“The whole idea of sheep milk cheese was our big­gest hur­dle.”

NZ Lifestyle Block - - Feature -

But be­fore they could get any­thing un­der­way, they sat down to have a read through the very im­pos­ing rule book on cheese man­u­fac­tur­ing in NZ.

“There were about 500 pages of Min­istry of Pri­mary In­dus­tries (MPI) reg­u­la­tions to go through, and the cost struc­ture was all set up for big com­pa­nies,” says Kirsty. “It was a moun­tain of ma­te­rial to read through but I knew that if I didn’t do it then it would never get done, so I just got on with it.”

While Kirsty tack­led the pa­per­work (see page 23 for more), Dave was busy de­sign­ing and build­ing what is now their Mark 1 milk­ing plat­form, and con­vert­ing an old sta­ble into a modern cheese­mak­ing room that met the strict stan­dards and reg­u­la­tions.

It was 2015 by the time they fi­nally con­quered the pa­per­work, wrote up their Risk Man­age­ment Plan, and could be­gin mak­ing cheese to sell.

“In our first sea­son, two-thirds of the cheese I made, we gave away,” says Kirsty. “But we re­alised our idea was work­able, so we de­cided to buy some Poll Dorset ewes and some East Friesian rams to build up our milk­ing flock.”

The cou­ple now sell their cheeses on­line, at the lo­cal farmer’s mar­ket, and through a few cheese stores (see page 24).

When Kirsty is not busy mak­ing cheese, she runs work­shops teach­ing oth­ers how to do it. The cour­ses, which she tries to run once a month, have proven pop­u­lar and fill up fast.

“One course, we did a farm­house-type cheese… and one of the hus­band and wife teams, when they got home they lov­ingly washed it in whiskey, I don’t know for how long, so I’m wait­ing to get an in­vite to taste that. I saw it a cou­ple of weeks later and it smelt ab­so­lutely beau­ti­ful. It’s quite fun to play round like that.”

Wild Bush Cheese has now ex­pand­eded to keep up with de­mand. As sales grew, Kirsty and Dave re­alised they needed more land and a larger milk­ing shed. In 2016 they pur­chased another block not far from where they live. It has in­creased their graz­ing land to 7ha in to­tal, and given them room to build a much-needed Mark 2 milk­ing shed.

“We kept the cheese fac­tory here, but we do our milk­ing at our new site which is a lot big­ger,” says Kirsty.

Their farm is small by lo­cal stan­dards, where a typ­i­cal prop­erty has thou­sands of stock, but the com­mu­nity has been very sup­port­ive.

“Just the whole idea of sheep milk cheese was our big­gest hur­dle,” says Kirsty. “In places like Dan­nevirke, peo­ple that have farmed sheep and beef for years, they don’t drink sheep milk and they don’t want to eat sheep milk cheese. The older farm­ers, the men, are the hard­est to sell to, so that was our big­gest thing when we first started.

“But now, peo­ple say ‘oh! Sheep milk, yes, I want to try that!’

“I think we were at ex­actly the right time when the tide was chang­ing. I’ve kept our range very min­i­mal, I only do feta, hal­loumi and the pecorino and that’s enough. Peo­ple won­der why we do feta, but it sells be­cause peo­ple like it.

“To be hon­est, it’s the most sim­ple cheese for me to do too – it’s kind-of my bread and but­ter cheese.”

Top: Sheep milk has more fat and pro­tein than cow’s milk, per­fect for cheese­mak­ers like Kirsty. This is her tra­di­tional feta, flavoured with chilli flakes. Above: The cheeses are vac­uum-packed for easy stor­age and age­ing.

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