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Victorian Guide — Reconnecting producers and consumers

An Introduction to Artisan Dairy

Thursday, May 9, 2013 — Skills and Knowledge

Pierre Issa, the man behind Pepe Saya’s hand-rolled, hand-cut butter. Photo courtesy of Pepe Saya.

From the fertile pastures of the South Coast, up to the North Coast and sweeping across the inland regions, New South Wales dairy farmers are keeping up with the demand for one of Australia’s favourite every day essentials: milk. Food writer Emiko Davies delves deeper.

We have milk with our breakfast cereal, use it in our ritual morning and afternoon tea and coffees, we use it for baking, cooking and drinking. While there is much to be said about milk itself, good quality milk and cream is also the starting point for those other favourite dairy products such as cheese, butter, yoghurt and ice cream, which are seeing a revival in carefully and passionately handcrafted, artisan forms.

Milk production has been one of the most important farming practices in Australia since European settlement, when it was initially butter and cheese that was the focus of the early industry. With technological advances like refrigeration, pasteurisation and faster transport links such as the railway, farm fresh milk itself rapidly became a more important product for the growing markets of cities like Sydney in the first decades of the 1900s. In those early days, Sydney’s milk was partly provided by farmers based in the South Coast and the Hunter Valley, but roughly 40 per cent of the city’s milk came from dairies set up within the metropolitan area itself for fresh milk that was delivered right to the customer’s door step.

The South Coast is blessed not only with beautiful vistas and long sandy beaches but also with fertile, rich pastures, which has long made it a traditional dairy farming area. South Coast Dairy, based in Berry, can trace its roots back to 1895, when it was the Berry Central Creamery, a cream and butter manufacturer. Milk for the Sydney market came onto the scene in 1913 and has been the focus ever since. Today’s boutique venture is a cooperative of passionate dairy farmers. With milk from Fresian, Jersey and Red Australian Illawarra herds, this is country goodness at its best – the consistent awards won for their fresh milk are testament to its exceptional quality and taste.

Country Valley Milk is run by John and Sally Fairley in Picton, just south of Sydney. The Fairley family has an impressive history of dairy farming in the area. With a herd of Fresian and Jersey cross cows, John and Sally now run the dairy that was started over fifty years ago by John’s grandfather, father and uncle. With a minimal amount of transport and processing involved as the herd and milk processing plant are on the same site, they produce award-winning, farm fresh milk, yoghurt and cream, while their line of organic milk comes from certified organic farms in the Southern Highlands areas of Moss Vale and Nowra.

Country Valley’s acclaimed cream is a favourite product of Pierre Issa, the “cultured butter king” behind Pepe Saya Butter in Sydney’s Tempe. Cultured for two weeks, churned, salted with Australian Murray river and Olsson’s fine pacific salt and then hand-shaped, the fresh Country Valley cream is transformed into a unique, luscious and flavoursome butter that make the likes of chef Neil Perry say they won’t cook with anything else. Pepe Saya hand-rolled, hand-cut butter has also been nabbed by Qantas First Class to serve to its passengers.

With our warm climate, long summers and abundant, delicious milk and cream, Australians are one of the world’s greatest eaters of ice cream. Luckily for the people of New South Wales there is no shortage of excellent artisan ice cream or gelato, particularly in Sydney.

Handbaked, handmade, good old fashioned ice cream sandwiches are the order of the day at Pat & Stick’s Homemade Ice Cream Co. Pat Monnot and Stick Seach, the duo behind this small, local company, pretty much make everything from the cookie dough to the ice cream and then assemble the ice cream sandwiches themselves in their production facility in Sydney’s Tempe. Classic flavours like the Vanilla Lace (real vanilla bean ice cream with an oat and almond lace cookie), Double Choc (chocolate cookie with chocolate ice cream) and Peppermint Choc Chip (real peppermint ice cream sandwiched between Belgian choc chip cookies) are just part of the tempting range.

One of NSW’s most notable ice cream producers is Serendipity Ice Cream, based in the Sydney suburb of Marrickville. Sweeping up awards from delicious. magazine and the Sydney Royal Cheese and Dairy show, amongst others, Serendipity’s preservative free and carbon neutral ice cream, gelato and frozen yoghurt cover  an impressive variety of flavours that caters to everyone’s tastes. The Serendipity family business began in 1966 with current owner Sarah Mandelson’s mother, Alix Mandelson – a pioneer of the gourmet ice cream industry in Australia. Known for making daring and original flavours such as durian, halva, lamington and wattleseed, Serendipity ice cream is still made in small batches with real, natural ingredients, such as fresh fruit and fresh cream.

Meanwhile, Sublime Gelato, also Sydney-based, specialises in handmade Italian gelato and sorbet. Traditional family recipes, fresh ingredients and a production in small batches set their artisan gelato apart. Founders Rocky Lopresti and Steve Vincentini pride themselves on the artisan nature of their business and use of the freshest natural ingredients that go into making their delicious products – the caramelised figs for their gelato, for example, are made inhouse according to their own secret recipe. Their classic pistachio gelato is one of the best, but they also have a range of creative and tantalising flavour combinations such as strawberry and balsamic, black forest and ginger, chilli and coconut. For the adventurous and the curious, there’s even Bananamite gelato – yes, that would be the combination of those two favourite Aussie ingredients, banana and Vegemite.

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Emiko Davies is a food writer and photographer who, after spending seven years in Tuscany, is now based in Melbourne with her sommelier husband. She has contributed her food knowledge and keen eye to publications such as The Canberra Times, Maeve Magazine and Australia’s first magazine dedicated to cheese, The Cheese Mag, and she eats her way through restaurants and cafes for some leading food guides. She has a thing for historical cookbooks, regional Italian cuisine and sustainable, good food. Follow her on Twitter @emikodavies or on her blog at emikodavies.com

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