introduced to the general public, they also, of course, need to meet strict food safety requirements.

Earlier this year fellow cheese manufacturer, Jindi, recalled more than 100 of its products following a Listeria outbreak which saw the death of three people and led to one NSW woman suffering a miscarriage.

This incident, according to Berger, only cemented the importance of a vigilant screening and testing process.

"Our testing regime is stricter than regulation actually requires," he said. "We've looked at everything we do since the Jindi incident, but we're definitely doing more than we have to. We feel like we have to do that to be 100 percent safe."

Every batch of cheese is tested before it goes to the market, and cannot be released before the test results come back with the all-clear.

"It's an expensive exercise but it's not expensive compared to having the problems that Jindi have had. So it's money well invested, I think," he said.

While admitting he's concerned that Jindi's recent problems might affect the consumers' perception of the entire cheese industry, Berger believes King Island Dairy's well-established relationship with its customers and trusted reputation will make all the difference.

"People know us not just as a good cheese in terms of flavour, but as a safe cheese as well … We're definitely worried that people might say 'Oh, soft cheeses, we're not touching them.' That won't be good for anyone. But hopefully our brand is strong enough and people have enough faith in us," he said.

Where to from here?
The best way forward, according to cheese ambassador, Naomi Crisante, is to capitalise on and continue to develop the consumers' maturing cheese palette, and to keep King Island Dairy front of mind while doing so.

"I've been in the cheese industry for 20 years and when I started we were very much processed cheese eaters, but we've moved to natural cheddars now and more to vintage cheddars, for example. We've never had the variety of specialty cheeses available in local supermarkets that we do now. You can go in and grab a brie, a washed rind, blue cheese, camembert, you can get hybrids – there's something for everyone. Australians do like something different, they want to try something new, which is where these two new releases sit in really well," she said.

Developing new products where necessary and helping to educate the consumer on the variety of cheeses on the market and how best to serve them is crucial, Crisante adds.

"The manufacturer needs to take control to make sure that the information is consistent across consumers and foodservice. It's an ongoing education process all the time."

For King Island Dairy, this education process will involve various touchpoints including tastings, social media activity, events and advertising campaigns.

"It's just about making sure that every touch point with the brand is educating consumers as well as promoting what is core to the brand – the most beautiful, indulgent product that comes from this tiny little island in the middle of Bass Stait," she said.

"There's a good story with great heart behind this brand. It's more than just a brand."

To see photos from Food mag's visit to Margan Winery, to celebrate  King Island Dairy's new releases, head to our Facebook page.

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