A Dairy Good Life
“Blessed are the cheese-makers,” is a hilarious Monty Python line from the biblical send-up ‘Life of Brian’. Blue Mountains Life reckons there are quite a few chefs around the mountains who would gladly give thanks for Jannei Dairy.
Goats are really useful creatures. More intelligent than sheep, smaller than cows – they have a lot to offer the hobby farmer. Angora goats produce fine wool prized for spinning. Goat meat is fast becoming a regular at the local butcher and makes a tasty stew or curry. And goats milk products have long been used for the lactose intolerant among us, babies especially. As animals, they are hardy, headstrong and have really weird eyes. But it is the sought after flavours and textures of goats cheese that excites true foodies everywhere.
Jannei Goat Dairy is an award winning dairy with an artisan cheese processing plant on site. Owned and run by husband and wife team, Neil and Janette Watson, Jannei dairy has won an incredible amount of awards at national cheese shows and much praise from media and chefs alike. Their Buche Noir, a vegetable-ashed, fresh pressed cheese; is soft, sliceable and deliciously creamy and was named the Australian Champion Cheese in the 2008 Grand Dairy Awards. Other consistent winners include their fresh curd and Bent Back Chevre, a fresh white mould cheese which can be aged for a superb robust flavour.
But what makes Jannei cheeses so special? Neil and Janette are passionate about sustainable farming techniques and the care of their stock – about 100 mostly Saanen dairy goats. They employ as much organic farming practise as possible in order to keep their pastures pesticide free and the goats roam freely from paddock to paddock via laneways on their 35 hectare property at Lidsdale, just 15 kilometres outside Lithgow.
Jannei products are made without additives apart from the natural preserving quality of salt in the cheeses and this is kept to a minimum so as not to distract from the flavour. Natural cultures are used in the production of yoghurt and only vegetable based rennet is used in the cheeses. Hygiene is a priority in the milking shed and Janette says they are always working to improve standards. A wide variety of artisan cheeses are produced including ricotta, fetta, yoghurt, a firm to crumbly aged cheese called Hill Billy and Prairie Cream – a camembert style with its own distinctive mellow flavour.
The little shop that fronts the cheese factory is open for sales and tastings Mondays, Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Inside the shop, adorned with various awards and a Sydney Morning Herald studio portrait of Neil, Janette and some of their gorgeous goats, Janette gives me a taste test before we head outside.
“Put these on,” says Janette surveying my town shoes as she chucks me a pair of Target gum boots. They are two sizes too big but that doesn’t matter – they keep my feet dry and poo-free as we stomp off through the paddocks to get up close and personal with some of her shaggy charges.
First we visit a group of inquisitive kids who have been cross-bred with ….. Then it’s off after the milking herd who skirt the edge of the paddock and double back to the dam trying to avoid us. They’re a good looking bunch – fit and feisty and a little bit wary of the chick with the camera and the crazy cattle dog, Tiddles, who charges headlong at them on her way to chase some wild ducks that have settled on the dam.
Janette lures them closer with the promise of some feed; good quality lucerne hay that compliments the grazing crops and grasses. The goats’ diet is varied and carefully regulated. Neil plants oats to supplement their diet in the winter months which helps boost vitality and milk production.
Neil Watson is a former teacher with a degree in Rural Science and a Diploma in Sustainable Farming practise. He grew up on a cow dairy in the hinterland of the mid-north coast and after years in front of a classroom decided to try his own hand at farming. Janette has a background in advertising and design and uses her skills to market their product. They’ve been farming at Lidsdale since 1991.
“Initially we started selling fresh goat’s milk but there wasn’t such a big market for it so we decided to try cheese-making,” Janette says. “When we were ready to go public with our cheese we did a marketing course and one of the facets of the course was to pitch your product to a buyer,” she explains. “We approached Simon Johnson of Simon Johnson Fine Foods in Woollahra and he said: ‘Can you do a curd?’”
Immediately, Neil went back to the factory, consulted some books and began making fresh curd, which is now one of Jannei’s best sellers. The soft spreading cheese lends itself to designer chefs’ recipes. Barry O’Sullivan of the Gallery restaurant at Katoomba Fine Art is a fan of Jannei’s curd.
Jannei distributes about 80% of its product through Simon Johnson in Sydney. The rest goes to local outlets in the mountains, including the Food Co-op in Katoomba, and a fraction is sold at their farm-gate store. Janette and Neil’s son, Nick, mans the Jannei stall at the newly established Eveleigh Markets in the re-furbished Eveleigh railway yards in the city.
There seems to be a new farmer’s outlet popping up every weekend in and around Sydney and just getting the cheese to market can be a logistic nightmare admits Janette. “First we need to load the cheese and keep it at the appropriate temperature. Then we have to get it to Sydney and spend the day at the market and are often too tired to drive home afterwards. Nick lives in Sydney so he’s able to do the market once a month, just to keep our hand in,” she says.
In winter the goats only produce about 30 litres of milk a day, so Jannei struggles to keep up with demand but in peak production times Neil and Janette process about 1,500 litres of milk a week and it’s all done by hand. In the factory, the emphasis is on fine tuning according to Janette. “We are learning all the time and there are many things we have to take into consideration to achieve consistency like maturation times, when to turn the cheeses and the cutting of the curd,” she says. “While Neil sees the big picture, I’m a bit of a perfectionist and am always fussing over things like achieving the perfect thin rind,” she admits.
Right now the couple are excited about a new bobcat they have recently purchased. It’s the little things in farming that go a long way to making life on the land a dream. Janette and Neil have plans to buy some more land and construct an educational facility. They already play host to boys from Barker College as part of their outdoor studies programme. “We’d like to improve the shopfront and possibly get some cows in,” says Janette. “And maybe next year we’ll go to France and see how they do it over there,” she smiles.
For more information visit Jannei Dairy at 8 View Street Lidsdale (off the Mudgee Hwy), call them on 6355 1107 or email firstname.lastname@example.org