The big cheese

Mango is added to cream cheese. 152805 Pictures: STEWART CHAMBERS

By CASEY NEILL

Documentary to show how food company has led the way…

A DANDENONG South cheese factory is set to inspire television viewers around the country.
Moondarra Cheese will be among 40 businesses profiled on documentary series Industry Leaders on Foxtel.
“We’re looking for people who are revolutionising and shaping their industry,” the show’s executive producer Mac Emiantor told the Journal.
“The premise of this show is to showcase these people, take a look at their passion, and look at how passion-driven commitment has led to their success.”
Moondarra co-owners Matt Freeman and Nick Katis told the Journal they hoped to grow the company’s $17 million turnover to $20 million in the next 12 months.
They now produce 2000 tonnes of flavoured cream cheese each year but started when Mr Freeman left Australian Dairy Corporation to start exporting Australian specialty cheeses.
He chose a uniquely Aussie name for the company that referenced dairy heartland.
“Moondarra is a little area in Gippsland. It’s a Koori word that means lightning and thunder,” he said.
Mr Katis was working at Original Juice when the company was sold and in 2002 approached his university mate Mr Freeman about joining Moondarra.
“We quickly realised that there wasn’t any money in selling other people’s products,” Mr Freeman said.
So in 2004 they started producing their own at a small site in Nunawading with a team of four.
“We would buy in the cream cheese and process it,” Mr Freeman said.
“We felt for our own future business security that we had to invest in the cream cheese production process.”
Moondarra moved to Dandenong South in 2012 and last year built a $5 million cream cheese production plant.
“Now we have about 40 full-time staff and another 40 casual staff,” Mr Freeman said.
“Our biggest export market used to be Russia, but when the sanctions came on from the invasion of the Ukraine, Russia put counter-sanctions on Australia and we lost 300 tonne of volume overnight.
“We also do export to Korea, Japan, China, the USA, Canada and New Zealand.
“Apart from getting Russia back in the short term, our main growth strategy for export is the USA.”
Domestic growth will be in the form of new flavours – maple and pecan, and bacon and parmesan – and commercial cream cheese supply possibilities.
“One of the greatest joys that we get from this company is that we’ve given 80 people a job, a lot of them local,” Mr Freeman said.
“Some of them have been with us right from the start, so 10-plus years.
“It is a bit of an extension of our families and we like to run it in that way.”
The Moondarra episode is due to air on the Aurora channel at 8.30pm on Tuesday 31 May, with a repeat due to screen at 2.30pm on Sunday 5 June.

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