Say Cheese

The story behind the making of Tilba Real Dairy, its creamy milk and delectable cheeses.
Tilba Real Dairy cheese board

Soft cheeses, delicious pot set yoghurt, milk from Jersey cows: it’s no wonder that visitors to Tilba love a detour to the ABC Cheese Factory – home to Tilba Real Dairy’s production factory and retail store.

When Erica Dibden and her husband Nic bought the historic building in 2012, the interior offered what’s most politely known as a ‘blank canvas’:
“There was nothing in it except for one wax pot and the retail shop,” says Erica.

The couple, who had been working in the Eurobodalla’s dairy industry since 1998, decided this was the perfect chance to re-start the town’s cheese manufacturing and put in cheese making and milk bottling equipment.
“We began putting milk back into the bottle and making yummy cheeses,” says Erica.

Their award-winning business now produces about 60 tonnes of cheese and 1 million litres of milk a year.
“For a little business it’s quite a lot,” admits Erica.

Erica and Nic recently bought the building next door to the Cheese Factory, so they can expand the food production arm of Tilba Real Dairy. Visitors love peeking at the production process (best views are 9-12 on Mondays and Wednesdays), but probably don’t realise how big an undertaking the expansion has been:
“Food production needs a certain grade of flooring so the building needed to be stripped, trowelled and finished with a non-slip floor. It’s now ready for the German-made manufacturing equipment to be rolled in,” says Erica

While dairy farming was in Nic’s blood, for Erica, who was raised in nearby Bermagui, her passion for their business entities came through her love of wholefood.
“I like to feed my family food that nourishes them,” she says.

This “naturally busy” person discovered cheesemaking offers plenty of moments of serenity.
“It’s like alchemy in the vat. It’s quite therapeutic. While there are times of busyness in the process, there are times to let it unfold. It feels quite timeless,” she says.

In the national trust village of Tilba, where a portion of old weatherboard houses feature gabled rooftops and beautiful fascia, the historic cheese factory is easily recognisable.

The village of Central Tilba

“It’s a sturdy, robust, unbreakable building that is very unusual in its squareness. It’s not a particularly beautiful building but it’s important in its own right,” Erica says.

For Erica, Tilba has been a wonderful place to be during the COVID pandemic. What’s more, the many new residents who have arrived in the last 12 months (part of a broader trend of city dwellers moving to coastal regions) have only added to the “rich tapestry” Erica enjoys.
“Even in times of great separation across the globe there is great acceptance in this town. I love the community here. Not because we all get together every week – it’s more that it’s an eclectic group of very diverse individuals who seem to work together,” she says.

Erica Dibden, Tilba Real Dairy

Her own experience working for decades in a family business has had its own rich tapestry. She describes herself and Nic as being “like fire and ice – he’s the calm one, I’m always grabbing at opportunities. Maybe it’s more like oak and the bamboo,” she laughs.

Between them, Erica and Nic have six children, aged 19 through 27 years. Although all have worked in the business over the years, none have yet expressed an interest in taking over down the track.
“It would be absolutely wonderful if the kids wanted to take over an aspect of the business, but they need their lives too. Still, you never know,” she says.

Gulaga Mountain
Erica’s top five things to do in Eurobodalla
  1. Walking up Gulaga: It’s a very spiritual mountain and well worth the effort.”
  2. Pushbike riding: I’m an ebike fan – I ride up Gulaga mountain but you can also ride to Bermagui, on the new bike track being built in Narooma or even Dalmeny to Narooma – there are so many great rides here.”
  3. Beaches, beaches, beaches: “We have some of the most pristine beaches out there. Mystery Bay is a favourite.”
  4. Camping: “Beachside camp near Moruya airport is fantastic.”
  5. Coming to Tilba! “You can easily spend a day in Tilba. Of course, everyone that visits comes to the Cheese Factory.”