|Natural: Jannei Bent Back Chevre. Photo: Jennifer Soo|
A couple’s rural sea change involving goats, cheese and hard work is paying off, writes Lisa Pryor.
Many of us dream of throwing in our urban existence in favour of a gentler pace of life. We may think of moving to green pastures, cultivating an olive grove, tending a vineyard or creating a boutique produce business.
If you’re searching for a relaxing rural life, whatever you do, don’t choose goat farming. You could find yourself slaving away in your dairy until midnight, as Neil Watson does, perfecting the latest batch of chevre cheese.
Or you could lose sleep devising new ways to extend the milking season of your flock, or improve the production process of your range of boutique cheeses, just like his wife Janette.
It’s not an easy life but it’s the life the Watsons chose for themselves 13 years ago when they moved from the North Coast to a 14-hectare farm at Lidsdale, near Lithgow.
The couple’s Jannei Goat Dairy started out selling fresh curd, fresh milk and fresh-pressed chevre. The dairy has since moved on to matured cheeses as well, such as cheddar, chevrotin and goats’ milk camembert.
The Watsons’ hard work and sleepless nights are paying off. Slowly. This year they won three gold awards at the Royal Easter Show. Their stand-out product, the ash-caked Bent Back Chevre, was blessed by the judges with a mark of 99.3/100.
And they have high hopes for this year’s Australian Specialist Cheesemakers’ Association awards in Melbourne, where they have won gold before.
“If you win something down there people pick up on it and your image improves. People come looking for us,” Janette says.
The Jannei business is a truly boutique operation, processing milk from a herd of 100 goats at the painstaking rate of 20 litres per 3kg of cheese. The small-scale approach allows attention to detail. “The milk comes from the goat and is turned straight into cheese,” Janette says. “There are no stabilisers and preservatives. It is natural, clean and sold quickly.”
Jannei cheeses have a loyal following, especially among French expats longing for a taste of home, like one man who lives in Bathurst. “I saw him the other day. He drove 40 minutes from Bathurst just to get the cheese and then go home again. He was desperate,” says Janette.
Tasting and buying Jannei cheeses from the dairy door is a worthwhile diversion if you’re holidaying in the Blue Mountains, or heading to Mudgee. The farm is open from 10am-5pm each day except Sundays and Wednesdays.
However, Sydneysiders can enjoy the fruits of the Watsons’ labour without trekking to the mountains. Once a month, Janette makes the winding journey from Lidsdale to Sydney, arriving at Pyrmont where she sells her wares at the Good Living Growers’ Market.
At other times, head to the Simon Johnson stores in Woollahra or Pyrmont.
“They came to us many years ago when they were starting out,” says Simon Johnson. “At the time there were players [in the goats’ cheese market] in Victoria but there was nothing in NSW. We were very keen to have someone locally produce a goats’ cheese for us.”
The close proximity of the dairy means Sydneysiders can enjoy fresh goats’ cheese at its peak. “Because it’s a local product, it gets to the market so much quicker, so it’s very fresh,” says Johnson.
And the best Jannei cheese according to Johnson? “I love their fresh curds but I also like some of their more mature cheeses. It comes down to personal preference.”