After spending years at the front of the classroom, partners Ann-Marie Monda and Carla Meurs decided it was time for a change.
“We were both working as teachers in Melbourne and realised we didn’t want to continue down that path anymore,” Ms Monda said.
During the early 1990s they travelled throughout Australia and overseas, working on farms to gain an understanding of life within the agricultural industry.
They gained invaluable experience milking goats, growing fruit and vegetables and an insight of how farm practices differ depending on the season.
Upon returning to Australia in the mid-1990s they found themselves working on a farm in Western Australia’s wheatbelt, where they learnt the ins and outs of farm life.
Combining Carla’s childhood experience of growing up in Warrnambool, the heart of Victoria’s dairy country, with Ann-Marie’s qualification in agricultural science, the obvious answer was cheese.
They decided to embark on their own business venture and together bought Sutton Grange Organic Farm in 1999.
The beginning of Holy Goat Cheese
Over the last 19 years they have have focused on ensuring their central Victorian-based business continues to produce high quality dairy products.
The farm has a herd of around 90 British alpine and saanen goats, a dairy and small-scale cheese manufacturing facility.
In recent times they have come up with new innovations so they can produce dairy products all year round.
“We have started making a blend with cow’s milk, as goat’s milk can be scarce during winter months and we needed to find another way to supplement our income,” Ms Monda said.
Following their vision of “loving and giving between people and animals”, they started sourcing milk from the Mannes family dairy farm at Strathfieldsaye.
The journey from the classroom to a new life out in the paddock didn’t come without its challenges.
“The biggest challenge for most farmers is managing the unpredictability of the weather and the sometimes difficult process of sourcing feed for livestock,” Ms Monda said.
“But we are connected with a great network of organic farmers who support and look after each other, we’ve worked alongside them for a number of years and have a very strong relationship with them.”
Finding staff who are interested in farming can also be difficult, but Ms Monda praised her team and their dedication.
“Finding people who want to be involved in a farming business that starts at six o’clock in the morning and into the late hours each night of the week is difficult,” Ms Monda said.
“As we age we want younger people to come on-board and learn more about cheese making techniques.”
“We employ around ten people which maintains our viable small business which is doing well during these tough times.”
delicious. Produce Awards 2018
They were recently recognised nationally as overall Producer of the Year at the 2018 delicious. Produce Awards, also receiving a trophy within the dairy category.
“It’s a rewarding acknowledgement of the way we farm and the way we work with all of our animals,” Ms Monda said.
“We were up against some really fantastic nominees for the dairy award.”
The exciting aspect for Ann-Marie and Carla to be part of the delicious. awards was connecting with other producers and some of the country’s culinary greats.
The judging panel included Shannon Bennett, Matt Moran, Andrew McConnell, Maggie Beer, Alla Wolf-Tasker and many more.
“We were able to share our stories and ideas about what we produce and they (chefs) would tell us about how they used our product,” Ms Monda said.
delicious. Produce Awards ambassador and national judge Matt Moran was impressed with this year’s entries.
“Every year we are blown away by the standard of produce being grown and raised around this bountiful country that really lays the foundation for our world-class food industry,” Mr Moran said.
“This year, it was wonderful to see some innovative new winners together with some of the most consistently year-on-year extraordinary produce, like, of course, our worthy Producer of the Year, Holy Goat Cheese.”
delicious. editor-in-chief Kerrie McCallum also praised the quality of the produce.
“With sustainability on the agenda more than ever right now, we are delighted that the delicious. Produce Awards serve to shine a light on trailblazing producers and artisans who are finding innovative ways to grow and raise not only some of the consistently best-tasting produce, but produce that is both seasonal and sustainable,” Ms McCallum said.
Showcasing the region
Both Ann-Marie and Carla were thrilled for Holy Goat Cheese to be recognised as the country’s top producer, but at the same time equally pleased to showcase their region.
“It’s great for Sutton Grange because we are such a small community and have a strong connection to Bendigo and Castlemaine,” Ms Monda said.
“Sutton Grange isn’t highlighted very often for food awards, it’s great recognition for the area’s great soil, beautiful farmers and sustainable farmers.”
Sutton Grange is a small town located south of Bendigo with a population of around 150 people.
Beyond Sutton Grange, they hope to see more small dairies and creameries throughout regional parts of Victoria.
“We want to ensure the industry can keep people employed and engaged within farming communities in rural areas.”
The next chapter
The goal for Holy Goat Cheese is to maintain the same sustainable farming practices, in order to improve the quality of their cheese.
“We will always strive to make better cheese,” Ms Monda said.
“To make artisan cheese they need to be made in small batches, handled carefully.
“There is a belief that to succeed, businesses need to expand and increase production, but we are proof that it’s okay to remain as a small business.”
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