Born and bred in Normandy – the home of camembert – Valerie Henbest came to Australia nearly 25 years ago.
In the early days, it was a case of two cultures colliding with surprises and frustration alternating on a daily basis. Bringing the best of both worlds together became a prime motivation and with very little hesitation, Henbest decided to take her destiny into her own hands and worked towards making sure she would get one of the things that she missed the most: le Fromage!
She naturally started to select a range of her favourite cheeses and put together a new importing business involving air and sea-freight landing regularly in Australia. The focus was on smaller French producers and strong relationships have been developed over many years with frequent visits to various regions of France. Henbest has also facilitated reciprocal visits to Australia, enabling French producers to showcase their cheeses here.
Many French cheeses are managed by an affineur, an expert who matures or ages cheese. Many French fine cheese stores combine retail and affinage. Prompted by the desire to deliver cheese to the Australian consumers exactly the way their producers intended, Henbest kept pushing the art of affinage and became instrumental in creating one of Australia’s first high-tech caves to properly store and care for naturally rinded cheeses such as comte, beaufort, or abondance.
Henbest now oversees the import of more than 10 tons of French cheeses per month, distributing Australia-wide as well as selling it at the iconic Smelly Cheese Shop in the famous Adelaide Central Market.
She is also extremely passionate about the art of tasting and appreciating cheese and has been asked to judge in some of the most important dairy shows in Australia, such as the Australian Grand Dairy Awards in Melbourne, the Royal Sydney Show and Cheese Fest in Adelaide. In recent years Henbest has also focused more intensely on the education aspect of her work and has created a series of cheese classes that she now conducts around Australia.
Utilising recent technology, many of these events now feature real-time link-ups with French cheese, wine and champagne makers, allowing class participants the amazing experience of (almost) face-to-face interaction with these very special producers.
Henbest had the great privilege to lead the first ‘Australian’ team at the Caseus Award (world cheese competition) in Lyon, returning with an impressive eighth place finish ahead of the Belgian, Spanish and Italian teams! She is always heavily involved in local Bastille Day celebrations and has presented some imaginative and wonderful events over the years. These have not only been fun for all involved but used as an opportunity to increase Australian awareness of French culture.
For example, in collaboration with the local French Teachers Association Henbest has conducted art competitions for school students, French classical composers have been featured in events including State Opera of South Australia (SOSA) and Henbest was the creator of the ‘Le Salon’ – a hugely successful show presented in conjunction with the Adelaide Festival Centre.
One spectacular success was the flash mob production of ‘Les Miserables’, an event Henbest presented in partnership with SOSA and held at the Adelaide Central Market to the delight of shoppers in 2018.