Dairyfarmers find value in cheese heritage

Alexandrina dairyfarmers find value in family heritage of cheese


IN THE past two decades, the McCaul family have revolutionised their operation from supplying milk to processors, to becoming a full "paddock-to-plate" operation.


IN THE past two decades, the McCaul family have revolutionised their operation from supplying milk to processors, to becoming a full "paddock-to-plate" operation.

In 2000, Dan and Krystyna McCaul, along with children Rebekah, Geoff and Stephen, opened their own cheesery - Alexandrina Cheese - made with milk from their own Jersey herd at Mount Jagged, south of Mount Compass.

Dan said the operation encompassed the full value chain right through to retail and food service.

"We're harvesting sunshine to grow grass, right through to serving platters in the shop," he said.

Dan said without the change, he was doubtful they would still be in dairy.

They milk about 80 cows - a drop from 180 in 1999 - with year-round calving on their 111-hectare property.

Rebekah said they aimed for a "low-cost, natural" method of production, with a heavy focus on pasture, aided by being in a high rainfall area. They cut round bale silage and hay from their spring flush of grass and operate a strip rotational grazing system.

"The cows get fresh pasture at every milking," Dan said.

With their focus on a smaller herd, they were able to rely largely on pasture, with some supplemented barley, bought off the header from a Mallee farmer - a relationship they have had in place since the 1990s.

The McCauls have access to about 6ha of irrigation but soaring power costs - rising as much as 10 per cent in just the past year, Dan estimated - meant they were moving away from relying on that.

They have invested in pasture renovation, with subclover and ryegrass, in recent years, which Rebekah said would pay off in a year such as this.

"If the soils are good and plants are robust, when it does rain, they bounce back quickly," she said.

Jerseys have been run on the farm since the 1970s, with Krystyna's parents originally establishing a Jersey stud.

Dan said the breed produced great components for their cheesemaking, with high butterfat and protein.

Rebekah said their milk averaged 4.9pc fat and 3.8pc protein.

While no longer registered, they still have close ties to Jersey Australia and keep many of the same considerations in their breeding operation.

We've gone back in time to having cheese how it used to be made. - REBEKAH MCCAUL

"At the end of the day, we want a cow that will live a long time and want things like structural correctness and good teat placement," Rebekah said.

There is a long history of cheesemaking and dairyfarming on both sides of the McCaul family.

Dan is a third-generation cheesemaker, with a family history stretching back to 1902, while Krystyna McCaul's family began running Jerseys on the Fleurieu Peninsula in the 1970s.

These days, Dan said cheesemaking is their core business, with the dairy production there to ensure good quality cheese.

They make hard and semi-hard cheese every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at a special production room, set up behind their farm shop.

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Each week they produce about 800 kilograms of cheese, or 40 tonnes a year.

Rebekah said the cheese made at this time of year would be available for sale about Christmas time.

"We've gone back in time to having cheese how it used to be made," she said.

"It's almost like how my grandfather used to do it, with a few more food hygiene aspects."

Due to customer demand, they also began bottling milk, which is done by hand.

In 2014, Alexandrina Pure Jersey Full Cream Milk won the national milk award in the Australian Grand Dairy Awards, then one year later, their cheddar cheese from the award-winning milk also won the champion cheddar variety.

Rebekah said they were unique in producing their cheese.

"It's a true single herd, single farm, single production cheesery," she said.

Location has played a big part in the success of Alexandrina Cheese, Rebekah says.

They operate their farm shop on the Victor Harbor Road, just south of Mount Compass.

"We're on the doorstep of 1.3 million people in Adelaide," she said.

As well as sales in their own shop, they supply about 30 stockists across SA, with more regional sites coming, and have just been accepted into the David Jones food hall in Melbourne and Sydney.

"There are huge populations in Sydney and Melbourne and they're hungry for quality food that has a story," Rebekah said.

Alexandrina Cheese are also regular stallholders at the Willunga and Adelaide farmers markets.

"Farmers' markets give us a lot of intangible benefits," she said.

"It's an alternative food system, and a really great way to sell direct, enabling us to meet customers.

"Adelaide and Willunga get 4000 to 6000 people through, which gives us so much exposure and people then often come to the farm shop.

"Customers are really astute - they research what they want to know.

"If you look back to the early 2000s, people are becoming savvy and aware of the food chain."

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