Cream Of The Crop
Vision, grassroots marketing and persistent hard work helped this small family dairy business beat large corporations to win Australia’s champion cream award.
By Liz Harfull
Thirty years ago, Giuliano and Rita Lorenzetti made a brave decision. At a time when it was virtually unheard of in Australia, the Adelaide Hills dairy farmers decided to start processing their own milk.
Investing $13,000 in a small, second-hand pasteuriser, they set about converting milk from a handful of cows into a product they could sell direct to boutique cheese and gelati makers.
Earlier this year the family-owned and operated business rewarded the Lorenzettis’ vision and hard work when it won the award for champion cream at the 20th annual Australian Grand Dairy Awards, announced in Sydney.
The honour was just the latest in an increasing list of national food and dairy industry awards claimed by their business, Tweedvale Milk, since it won a gold medal in the first attempt in 2003, with its traditional full-cream milk.
Tweedvale is based at Lobethal in the central Adelaide Hills of South Australia. The brand takes its name from the moniker the town was given during the First World War when antiGerman sentiment forced settlements of German-origin to change their names.
Giuliano and Rita settled on the outskirts of Lobethal in 1974, with their children, Carlo and Gabriella, after buying a 28-hectare farm, where they milked about 40 cows and ran a Holstein Friesian Stud.
Having grown up on a dairy farm in Italy, Giuliano had first come to Australia about 20 years before. In the late 1960s, he returned to his home country and married Rita, whose family also had land and milked cows.
The young couple returned to South Australia in 1970 and bought a dairy farm in partnership with Giuliano’s brother.
They went back to Italy a few years later, hoping that the country’s economy might have improved and they could stay closer to their extended family, but it wasn’t to be.
Today they are on the same property purchased in 1974, living just over a rise from the processing plant built alongside the original dairy. From the beginning, the focus was on breeding the best possible cows, and giving them and their pastures as much attention as possible so the cows were healthy and stress-free. Their efforts earned them producer awards for milk quality, up against much larger enterprises.
rapid growth for tweedvale milk
Then in the late 1980s, they were approached by La Casa Del Formaggio to supply milk for Adelaide’s first commercial fresh mozzarella. The new business took off rapidly, going on to employ more than 130 people and sell its products to thousands of supermarkets and speciality food stores across Australia. “In 12 months they became really big and we couldn’t supply them enough milk anymore,” Rita says.
With the farm having won awards for milk quality, Guiliano was convinced they could find another market, and a more profitable option than supplying a large processor. So they bought the pasteuriser in 1988 and he went in search of new customers, while Rita persevered, learning by trial and error how to use it. “Nobody could tell me how,” she says. “The person we bought it from had died and the family didn’t know how to use it. I only had a little book and I said to myself well, I will try. If I break it, that’s the end of it.”
Rita soon mastered the machine and the Lorenzettis began supplying milk to gelati makers, producing Italian ice-cream for Adelaide cafes, as well as one or two boutique cheese and yoghurt makers.
“When we bought the pasteuriser we only had three cows producing milk,” admits Rita. “As the customers were growing, we were getting in more cows, and then our cows were not enough, so we had to go to other farmers and buy their milk, and it went from there.”
Growing the business was not easy. “We had to sell our milk cheap to get into the market, because we were selling it in bulk,” Carlo adds.
“We didn’t have a bottling machine at that time, so we were providing it in 10 and 20-litre bags. It wasn’t making much money but you could see there was potential.”
“I think we were the first in Australia
to capture the coffee market with
boutique, non-homogenised milk.”
– Carlo Lorenzetti
Confident of the business’s future, in 1996 the family built a new dairy and processing facility, with a cold store and bottling plant capable of handling four, two and one-litre containers. After graduating from university, Carlo joined the business fulltime and took on the task of securing more customers and distributing the milk, while Rita continued to be responsible for the daily processing and Giuliano ran the dairy farm.
Still in his early twenties, Carlo found it tough to win new customers but the cafe scene was taking off in Adelaide, and he made the most of their growing reputation with high-end cafes using their milk to make gelati.
Cleverly, he also offered a solution to a problem that was troubling the city’s best baristas. At certain times of the year, they could not get the milk they were using to form a silky, dense foam for their lattes and cappuccinos, no matter how skilfully they tried
local and reliable
Carlo suggested Tweedvale milk would be more reliable and have a better flavour because it was an old-fashion full cream milk, pasteurised but not homogenised. Slowly but steadily, it became the milk of choice for cafes and restaurants in the greater Adelaide area that wanted to support local food producers and prided themselves on excellent coffee. “I think we were the first in Australia to capture the coffee market
with boutique, non-homogenised milk, as the main customer base,” he says.
Carlo says the ability of the milk to create the perfect foam stems from multiple factors, not just its protein or butterfat levels. Feeding cows the right balance of pasture and specific grains, and avoiding heat stress play a part, with the Adelaide Hills offering a cooler climate than most other parts of the State.
“But it’s very complex,” he says. “Processing the milk as close as possible to the farm where it is produced also helps, and we don’t manipulate the milk as much.”
Today the Lorenzettis receive 10,000 litres per day from five dairy farms, four of them within 12 kilometres of the plant, and another about 35 kilometres away, which provides milk on a more ad hoc basis when needed.
“We pay a premium for their milk because we have high standards but also because we want their farms to remain viable so that consumers have a choice to buy local in the future,” Carlo says.
With the processing side of the business having reached full capacity and Giuliano having retired from milking some years ago now, they no longer run their own herd. As it is, Rita continues to work long days processing the milk, admitting with a smile that it would take more than two people to replace her should she decide to retire.A larger pasteuriser was installed in 2007, along with a state-of-the art separator that removes the cream from some of the milk, producing a reduced fat milk and a rich, natural cream. A separate pasteuriser able to handle the thick consistency is used three days a week to make both pouring and double cream.
The Tweedvale Pure Double Cream, which took out the trophy for best cream in Sydney, is about 50 percent butterfat, and made without thickeners or preservatives. Rita oversees the making of this too, gently heating the cream to pasteurise it, and working with the rest of factory team to ensure all the machinery and equipment is washed and rinsed thoroughly.
“For the cream to taste good, it must not have any taints. Everything has to be very, very clean,” she says.
meeting consumer demand
Faced with a fresh marketing challenge after they started making the cream, Carlo began by selling it to a nearby roadside apple stall, where a local orchardist sells both fresh fruit and home-made baked goods using apples. It was one of the first retail outlets Carlo noticed promoting the concept of food miles, encouraging consumers to buy fresh local produce.
The growing consumer trend has continued to serve Tweedvale well. Both the cream and milk are also now sold in independent supermarkets across Adelaide, as well as selected fruit and vegetable shops.
With the marketplace becoming increasingly competitive, more boutique dairy brands emerging and the rapid growth of veganism, entering annual dairy awards is an important marketing tool for the business.
“It reminds people we have a premium product, and it encourages us to strive to do our best.”
– Carlo Lorenzetti