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Jannei – Blue Mountains Life Magazine

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

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Making goat cheese

Quote from website:
“SkillsOne catches up with a couple who have turned their passion for life on the land into an award-winning gourmet goat cheese business.

Neil and Janette Watson decided to follow their dream of owning a farm in the country and opened a goat farm in 1995.

Neil then used the knowledge he learned through a rural science degree to teach himself how to make cheese and dairy products from the goats’ milk. They now have a lucrative gourmet business.”

Check out the video here

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An interview on ABC

Farming dairy goats and making award-winning cheeses isn’t something Neil Watson planned.

It’s a career, business and lifestyle he and wife Janette just sort of fell into.

“We started in 1995 and it sort of happened by mistake really,” he laughs.

“We had 40 acres and we thought ‘surely there’s some sort of farming we can do on a small acreage and make a living’.

“So we decided to try dairy goats.”

The couple bought a small mob of dairy goats and started farming them as a hobby west of Lithgow in NSW.

“The cheese making happened when we realised that selling fresh milk was quite competitive.”

“We then decided to experiment with cheese making and we found out we could do it,” Mr Watson laughs.

“Although I was trained in agriculture, I wasn’t specifically trained in cheese making.

“So over the years it’s just gradually developed and grown and it’s turned into quite a successful small business.”

The couple has won dozens of awards for their cheeses.

“It’s pretty hard to win awards, it’s quite competitive,” Mr Watson says.

“But we always manage to win here and there.

“We won our first award in 1998 at the Australian Specialist Cheesemakers’ Association Cheese Show in Melbourne.

“We make a number of different varieties of cheeses.

“Some are hard, but our most popular ones are the fresh cheeses, which are soft.

“Then we do some white mold cheeses as well.

“We also sell fresh milk and yoghurt.”

The couple’s cheeses are in high demand.

“Most of our cheese goes to Sydney to supply restaurants,” he says.

There are about 120 milking does at the Jannei Goat Dairy at Lidsdale.

“We milk up to 80 every year,” Neil Watson says.

“We sell a lot of the young females on the export market.

“But we keep quite a few too for replacements and to grow the herd a bit more.”

It’s currently kidding time at the farm.

The piercing bleat of baby goats can be heard ringing out across the paddocks.

“We’ve got kids everywhere,” he says.

“It’s normal for goats to have twins and triplets are fairly common as well.

“We shut the baby goats up in pens so they don’t wander off and get lost.

“Then when we let them out there’s big rush as they all try to find their mothers.”

After the goats have given birth and fed their offspring, the amount of milk they produce starts to rise.

“Our goats average about two litres of milk a day,” Neil Watson says.

“But it can get up to four or five litres.

“[That enables us] to get that cash-flow going and we can afford to buy in the grain and hay to feed the goats.

“We feed them lucerne hay, oats and grain.

“We’ve started buying the big bales of hay because it’s a lot more economic.

“Our feed bill is our main expense.”

Mr Watson says there are only about four or five goat dairies in NSW.

“We’re probably the only registered goat dairy in the state’s Central West.”

Interview by Brad Markham from Lidsdale 2790, Wednesday, 02/09/2009

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A fresh start

Fresh start

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.”