The latest recipients of the annual award for outstanding contribution to gastronomy in South Australia goes to Valerie Henbest and Peter Heaney.
Valerie Henbest and Peter Heaney have been quietly revolutionising the cheese drawers of Australia as well as the way people think about their food for years. There isn’t a single person in Adelaide who has the willpower to walk past Smelly Cheese Shop, Dough or Say Cheese without at least sticking their head in for “just a quick look”. Often, it translates to a basket of things you never knew you needed until Henbest convinces you otherwise.
What started as a small shop front for Heaney soon took on a life of its own after meeting Henbest . There was no master plan to build a web of businesses that now employ more than 100 people and import tons of cheese a fortnight. Say Cheese was Heaney’s original shopfront that soon expanded to also encompass The Smelly Cheese Shop, Dough, Market St Cafe, Cheese Co, and a wholesale business that operates both locally and interstate.
When they aren’t busy shipping cheese around the country, Henbest is off scouring the globe looking for new and exciting things to bring home. Home, however, isn’t just a cupboard stacked with cheese. Instead, it’s tucked away in the country’s best maturing room where it’s kept under the care of affineur, Sam. Their businesses and their cheeses have become staples in the lives of people around the country because of this perfect knack for attention to detail.
Henbest and Heaney don’t so much buy and sell produce as they do curate a beautiful collection of things they want to share with you. It isn’t just some of Adelaide’s best bread or the country’s best cheese that makes them so valuable to Adelaide’s food community, but also their passion for sharing their knowledge. Henbest ’s masterclasses have become legendary; they’re all encompassing and never condescending.
It’s not just in their classes though that they’re imparting knowledge. Henbest and Heaney believe in investing in people as much as their product. They work constantly to find new and exciting products for keen chefs, arrange staff swaps with Herve Mons, whip new connections into life-long friendships with small scale farmers, and treat their ever growing network of staff as investments rather than numbers.
Their most valuable contribution however would have to be their tireless promotion of producers and provenance. The respect Henbest and Heaney have for the farmers they work with is a rarity. Henbest’s eyes light up most when she’s talking to you about the grass on mountain where a Comte comes from or how many times a producer has to trek up a cliff face to get the best goat’s milk.
The glamour of consumption often outweighs the reality of production, but Henbest and Heaney have found a way to make it pivotal to enjoying their goods. Caring about the production of food is going to be one of the biggest factors towards making the way we eat more ethical. There is no doubt that Henbest and Heaney, intentional or not, will have made no small impact in helping people to make the best choices they can.