THE GREAT ESCAPE
From South Melbourne’s rat race to the ‘ only hill’ in Tarrawingee, the Jacka family are living the dream and producing award winning goats cheese on their farm.
Swapping their South Melbourne terrace for an 1852 farmhouse at Tarrawingee has allowed
Melissa Jacka and her family to farm goats and make award winning cheese
A BUSINESS idea to create cheese from goats’ milk, born from a desire for fine food and a love for the North East, brought a family of four from South Melbourne to a property in Tarrawingee that “has the only hill”.
Melissa and Donovan Jacka, with their two children Mackenzie and Harvey, made their life changing move in 2013, with their beautiful property now evolved into a goat farm with ‘personality’.
Their historic farmhouse is quite cpativating. The house was built in 1852, accompanied by an old storage and cellar that’s even older - 1840. The latter now renovated, and operating as their cheese factory.
Its solid sandstone structure doesn’t show the wear of time, rather it oozes the nostalgia of an era connecting to the very essence of Melissa and Donovan’s business name, ‘ Tolpuddle’.
The Tolpuddle Martyrs were a group of 19th century Dorset agricultural labourers who started a Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers to fight for better wages and conditions.
At the time, friendly societies had strong elements of what are now considered to be the predominant role of trade unions.
The story resonated with the Jackas as they’ve both spent time working in the union movement and Tolpuddle gave meaning to their new adventure.
“It’s certainly different being here with this amount of space around, compared to a terrace house in South Melbourne,” Melissa said with a laugh.
“With us really being into food and with weekend getaways we were always attracted to this region, with the abundance of produce and restaurants, wine, craft beer; it’s a beautiful part of the world.”
They were a fraction hesitant on the move in the beginning, with the house needing too much work, but the history drew them in.
“We walked through the house and I think I saw large cracks in the walls, and having just done a terrace renovation we said nah, we don’t want to do that again,” Melissa said. “But we walked into the external building (the cheese factory) and our jaws just dropped.”
The space was perfect to age cheeses from a cellar – a practice that emulates the way cheeses are traditionally aged in Europe, rather than commercial fridges so often seen these days.
The idea was born when their daughter Mackenzie was very young. A birthday gift for Melissa was a cheese making session. “What we made was fantastic and the idea grew with weekend getaways of a different kind of life,” Melissa said with a look of contentment.“The ultimate decision was that life in Melbourne was getting far too busy and our careers were pulling us away from the kids and we wanted to create a better life for the family.”
Enter the goats. Melissa refers to them as “the employees”, each of the 60 has a name and they are “lovely animals” in her eyes.“They are really great company, they bond really well with you and they’re easy to handle.”
Although their origins are from the city, Melissa and Donovan’s knowledge about farming quickly grew.
They built a network of support from people in the same industry as part of their research and planning about how they do it on a small scale.
Tolpuddle has only a third of the herd milking at the moment and the ambition is to breed up to a milking herd of 60-80.
“Our main objective is to have a direct relationship with our customers, so if we can create an environment where people who love cheese, goats cheese, can learn about it directly as a pasture to plate produce, come here and see how and where it’s done, taste it, buy it, and we’d love to do some farm stay accommodation,” Melissa said. >>
“We’ve got the only hill in Tarrawingee so the idea of having a sustainable, small scale model of farming and expanding on the experience and tourism in the region, would be to offer people a place to visit and get involved in it as they want to.”
There is more symbolism in the names of the goats, with the first lot named after the matriarchs of Melissa and Donovan’s family.
They’ve got a pecking order based on their hierarchy and coincidently, Vera, named after Melissa’s grandmother, is the number one goat and she leads the way in the pecking order at meal or milking time.
The ‘employees’ get the rights humans would get, with maternity leave, which also gives the Jackas a chance to get away and go skiing in the middle of winter.
“They get a couple of months off milking because pregnancy and the 150 day gestation period put a strain on their body,” Melissa said.
When a kid is born they stay with the mother for four days to get the vital colostrum, then they go under the care of an alpaca for three months.
Two alpacas stand guard over the kids, dynamically named as Crackerjack and Iron Lotus, the custodians that constantly conduct head counts over their herd.
“As soon as the kids are born the alpacas go straight over and they sniff and they lick,” Melissa said. “When the kids are moved to a different paddock the alpacas could be 200 metres away, but they charge down and beat the goats and kids through the gate, do three laps of the new paddock and position themselves in the middle, scanning for about an hour or so.”
Milking is done once a day at 5.30am through a bucket system and eight girls are loaded at a time where they get a mixed ration of a grain and nutrients to feed on.
Melissa explained that it’s vital to get the protein correct in the feed, so it translates to the right protein, fat ratio which has a dramatic impact on the cheese making process.
‘ WE’VE GOT THE
ONLY HILL IN TARRAWINGEE SO THE IDEA OF HAVING
A SUSTAINABLE, SMALL SCALE MODEL OF FARMING AND EXPANDING ON THE EXPERIENCE AND TOURISM IN THE REGION, WOULD BE TO OFFER PEOPLE A PLACE TO VISIT AND GET INVOLVED IN IT AS THEY WANT TO.’
The milk then goes directly from the dairy to the cheese factory, less than a stone’s throw away, where it is pasteurised.
If a prestigious Sydney Show award is anything to go by they’re on the right track, having won a gold medal for their milk earlier this year.
“We don’t chill it down or heat it up - we’re doing the least we can to the milk so you get the best flavour in the cheeses,” said Melissa.
There are three streams to the product range – fresh, mature and semi-hard cheeses – with some using local produce such as saffron grown in Peechelba.
The goats and kids are part of the family, and one - Vera’s daughter Stellar - is best friends with their pet dog Chevre (meaning goat cheese in French).
“Stellar thinks she’s a dog, I think,” Melissa chuckled, “We often find them both sitting at the step and scratching at the door to come in.”
The Jackas’ realisation of plans to connect with their customers more are on the horizon, with farm gate sales starting out of their beloved courthouse building next year.
From there they will work towards the farm and stay idea in the future. And next year they’ll offer sales from the farm gate and the Jackas are hoping to establish the farm and try experience after that.