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.

North East Living Magazine - - Contents - Words Steve Kelly pho­tos Marc Bongers

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.




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.

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