Woodside Cheese Wrights as it now operates was supposed to be a simple side business complimenting a family winery, what owner operator Kris Lloyd didn’t expect to find along the way, was a lifelong passion and international acclaim. We met up with Kris in Woodside in the beautiful Adelaide Hills to talk about how her Woodside and Kris Lloyd cheese labels are pioneering an identity for Australian Cheese.
Kris’ beginnings differ from those of many owner-operators in the food industry, relying on her motivation, business acumen and a constant rush of fresh ideas rather than a particular interest in a product of process. Indeed- when Kris bought Woodside Cheese Wrights twenty years ago, she had never made cheese. Not even in her kitchen at home.
"I was never going to be the cheese maker, just the manager. I was going to put all of my skills into the systems, but the team was three people, and suddenly someone got sick and there was nobody left to make the cheese: There was milk in the vat and milk about to arrive, and somebody had to do something with it.” she said.
An old factory made new
t didn’t bargain for absolutely falling in love with the process. There it was as milk, and three hours and a lot of stress later, it was cheese. It started maturing and I ate it and thought I made that!”
Married into the family behind Mclaren Vale’s Coriole winery, Kris’ initial move into food from a corporate marketing and development role came when she decided to help out at the winery.
"I’d just had my children when my husband asked me to come work at his family vineyard. We did our own olives, oil, vinegars and verjuice, and we all had to do the cellar door.” Kris said, "I realised there was a great opportunity to add value by letting people sit in the beautiful gardens with a bottle of wine, growing to little ploughman’s platters which had our olives and produce we’d made. The obvious thing which was missing was cheese. So I thought, brilliant, let’s make cheese!"
Kris bought Woodside Cheese Wrights, then an established but derelict business under its second ownership. She says she spent “About two years throwing out more cheese than I was selling,” and when staffing became an issue, eventually started making cheese herself.
"I worked my way through, following steps almost like a chocolate pudding recipe, and made my first cheese by myself: Almost two hundred litres of brie.”
Moving forward twenty years, Kris has learned a lot about making cheese. She judges international competitions, has supplemented the business with a second brand called Kris Lloyd Artisan, and has just entered Wholefoods in the U.S.A.
For Kris, a new wave of excitement came when she began exploring Australian ingredients in cheese. Initially, the plan was to market such cheese to China, which Kris admits didn’t work out as intended, however the cheeses did develop a following back at home.
“Having been making cheese for 20 years as of this year, one of the things I’ve realised- certainly through my international cheese judging- is that there’s a huge cheese galaxy out there: There’s all these different styles with different milks and blends, but it seems to me that people claim a cheese. Brie, camembert, parmesan, I think they’re already claimed. So I’ve realised that’s not where I should be competing, it’s not my story to tell."
"When I started looking at Australian ingredients, I realised that there is a story I can tell there, about things which grow in my backyard. It’s abundant and it’s something which other places don’t and can’t have.”
Up the Anthill
In 2015, Kris made a goats chèvre with lemon myrtle and native green ants. The cheese, called Anthill, went on to win super gold at the World Cheese Awards and came #11 out of 3021 cheeses in the 16/17 competition.
"Anthill was the sort of catalyst for it all to fall into place in my mind. Green ants are only really available in Australia, in far North Queensland and the Northern Territory. Putting those ants on a cheese and dusting with a little bit of Lemon Myrtle from a farm just down the road really surprised people. It captured their imagination.”
"I was judging that competition, but I had to step down from the final judging panel because the cheese got so far. It would have been a conflict of interest.” said Kris, "The cheese.. Either the cheese or the ants, has taught me so much."
When creating new cheeses, Kris pairs ingredients the same way a chef would. Being well acquainted with her cheeses, the trick comes with tasting new ingredients and working out how a cheese will best represent it.
"We taste cheese every day, so although they don’t know it, my staff’s palettes have become very nuanced and mature. They’ve become my first port of call. I’ve got a fairly good sense of taste myself. We’ll get together two or three different options, and then I’ll always go and see Jock Zonfrillo, a good friend who runs the Orana Foundation.” she said, "He’ll either say it won’t work, or that’s amazing. Often with quite a few more expletives. Jock is very honest, and will tell me whether he thinks it will or won’t work."
Before and after Anthill, Kris’ other cheeses to employ Australian ingredients have included lemon myrtle, saltbush, Goat on a Hot Tin Roof, featuring outback bush tomato and pepper berry, Golden Blossom, Blackwood with Native Honey, Picasso with Saltbush and Australian Wildflowers, and Flinders.
As the Woodside and Kris Lloyd brands grow, Kris relies on her creativity tenacity as a businesswoman to keep the brands interesting. She credits the confidence in taking her concepts to the next level. For her, artisan cheese making will always be about adding value for their customers.
"I believe you can continue to have great ideas- and I’m happy to keep on creating forever - but you’ve got to still be growing and paying your wages, and reinvesting back into the business, which means your ideas need to be able to be commercialised. For us, value-adding in different ways across the entire range has given us a great platform to express our creativity, our place and our skill”
Check out more from Kris and Woodside on their website.