Donovan & Melissa Jacka
Donovan and Melissa Jacka, from Tolpuddle Goat Cheese in Victoria's High Country, have a passion for producing delicious goats cheese with minimal intervention from paddock to plate. They use raw goats’ milk from their own happy goats and welcome visitors to their farm store to experience the real deal of their sustainable lifestyle.
'Melissa and I always daydreamed about coming to a place like this and setting up a business', Donovan says. 'We moved to north east Victoria and to the High Country because we knew there was a vibrant food scene in the area.'
In 2013 Melissa and Donovan Jacka packed up their kids and their busy Melbourne lives and moved to Tarrawingee in north east Victoria. They’d bought a 160 year old colonial farm house and the farm it sat on, and set out to establish a small goat dairy and cheese factory.
Each morning, Donovan wakes early to the sounds of the farm. 'The birds tweeting, the rooster cock-a-doodling, the bells ringing on the goat collars and the occasional moo from a cow.'
'We wanted the goats to go wherever they wanted on the property – outside of our rose garden. So we attached bells to all of them.
'I call out to the goats to get them to come in to milk. Most of the time they pay attention. The younger ones jump around and get in your way. The older ones are just waiting and they're first in line. We milk eight at a time, and each group has their pecking order.'
The Jackas process around 100 litres of fresh goats' milk a day from the herd.
'If it's a beautiful sunny morning, the goats are waiting for me before I even get out there. If it's foggy, I just call out and I can hear them through the fog. And they come running. If it's rainy they're grumpy, because they don't like getting wet.'
A daily goal is to have happy goats. 'Happy can mean fresh air for them, just like it does for us. It means an interesting environment for them, not keeping them cooped up indoors. It means allowing them to roam and having family groups for them.'
Life on the farm connects the Jackas to the seasons. Autumn leaves change colour, summer's cool nights turn into hot mornings, and winter's clear blue skies, frosty grass and frozen puddles are all closely observed.
'I have a clock but it doesn’t dictate my life. The seasons dictate my life. The needs of the goats, the things that need to be done outside, the wonderful customers that we have at the cheese farm decide our time. And the climate and the weather.'
Even foggy winter mornings fill Donovan with delight. 'It lets you know that there's going to be baby goats running around soon. The blossoms come out, the wattles come out and for me that's a beautiful time of the year.'
Simplicity and minimal intervention is central to the Tolpuddle ethos, which means there's no pumps and no big machines in the cheese factory. Everything is treated by hand, in the gentlest way possible.
'We're trying to make things that are simple and delicious. If you make delicious food, it doesn't need flavouring, it doesn't need enhancement,' Donovan says. 'I think that resembles our life. You know? We cut out the stuff we didn't need.'
'We have a goat curd and there is so little to it. We get milk from our own animals. We add some culture and add some rennet. We drain it and we put it a jar. It has to be good the whole way through, because it's so natural and there is so little added to it.'
The Jackas only ever make cheese with milk from their own Saanen dairy goats, with a range that covers fresh cheese like goat curd, marinated gem and their Greek style "Bonegilla" fetta – to soft, French-style white mould cheeses and their Bulldog Blue – named after the local Tarrawingee Bulldogs AFL team. The "Ned" semi-hard alpine cheese is also a favourite.
Donovan says people who make great produce don't fiddle with it too much. 'They basically get out of the way and allow nature to take its course. For us it means cheese made from happy animals, with minimal intervention. You can't make great produce without healthy animals, healthy soils, healthy vegetation for the animals to eat.'
The Jackas are profoundly motivated by the idea of turning humble raw ingredients into food for people to eat. And they always knew they’d find other local makers to work with along the way. 'Being able to collaborate with other producers has been such an important part of our business,' Donovan says.
'We've got some amazing restaurants near our property. We're so excited when a chef calls up and says "I've got a great new dish". To be able to work with restaurants and chefs in the area is really humbling. To have them order our product and put it on the menu, gives us a real buzz.'
'To make an artisan product, your heart's got to be in it. You've got to love it. We'll only ever make stuff that we enjoy. We want people to come to our farm and enjoy it on the farm as well.'
Things are relaxed at Tolpuddle farm and as a visitor you're invited to take things slow. Life here is far less complicated than the lives of its namesakes – the famous agricultural labourers from Dorset, who were transported from England to Australia in 1834, when a bid for fair wages went south.
'The High Country's really given me an appreciation of slow living,' Donovan says. 'You can come to our cellar door, grab a cheese platter, grab a bottle of wine. Sit in the garden, feed the goats, take it easy.'
Donovan explains: 'I used to have a job in the corporate world, where you're so disconnected from the lives that you affect.'
'When we moved to the country, we wanted to grow the grass, breed the animals, milk the animals, make the cheese, sell the cheese to the people.'
'We've simplified our lives. Achievement for me now is being able to live in the moment and enjoy what we've got. To enjoy the outside, fresh air and time with my family.
'It's so much nicer to be able to get up in the morning and be able to go out on the farm, and the number one thing that you're aiming for that day is to have happy animals and make beautiful cheese. It's a lovely way to live.'