James Harris: A 50-year legacy of dairy excellence at Fonterra Stanhope


In 1972, a young James Harris embarked on his journey at Fonterra Australia’s Stanhope site, igniting a lifelong passion for dairy. Now, after half a century of dedication, James prepares to clock out of the Stanhope site for the very last time. 

James’ career began as a laboratory technician when workplaces were more informal and quality standards not to the level they are today. James even recalls queuing up to get his cash pay packet delivered through an office window.

Two years later, James was determined to excel in dairy and pursued a three-year diploma at the Gilbert Chandler Institute in Dairy Technology. 

His new qualifications unlocked pathways to a myriad of roles, including cheese production manager, safety manager, laboratory manager, site supervisor, cheese quality co-ordinator, site quality supervisor and cheesemaker.

During his tenure, James witnessed many changes in the evolution of cheese making, transitioning from manual processes like small open vats, hand cutting and salting, to computerised vats and automated cheese formers. He also experienced significant site expansions, the introduction of new products, the challenging events of the 2014 factory fire, and the subsequent rebuild, transforming the site into a state-of-the-art cheese plant. 

Today, James is a professional cheese grader, meticulously ensuring the quality of every batch of cheese. According to James, if it’s not up to scratch, it doesn’t leave the site.

“On busy days, I may check up to 200 cheese samples, assessing consistency and physical qualities, evaluate smell and conduct taste tests" explains James.

Fonterra Australia’s Stanhope site has a fully equipped test kitchen, complete with a commercial pizza oven.

“When grading mozzarella, we utilise the purpose-built pizza oven to assess cheese qualities such as meltability, blistering and stretch," said James.

On busy days, I may check up to 200 cheese samples, assessing consistency and physical qualities, evaluate smell and conduct taste tests.

James Harris, Cheese grader, fonterra stanhope

Fonterra Stanhope Site Manager, Tammy Robichaud, expressed pride in Stanhope’s dedicated team members with long-standing tenures.

“It truly showcases the exceptional workplace environment we have at Fonterra Australia, and the extensive dairy expertise among our team,” she said.

“Since day one, the Stanhope factory has been renowned for its award-winning cheese. What is incredible is the consistency and quality of the products that we make here has remained throughout the years.

“This is a testament to passionate people like James, who impart their skills and knowledge to future generations.

“While James’s retirement will mark the end of an era, and he will be missed, we wish him all the best for his next chapter,” said Tammy.