Artisan cheese making and education in Australia

24 Oct 2019

We caught up with 2015 Churchill Fellow Gina Dal Santo to find out about her Fellowship investigation and how she is now making an impact at the TAFE SA Artisan Cheese Making Academy.


What made you apply for a Churchill Fellowship?

One of my graduate students recommended I apply. He thoroughly enjoyed the cheese making course I taught at TAFE SA and has since started his own cheese company “Section 28”. He could see how a Churchill Fellowship could add value to the continuous improvement of cheese education in Australia. He was very passionate about growing cheese education and wanted it to continue to benefit small startup producers.

I am the only person in the academy and have sole responsibility for the continual growth thus was hopeful that through the knowledge gained from a Fellowship it would enable me to grow the cheese education area enough so that I would one day head up a team of people to run more classes and produce cheese for the public, not just within a class environment.


What was the aim of your Churchill Fellowship investigation and why is it important in the Australian context?
 

My aim was to explore teaching methodologies and how to grow cheese education. While the dairy industry in Australia is expanding I had found there were not enough specific cheese making training opportunities offered for start-up or small companies trying to hone their skills.

The Fellowship included a visit to several international teaching institutes to observe best practice teaching philosophies, methods and educational materials with a focus on Artisan cheese.

This investigation is very important in the Australian context as we have a low level of certification that isn’t specific to cheese. New cheese makers at times have no skills or knowledge, they just start a company, this in turn can lead to failure and can be devastating and very costly.


What were some of the highlights of your Churchill Fellowship?

Schools and educational facilities: Seeing the way they were set up, particularly Calpoly Tech, Wisconsin Centre for dairy research, ENILBIO – Poligny, Wellbeck School of Artisan Food, Harper Adams University Dairy Dept, Reaseheath College Dairy, and Moretta - Agenform.  My area really is a fledgling compared to these other educational facilities.They also have many sponsors. 

Specific cheeses: Gallybagger

Specific People: Everyone was extremely wonderful, but stand out would be:

  • Charles Martell, who developed the Stinking Bishop Cheese, and is a Churchill recipient from 1965!
  • Jaap Jongia, who took me to 16 places in 5 days in England

(Left) Gina very pleased with her Emmental cheese wheel. (Right) Gina judging cheese at the Royal Adelaide Show competition.

Since returning how have you been disseminating/implementing your findings?
 

I was a guest speaker at two DIAA (Dairy Industry Association of Australia) conferences, Melbourne and Brisbane. I continually bring in examples observed on my Fellowship to my classes and have encouraged many people to apply for a Fellowship when ready. I often have discussions with industry on what I saw on my Fellowship that was a little different to what we do here, e.g. I recently shared the example of the Gallybagger cheese made by Richard at Isle of Wight with a small producer.


Has your focus changed since going on your Fellowship? If so, how?

I am still focused on education but truly believe we can expand on this and improve and take it overseas or have international people come to us. However, at this stage Australia is not known for cheese education in the same way the schools mentioned above are. The biggest challenge is making our mark in the cheese industry with credibility. 

(Left) Gina recipient of VET Teacher/Trainer of Year at the South Australian Training Awards (Right) Cheese display made by Gina's students.


How have your ideas been received by the key stakeholders in your field? Any major challenges?
 

As far as how I have been received by stakeholders, this area has been very satisfying and rewarding. One achievement since I came back, and something I explored while on my Fellowship, was introducing a higher level of education and specific certification for cheese making. We have only been able to teach Certificate III in Food Processing contextualized to cheese. As of next year, we will be able to teach a Diploma in Cheese. This was a major achievement. 

Another example of positive stakeholder collaboration is that I have just started working with a company that has sponsored our graduation and hopefully will be involved more as time goes on. I have also been working with Dairy Authorities on skills and knowledge for people wanting to enter the cheese making profession.

In September 2019 I was awarded VET Teacher/Trainer of the Year by the South Australian Training Awards, the peak, state awards for the vocational education and training (VET) sector. These awards recognise and reward individuals, businesses and registered training organisations for their contribution to skilling Australia. Winning a South Australian Training Award means I will be recognised as a leader in my field, and will become an automatic finalist in the Australian Training Awards for the VET Teacher/Trainer of the Year Award category.

Amongst these achievements though I have encountered some challenges within my own education sector.  I cannot prove I will have growth or how much growth, so it can be difficult to receive assistance in growing the sector.    


What is next for you?
 

I would like to expand my knowledge more on a management level or obtain skills so I can engage and have a better understanding on how to better understand what happens at Government level, how to hold meaningful discussions with a CEO, etc.  I had applied for the Global Leadership Practices program, I was unsuccessful but if the opportunity arose again, I would re-apply. 


What do you hope to achieve in cheese education in the next year or the next 5 years?

To be recognised internationally. I am judging at the International Cheese Awards in Bergamo Italy 17th-18th October 2019. I will certainly boast about the Academy.


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