The news that Frank Martley died suddenly on 11th January came as a great shock to all who knew and worked with him over the years. Frank was passionate about cheese, its microbiology and its manufacture. He was a tenacious problem-solver who never let an issue go unanswered. He inspired those he worked with and his enthusiasm was infectious.

Frank began his career in dairy research in 1965 at the NZ Dairy Research Institute (as it was then). Within a few years he had enrolled for a PhD at Massey, working on the effect of starter and other bacteria on cheddar cheese flavour.

After graduation in 1972, Frank and his wife Trish spent a year in South Africa, and then a subsequent year with the dairy group at Jouy-en-Josas in France. It was there that he developed his fascination for the soft and the hard cheeses of Europe.
Britain had just joined the European Economic Community in 1973 and NZ was interested in diversifying its dairy products. So, when the Martleys returned to the NZDRI in 1974 Frank began to look seriously at the possibility of Camembert manufacture in NZ.

Frank relished the challenges that the Camembert project brought him. In those days researchers did everything for themselves. In his case it was getting the right equipment, planning the cheesemaking trials as well as developing the packaging and the initial marketing from scratch.

As the result, the project progressed and the French “art” was turned into a science with defined cultures and careful experimental work. The NZDRI was soon supplying Camembert to selected local and other outlets. Staff sales of the experimental cheeses were a great hit.

In 1980 the growing demand was met when commercial production began at the East Tamaki Dairy Company.

This experience with new product development served as a springboard for subsequent work on other traditional cheeses and as well as for developing novel cheese varieties. What could be more novel than experimenting with Goat and Sheep milk cheeses? Frank was so captured by the potential of these new products that he decided to start a goat herd himself at his small farmlet on the outskirts of Palmerston North. He worked with considerable enthusiasm with Kapiti Cheese in those early days to try and establish new speciality cheese varieties ultimately for NZ consumers.

There were many challenges for Frank in the world of cheese. Two that stand out were the microbiological issues associated with manufacturing Emmentaler cheese with NZ’s seasonal milk, and the understanding of the reasons for coloured surfaces on Parmesan and Cheddar cheeses.

Frank knew his cheese well, and was a highly valued expert judge at the NZ Cheese awards since its inception, Frank’s work and promotion of French cheeses was recognised by the Federation of Alliances Francaises of New Zealand when 3 years ago they awarded Frank the prestigious John Dunmore Medal.

What makes a top researcher? Many of the necessary attributes could be seen in Frank. He was always asking questions, and working out testable ways of finding answers. Concentration & perseverance were also qualities that Frank had in abundance. The harder the problem, the harder Frank worked and the more determined he became to solve it. Frank was not to be sidetracked!

Frank didn’t like putting things in boxes. He believed artificial boundaries inhibited creative thinking. He wasn’t happy until he could see the biggest picture. He was continually networking and drawing in anyone who may have been able to provide an insight, an angle, or a useful perspective for the work in hand.

Frank was always willing to share his knowledge in teaching and coaching others. This was a role he took very seriously and he clearly enjoyed it very much. His lectures on the importance of microbiology to the business and the cost of failure always had the most up to date illustrations to keep his material fresh and relevant. He got a lot of satisfaction from talks that he felt made an impact. Similarly with his correspondence. He wrote clearly and spelt things out as he saw them. He hated waffle. You always knew where you were with Frank.

Frank was passionate about cheese and it showed! He would talk with the same enthusiasm with everyone, regardless of whether they were technical staff, students, cheesemakers or visiting world experts.

Frank’s wide ranging industry experience made him a superb forensic microbiologist and he was always ready to share his knowledge. A strength was his ability to make links between seemingly quite unrelated areas. Who but Frank would see parallels between the flawed initial investigations of the July 2000 Concorde crash at the Paris air show and his experience in solving “not so straightforward” problems in cheese plants?

Frank has left a considerable legacy to dairy microbiology in general and to Fonterra and the NZ Cheese Industry in particular. Frank was a good friend and colleague who will be sadly missed.


Media release – 11 Jan 2007

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