Glass half full for dairy hub in Mortlake

L’Artisan Cheese uses traditional French recipes for its range of cheese.

A former pie factory has been transformed into a major dairy hub, shared between an artisan Victorian cheesemaker and an organic dairy business.

Located about 50 kilometres north of Warrnambool, Mortlake plays a key role in Victoria’s agriculture industry.

The town is well known for its beloved Clarke’s Pies and more recently has been home to two local dairy producers.

Photograph of room with steel tables and equipment and two figures talking in the backgroundThe town’s disused former Clarke’s Pies factory has been given a new lease of life, with the Mortlake Organic Dairy Hub taking up residence in 2020.

The hub is a joint venture between L’Artisan Cheese and Symons Organic Dairy, producing premium organic dairy products using milk from local farms in western Victoria including the nearby Smith Family Organic farm on the Great Ocean Road.

Mortlake Organic Dairy managing director Bruce Symons says the new facility has allowed his family’s company, Symons Organic Dairy, to independently produce a wide range of cheeses exclusively from the hub.

“Initially, I relied on third party manufacturers to produce my range, but it was increasingly restrictive and difficult to expand without owning your own factory,” he says.

Founded in Bendigo by Bruce’s grandfather, Albert, the company has been around for more than 100 years, selling fresh milk by horse and cart at the start.

After the Symons Dairy brand was purchased by a large multinational company in the 1990s and discontinued, Bruce reinvented the business in 2017 as a premium organic dairy manufacturer.

Shelves of yellow round wheels of cheese sitting in the maturing roomThe business now provides products like cheddar, haloumi, mozzarella and butter to hundreds of supermarkets and grocers across Australia with the international market on the horizon.

The other half of the Mortlake Organic Dairy Hub, L’Artisan Cheese, sells traditional French cheese using the same dairy farmers as Symons Organic Dairy.

In 2009, L’Artisan Cheese started its journey in Timboon – not long after managing director Matthieu Megard brought a lifetime’s worth of knowledge in cheesemaking from France to Victoria. Matthieu also serves as Director of Mortlake Organic Dairy Hub.

“When I moved to Australia, I worked in a cheese shop in Melbourne,” Matthieu says. “I noticed a lot of classic French recipes couldn’t be found here and the things imported weren’t up to standard, so I started L’Artisan Cheese using some very classic French recipes.”

Matthieu had known Bruce for almost a decade prior to the opening of the Mortlake Organic Dairy Hub, during Bruce’s time as Chief Executive Officer of Organic Dairy Farmers of Australia.

“We were both looking for a new factory for our businesses so we thought we might as well do it together, which resulted in the Mortlake Organic Dairy Hub,” Matthieu says.

“Everything we sell is made in Mortlake.”

Two years into the joint venture and the hub has given two local dairy companies a chance to grow their product range while maintaining a local workforce.

A square sign outdoors that reads Mortlake Dairy on topFor Bruce and Matthieu’s businesses, Mortlake’s location is ideal to manufacture its products closer to dairy farms.

“Western Victoria is a very strong dairy area and the hub’s location means that we’re closer to our milk,” Bruce says.

“The result of that is bringing the most voluminous and finished product which is then shipped to Melbourne – closing the gap between our factory and the farmers and reducing our carbon footprint through reduced food miles.”

The Victorian Government backed the creation of the Mortlake Organic Dairy Hub in 2019 through the Food Source Victoria Program.

“We found some very good local staff here and the community has been a great support,” Matthieu says. “It’s been a good ride so far.”

Being closer to dairy farms in Western Victoria means that Bruce and Matthieu are helping strengthen the supply chain of a multimillion-dollar industry in regional Victoria, supporting more jobs and a stronger economy for the state.

The Mortlake Organic Dairy Hub is one of many dairy businesses supporting regional Victoria’s dairy industry with a range of unique and premium products made in the heart of the Great South Coast.

For more information on other projects supporting jobs in the Great South Coast, visit Regional Development Victoria.