Adelaide Hills cheesemaker Udder Delights has been forced to throw out between $1.6 million and $2 million worth of stock following the Cudlee Creek fire in December.
The fire cam perilously close to Udder Delights’ Lobethal factory, which was evacuated at 11am on December 20.
Udder Delights chief executive officer Sheree Sullivan was not on-site at the time, and was initially concerned that cheese would spoil while the factory was evacuated.
“I didn’t genuinely think a fire was going to get that close,” she said.
I could see a fire on the site of our factory and I just thought, I actually don’t know if we’re going back to a factory.
Udder Delights maintenance manager, Andrew Dunford, was formerly with the CFS, and stayed for about two hours after other staff evacuated to prepare the site, moving pallets and helping neighboring businesses remove combustibles and wet buildings.
That night, Ms Sullivan anxiously monitored the fires progress on the Alert SA and SA Fires apps.
“I could see a fire on the site of our factory and I just thought, I actually don’t know if we’re going back to a factory,” Ms Sullivan said.
“It was nerve wracking not knowing, but seeing how close it had got and how black everything is was alarming.”
While no structural damage was done, Ms Sullivan said without Mr Dunford, the MFS and water bombing efforts, the outcome would have been very different.
“A spark is all it takes,” she said.
Smoke and a power outage affected Udder Delights most, and a lot of the maturing cheeses were affected by smoke taint.
“Power out for that long in what was already really hot weather, then a lot of radiant heat as well it just didn’t stand a chance, it just got too hot for too long,” she said.
Udder Delights is in a race to remake cheese so it can kickstart sales again.
“Our blue cheeses need two to three months before release and white mould cheeses take three to four weeks, so we’re slowly beginning to release stock but it’s going to take a few months to get back to being able to fulfill orders and getting our stockpiles back,” Ms Sullivan said.
“I’d love to think that by Easter we’re on-track, but it might not be until the middle of the year until we are back to the same position that we were before this happened.
“It could affect prosperity because businesses can lose momentum, so we just have to watch the space but we’re not going to know until we see what the next six to 12 months look like.”
RELATED READING:Recovery under way for farmers hit by Cudlee Creek fire
Coles national chief executive officer Steven Cain visited the Udder Delights factory in recent weeks.
Coles is one of Udder Delights’ biggest customers.
“It was great for him to actually come out and say hello, providing verbal support, it was really unexpected and appreciated,” she said.
The fire occurred less than two months after Udder Delights faced a voluntary recall, where they had to also scrap stock.
“Our staff are pretty shattered, emotionally and physically as well, because the recall required a lot of effort, emotion and physical work to recover from, so now we’ve done it twice and it’s been really full on,” Ms Sullivan said.
She said the fire had also impacted the milk solid levels in milk delivered by local suppliers.
“It’s taken 5 per cent to 10pc more milk than normal to get the same result-normally 1000 litres of milk makes 100 cheeses and instead 1000L of milk might only make 97, so if we don’t adjust the make we end up with a whole lot of cheeses that are underweight,” she said.
“When the fires went through, fortunately our dairyfarmers’ properties were all saved so milk supply volume is still good, but what we found was when we got straight back to production, the cheeses we made were all about 180 grams instead of 200g and we hadn’t changed anything.”
“We found it was more the stress of the animals through that period which really affected their solids, so that’s where it also gets quite challenging in our business.
“It’s been pretty hard in terms of the yields dropping, meaning that you need more milk to make the cheese and so that affects our profit margin.
“In that case, we are just about to print some special run labels but it’ll be a bit cheaper and smaller weight, but it is so we can at least get some Udder Delights cheese out on the market,” she said.