Cheese is a major product for the Australian dairy industry, with more than a third of the country's milk production going into the production of various cheeses.
Australia produced approximately 371,000 tonnes of cheese in 2019–20, down 3% from the previous year.
This is close to the production volumes of the early to mid-2000s. A significant factor affecting production volumes in more recent years has been dairy companies adjusting export product mixes to take advantage of favourable movement in international commodity prices. This tends to result in increased cheese production when international price trends made it an attractive stream for revenue, which it has been for the last few years.
In 2019/20 Australia exported close to 158,000 tonnes of cheese, worth approximately $995 million. Australia is also a major importer of cheese and over the past ten years imports have grown more than 30%. Imports from New Zealand totalled almost 44,000 tonnes, with the European Union and United States largely accounting for the balance.
There has been a long-term trend in production away from cheddar cheeses and towards non-cheddar cheese types. The non-cheddar share of total production volumes has steadily increased from 30% three decades ago, to 47% in 2019-20.
Australian cheese was exported to 55 countries around the world last year. Japan continues to be Australia’s most important overseas cheese market and accounted for around 49% of cheese exports in 2019/20. Most of this cheese is fresh or cream cheese varieties for processing. Other important overseas markets include Greater China, Malaysia, South Korea, the Philippines and Singapore.
The long-term trend away from cheddar cheeses and toward non-cheddar varieties is also evident in Australia’s cheese exports, with the non-cheddar share of total export sales steadily increasing from around 60% two decades ago, to close to 79% in 2019-20.
Casein and whey
Whey is a by-product of the cheese making process which has traditionally been disposed of in liquid form. However, recognition of the value of whey’s components and properties has led to a variety of uses.
Food-grade whey powder is used in the manufacture of ice-cream, bakery products (cakes, biscuits), chocolate flavouring, infant formula, yoghurt, beverages and processed meat. Industrial uses include animal feed (for pigs, horses and poultry), calf milk replacer and even as a carrier for herbicides.
Whey protein concentrates are used in snack foods, juices, confectionery, ice cream, biscuits, processed meats, (milk) protein drinks, desserts, infant foods and dietetic products. Products such as cosmetics, skin creams, bath salts and detergents also contain protein concentrates.
In Australia, whey is also used domestically in the manufacture of infant formula, biscuits and ice cream. The remainder is exported, with Indonesia, Greater China, Malaysia, Thailand and Japan being the largest export markets for Australian whey powders in 2019–20.
Casein is the main protein found in milk and an essential ingredient in cheese. Casein and caseinates (derivatives from casein) are used as binding ingredients, emulsifiers and milk substitutes in processed foods, such as noodles, chocolate, sweets, mayonnaise, ice cream and cheese manufacture.
Industrial uses of casein and caseinates includes plastics (buttons, knitting needles); the manufacture of synthetic fibres and chemicals (plants, glues, glazed paper, putty and cosmetics); a nutritional supplement and binder in calf milk replacers; and a range of other technical applications.
Australia is no longer a significant producer of casein and imports the vast majority of its requirements. Imports are mainly from New Zealand, which makes up approximately 60% of the total volume, with the balance from Europe and the United States in 2019–20.