Meet the Finalists - Ferial Zekiman and the Maffra Cheese Co.
Leading Gippsland Cheesemaker Ferial Zekiman has achieved excellence in her field with Maffra Cheese Co. at both domestic and international level.
Her cheese has won many international awards, resulting in high demand for her produce.
Now both Ferial individually and her beloved Maffra Cheese Co. are in contention for more awards, as finalists in two categories of the 2020 Food & Fibre Gippsland Excellence in Agribusiness Awards.
The achievements and prosperity of the company impressed the judges in the category of the Excellence in Food & Drink Manufacturing in a business with greater than 10 employees, whilst Ferial’s individual leadership, passion, foresight and courage sees her amongst the nominees for the inaugural Female Agribusiness Leader of the Year.
Maffra Cheese Co. has been able to achieve its high quality through staying true to its guiding principles: using Ferial’s herd for milk, exceptional quality control and the best science in cheesemaking.
The concept of “the cheese starting in the paddock” can be seen from the way Ferial ensures her cows are fed well, and she knows exactly what they are eating. This control and care mean she is better able to avoid any potential disease from being fed silage that could contain clostridia spores.
With the dairy only a few kilometres away and her herd grazing in paddocks in the immediate vicinity, Ferial believes the tight control she has over the supply chain of milk for her cheese factory is key in maintaining the consistency of cheese quality.
Whilst her one herd supply is highly successful and will continue, she does have plans for further expansion and a strategy in place towards obtaining more milk from dairies whose practices align with the quality of what she is currently using from her own farm.
Ferial completed a dairy farm management course but, recognising her expertise and interest was more in the cheese-making side of the business, she sought a full-time farm manager for the dairy to ensure she continued to get the results her cheesemaking business requires.
Ferial uses her background and professional knowledge as a pharmacist to bring a scientific rigour to her cheese production, mixed beautifully with her artisan touch and creative flair.
The business has a small, stable, loyal team, with 14 permanent staff and additional casual team members at peak times of the year. The loyalty runs deep with one employee, her factory manager who is born and bred in Maffra, walking side by side with her as the business has grown over the last 20 years.
She personally trains all her staff to ensure her high quality can be achieved at all times, and with a mix of nationalities in each production room of the busy factory, there is definitely a hard working “family” culture in place.
Ferial strives for perfection and the results can be seen in her products. Maffra cheese creates a diverse range of cheese beyond their renowned cheddar, including soft and blue cheese.
Maffra Cheese Co. was selling some of their range to large retailers such as Coles but are limited in the amount of cheese they can produce due to the single herd principles, so have moved towards direct sales to restaurants and consumers.
Prior to covid-19, they had started online sales of their cheeses which has allowed them to manage the impacts of the global pandemic, and Ferial has recently been adding equipment to increase capacity and packaging options.
It appears that the town of Maffra, in Gippsland’s Wellington Shire, see Ferial as a leader, recently asking her to run in the local council election.
However Ferial, in her quiet, determined way, appears to be more focused on letting her quality cheeses do the speaking and striving for perfection in a region renowned for its dairy farming history.