"It was a big shock coming to Australia, especially at 15. You leave all your friends behind and you don’t know a word of English. And in 1972, Australia was still very anti-migrant. We didn’t have the cultural diversity that we have now."
"Making cheese is always a challenge, especially when you get milk from one single farm as we do. As the season changes, your milk changes, and you’ve got to make little adjustments. That only comes from experience."
It’s been more than fifty years since Guaraci (‘Archie’) Matteo first came to Australia.
Born in Brazil to an Italian family, Archie moved to Melbourne at the age of 15, where he finished school before spending six years in the Army. That may seem like an unlikely beginning for the man who is now co-owner of Tasmania’s Westhaven specialty dairy — until you learn that Archie is also a fifth-generation cheesemaker.
“When I came out of the Australian Army, I didn’t want to get into the cheesemaking business, but I was thinking it runs in the blood,” he says. “I did my formal education at the Gilbert Chandler Institute of Dairy Technology, which is now part of the University of Melbourne. I got my diploma and started my own company in Yea, in Victoria. We were the first commercial goat cheese manufacturers in Australia, back when goats were still considered vermin.”
After several years running the business in Yea, Archie decided it was time for a change of scenery, and there are few places better for a cheesemaker than Tasmania — home to some of the world’s happiest cows.
Archie initially took on a role with Tasmanian Gourmet Cheeses before going on to co-found Westhaven Dairy. A few years later, he left Westhaven and founded Tamar Valley Dairy, before then moving on again to establish himself as a dairy consultant.
However, when the opportunity came up in 2020 to return to Westhaven as co-owner, working alongside his friend and long-time professional acquaintance Sean Kay, Archie found himself unable to say no.
“We’ve known each other for around 30 years,” says Sean, who is Westhaven’s co-owner and Sales Director. “The business didn’t have a shareholder or an owner who knew how to make cheese or yoghurt. I certainly don’t know how to make cheese or yoghurt; my focus is on sales which has been my background for the past 30 years. I realised we needed someone with those skills and experience. Archie was consulting for us on equipment upgrades, but the opportunity came up for him to buy in and he took it.”
Based in the Tamar Valley, Westhaven produces a delicious range of cheeses and yoghurts using cow’s milk and fruit from Tasmanian farmers. Under Sean and Archie’s leadership, the company has cemented its reputation as a producer of high quality, specialty dairy products that are stocked in independent grocery stores and major supermarkets across Tasmania, as well as exported to Hong Kong. It seems that when you start with beautiful, rich Tasmanian milk and then bring in Archie’s years of cheesemaking experience, it’s a winning combination.
“Making cheese is always a challenge, especially when you get milk from one single farm as we do,” says Archie. “The challenge is to get the right flavour and the right texture so the customer is happy with it and you’re consistently providing a quality product. As the season changes, your milk changes, and you’ve got to make little adjustments. You’re dealing with bacteria and they seem to have their own mind: sometimes they speed up, sometimes they slow down, so you need to be prepared for that. It’s not just about adding the ingredients together and they come out okay in the end. You’ve got to play with them, and that only comes from experience.”
Part of Archie’s job is education and training — trying to impart some of that knowledge and experience to the next generation of cheesemakers. But another aspect of life in the dairy industry is embracing innovation and change.
It was a big shock coming to Australia, especially at 15. You leave all your friends behind and you don’t know a word of English. You’ve got to assimilate and learn the language; you have to make new friends which is very hard if you don’t know the language. And in 1972, Australia was still very anti-migrant. We didn’t have the cultural diversity that we have now.
Westhaven’s popular Omega 3 Yoghurt is the world’s first naturally produced Omega 3 yoghurt, developed in collaboration with Ringarooma dairy farmer Geoff Cox, and Australia’s national science agency the CSIRO.
“The farm developed a special cow feed together with the CSIRO,” explains Sean. “It means the cows produce milk that is rich in Omega-3 and has all those health benefits, and then we produce yoghurt with the milk. All the other yoghurts on the market that have high levels of Omega 3 achieve that by fortification, and sometimes you get that funny fishy taste, which ours doesn't have. It’s really started to gain traction recently, especially in the kids lunchbox pouches, and it’s a product that we get a lot of interest in for export.”
It took more than 20 years of research — adjusting and tasting and refining — for the Omega 3 milk to make it from concept to market. That’s a perfect illustration of how Tasmania’s dairy industry works: take a high-quality base product, be patient, and work hard until you find the sweet spot.
It’s also a perfect metaphor for Guaraci’s life journey, and how he finally ended up in the place he was supposed to be.
“It was a big shock coming to Australia,” he says. “Especially at 15. You leave all your friends behind and you don’t know a word of English. You’ve got to assimilate and learn the language; you have to make new friends which is very hard if you don’t know the language. And in 1972, Australia was still very anti-migrant. We didn’t have the cultural diversity that we have now.”
“I've always been a loner,” he concludes. “I don't like crowds, I don't like big parties. Tasmania just suits me right down to the ground. I lived in Melbourne, I lived in Sydney and Townsville, but it's too many people, too much traffic. And Tasmania's beautiful. I reckon it's one of the best states in Australia.”
Archie is featured in partnership with our friends in the Department of State Growth Tasmanian Trade team.