I’d like to share a visit to an extraordinary dairy with you. A couple of weeks ago my husband and I ventured off on a nine-day food and wine trip – the main reason to drop in at Meredith Dairy. For the last year or so I’ve been creating recipes for their website and recipe cards. The only reason we hadn’t visited sooner was we live in Sydney and Meredith is in Victoria.
On the fifth day we finally arrive in Meredith – a small town located between Ballarat and Geelong on the Midland Highway, and no surprise, the home of Meredith Dairy – beautiful agricultural country, luminous green after recent rain. And by the way, if you haven’t seen their products on the shelves, or weren’t aware, this is a family owned business specialising in handmade sheep and goat cheeses and yoghurts.
So after getting directions at the local pub we drive up to the farm and introduce ourselves to Julie Cameron, the owner, along with her husband Sandy. We weren’t really sure what to expect, but I have to say this was bigger and better than we imagined: more staff – I imagine all locals – more buildings and machinery and expertise, and, well, just more of everything, but for all its rambling size incredibly warm and friendly.
In retrospect I now see this business in two parts; first, the production of the end product, and second, the animal husbandry – I guess you’d call it the factory and the farm. It may seem the wrong way round, but this is the order we saw it in. And in both areas there’s a real commitment to an over-arching tenet: social and environmental responsibility.
We started by removing our shoes before entering the outer office, and then put on white rubber wellies and white smocks before entering the factory proper. I’ll let the pictures tell the story, but the different temperature-controlled rooms we visited were meticulously clean and sterilised and populated with buzzing people and whirring machines, all bent on making the very finest cheeses and yoghurts. Julie explained the process in great detail and as a food person I was with her most of the way only getting lost when she ventured into chemistry.
Once we left the factory we climbed back into our own shoes, however, because we were about to mix with baby goats in the nursery we had to wear protective facemasks. I won’t bore you with the details other than to say, health and safety is another area taken very seriously, regardless of the remoteness of the chance of catching anything.
I touched on the environmental responsibility before, but was amazed when we were told the lengths Julie and Sandy go to achieve sustainability: an annual tree planting program, direct drill sowing of crops, soil nutrient replenishment, clovers and lucerne rotation, green power and renewable biofuel usage, solar hot water systems, stock rotation and exclusion from sensitive waterways, and monitoring of biodiversity, stream quality and carbon consumption – you name it, they do it – to say we were impressed would be an understatement.
And now for my favourite bit – as much as I love food and wine, I also love animals, and these four and six-month-old kids were so adorable I just wanted to take them all home. They’re naturally inquisitive and playful, and because they’re hand raised, incredibly friendly; I actually asked whether they all had names.
It was hard to tear myself away from these fragile little creatures, but I knew they were in good hands and will have happy lives producing milk for, in my humble opinion and ongoing enjoyment, the best goat cheeses and yoghurts made in this country. Suffice to say this was well worth the journey. So, on that note, I’m going to leave you with one of my favourite Meredith Dairy recipes: Enjoy.
Meredith Dairy Ash Chèvre, Roasted Eschallot, Date and Lemon Balm Salad
- 1.5tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 6 eschallots
- 2tsp raw unfiltered apple cider vinegar
- 1/3 cup tiny celery leaves, chopped
- 8 pecans, roasted and chopped
- 6 Medijool dates, pips removed and chopped
- 100g Meredith Dairy Ash Chèvre
- 2-3tsp runny honey
- 1/3 cup lemon balm leaves
- Sea salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 150C, and line a baking tray with parchment paper. Place eschallots on tray, drizzle with 1/2tbsp extra virgin olive oil and put into the oven. Roast for 20-30 minutes, or until soft. Remove eschallots from oven, slip off skins, chop roughly, and while warm dress with cider vinegar, 1tbsp extra virgin olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Set aside while you combine celery leaves, pecans and dates together in a bowl. Add eschallots, and gently mix with half of the crumbled ash chèvre.
Spoon onto a flat plate, top with the rest of the ash chèvre, drizzle with honey, and scatter the lemon balm over the salad. Serve immediately with crusty sourdough bread.
This recipe was inspired by the very talented chef, Gill Meller.