LEADER OF THE FLOCK
LIFELONG SOUTHERN HIGHLANDS RESIDENT AND EX-CHEESEMAKER HARRIET TURNNIDGE ON MAKING SOAP WITH EWE’S MILK.
From her property in NSW’S Southern Highlands, Harriet Turnnidge is producing soap from ewe’s milk.
IN HARRIET TURNNIDGE’S soap shed, all is order and calm. The stainless-steel workbench and meticulously stacked shelves are offset by vases of flowers and an ornate glassfronted cabinet; and the air is scented with the gentle waft of beeswax and essential oils. One of the original buildings on a Mittagong property in NSW’S Southern Highlands, this shed is Harriet’s creative domain where she’s been developing Aedel ewe’s-milk soaps for the past three years. The name Aedel is a phonetic derivation of the German word edel, meaning ‘precious’ and ‘noble’. “The East Friesian breed of sheep has historic ties to the Friesland region of northern Germany,” explains Harriet. “The word symbolises our ethos from production to end use.” Though Harriet studied textile design in Melbourne, the 33-year-old has no yearning for city life. Her mother’s family hails from the Southern Highlands: her great-grandfather William F. Foley, a tailor, was mayor of Bowral, where she was born. Harriet grew up on the historic merino and polo stud Springfield Station, on the other side of Goulburn. “We lived in a gorgeous bluestone cottage,” she says. “I was an avid horse rider and had a lot of freedom. Livestock was just part of the landscape; I loved growing up there.” A woman of formidable creativity and curiosity, Harriet has long embraced a lifestyle focused on health and wellbeing — she’s also a qualified remedial masseuse — but working at a cheesery set her course. “I wanted to >
explore making a beautiful product for myself from scratch. Ewe’s milk is incredibly rich and high in fats and solids. It’s higher than goat’s milk,” Harriet says. “I initially chose soap because it seemed like such a luscious thing to do.” She bought Rosie, an East Friesian, and Malish, an Awassi, at one week old and raised them by hand. “Rosie’s my darling, even though I know you shouldn’t have favourites,” she says with a smile. “East Friesians produce high volumes of milk but can be a little delicate compared with Awassis, an extremely robust Middle Eastern breed.” Shortly after, she acquired an East Friesian ram and Rosie soon produced Cherry, who completed her little flock. Harriet was voracious in her research and watched Youtube videos and attended workshops to hone her skills. “There’s a plethora of information you can access like online lye calculators to ensure you get the chemistry right,” she says. “Where you have to be more creative is with the scent and essential-oil blending.” She also taught herself photography, used to great effect on Aedel’s website and Instagram. Insufficient grazing space on the property and increasing urbanisation meant Harriet now agists her flock around the Highlands: “You end up meeting someone randomly and
saying, ‘Hey, this paddock’s empty and you’re mowing it; how about we put our sheep on there?’ ” The upside has been the friendships forged including one with retirees Lauren and Jimmy, whose hazelnut farm at Werai is currently hosting last spring’s lambs. There’s also the time-honoured utility of the local co-op noticeboard. “This lovely gentleman Arthur rings up and tells me he’s got a paddock where he used to keep his house cow. He’s 87 and has lived and worked in the area all his life. He built the house with his own hands.” Harriet sources most of her raw materials for her soaps locally, including olive oil from Sutton Forest Olives and beeswax from a nearby apiarist. “Whenever I visit, I end up getting a tour around his garden and coming away with armfuls of vegetables!” During milking season which starts when her lambs are fully weaned and continues until winter Harriet uses the milk fresh. “Summer is when the rhythm of caring for the ewes and milking is set. Regardless of the size of the dairy, you have to be present to milk twice a day. There’s something quite special about that commitment, though; getting up early on Christmas morning before the heat of the day sets in to milk and tend to the ewes.” While she’s working to at least double her production in time for Christmas, Harriet appears unruffled. “One of the benefits of a stable product like soap is that I can make it ahead; in fact, the longer it gets to cure, the harder the bar and the denser and creamier the lather.” Her partner Oliver Gruesser tends to the tech side of the business and also made the forms for her soap blocks. Each yields 60 bars and requires two litres of ewe’s milk. “To make soap, you have three basic ingredients oils or fats, the liquid component (ewe’s milk), and then lye, which is the catalyst,” she says. “I blend the other oils olive or coconut oil, beeswax or lovely moisturising ones for the skin like apricot kernel and sweet almond. I make a custardlike mixture, then leave it to set for 24 hours before freezing it overnight so I can remove it from the form.” Once hand-cut and wrapped in packaging designed by Harriet, the soaps variously scented with rose, clary sage, lavender, and orange and ginger are ready to be distributed to 12 outlets and counting, plus online, around Australia.“building Aedel combines a lot of my passions and skills,” she says. “There’s room for me to be creative, it brings in my love of animals and working with quality ingredients, and allows me to produce something on a small scale that’s really beautiful.” For more information, visit aedel.com.au or follow @aedel.soap on Instagram.
LEFT Aedel soaps ready to be posted out for Christmas. Each boxed soap retails for $10. FACING PAGE Harriet keeps her flock small — she’s holding Rosie’s lamb, who has one blue eye. The other sheep are Malish, Cherry and Rosie.