Global Award Can’t Beat a Cuppa and a Tim Tam in Tarrawingee!

The Jacka Family, among some of their goats that produce 'award winning' cheese.

A Melbourne couple that made a ‘cheese-change’ to the North East to create Tolpuddle Goat Cheese and Farm Foods has claimed bronze at the most prestigious cheese awards in the world.

Donovan and Melissa Jacka’s success at the World Cheese Awards in Italy is a ‘win’ for their humility and unpretentious focus on ‘feeding cheese to people who love it’.

Border Cafe caught up with Donovan to talk about their win, their journey and plans for the future.

Your family left city lives to move to Tarrawingee, convert an 1850’s stone building into a cheese manufacturing space and start Tolpuddle. How has the journey been?

 “There’s been hiccups along the way but things are awesome! We’ve both been only on the farm for 18 months now.

“My work day today involves getting up, milking the goats, having breakfast with the kids and Melissa, having a cup of tea while I sit down and do my paperwork – it’s so flexible, so lovely and it’s mentally healthy – a beautiful sunny day is an amazing thing.

Donovan Jacka.

“We’ve had lots more money in previous lives but that doesn’t beat sitting down and having a cup of tea and a Tim Tam on a beautiful Spring day in Tarrawingee. If you chase awards your life’s going to be pretty hollow. You’ve got to chase the small things, like a customer who says, ‘I hated goat cheese, but that’s actually delicious!’

“When we have our open days we have people saying, ‘we can’t believe you did this!’ And what they’re actually saying is ‘bloody hell, you had the guts to do something that we wanted to do’ and that’s really lovely.”

Where do these awards fit in the cheese world? Is this the most prestigious award you’ve received?

“Absolutely – the World Cheese Awards are the highest level of cheese award there is.

It’s insane! There’s something like 4,000 entries. I’d say there would be 60-odd countries represented across cow, goat, sheep and buffalo cheese.”

Which of your cheeses took out the medal and why do you think they chose it?

“It was our goat curd. It’s always been the product we feel is most worthy of judging and it’s because with goat curd there’s nowhere to hide. It’s a very simple product that very much reflects seasonality.

“Like a lot of different foods, the more spices you add, the more flavour, the more age, the more it’s not about pasture and the animals. Goat curd has to be good – the animals have to be healthy, the processes, the milking has to be on point otherwise there’s no saving that through amazing cultures or fantastic flavouring.

“So that’s why we’re really happy – because it represents the North East and the terroir – what’s in the soil, what’s in the food and what’s in the health of the animal.

“We sell 5kg of the stuff to about six or seven different restaurants in the area – chefs love it. Amazing places like Bright Brewery, Rustik down in Benalla, Ox and Hound in Beechworth, Watermark in Wangaratta and that’s one of the biggest buzzes – going into a really good restaurant and seeing something you made on a menu. It warms the cockles.”

How does receiving this award make you feel?

 “It’s always good because it’s a bit of a litmus test. I reckon in the fresh goat cheese class there would be probably 60 or 70 other entries, so it’s a nice benchmarking exercise – it gets you out of your comfort zone.

“It doesn’t sell a thing though – it’s just a nice conversation starter. I never say to a customer ‘you should like this because it’s won a medal.’ I say to people ‘here’s a product, do you like it? Is it to your taste?’ And if they say, ‘actually no it’s not,’ that’s absolutely fine, that’s their taste. And that’s the same with the judges. The judges are people who sat there on a day and say ‘yeah, I really like that!’”

Do you think this award will bring in more restaurant customers from the city?

 “We’re quite happy looking after the locals. We’re more likely to do special one-off things. We worked with Stokehouse in St Kilda and did a special dinner with them. That sort of thing is really exciting, we love doing that.

“We don’t want to take over the world, we just want to create a nice little business for ourselves and keep occupied and if we can do that with local restaurants that’s heaps better than dealing with logistics!”

Tolpuddle Goat Cheese and Farm Food’s next event is a collaboration with Sam Miranda King Valley – wine and cheese pairing on 16 November as part of La Dolce Vita Festival.

For more on Tolpuddle Goat Cheese and Farm Foods:

For the program and bookings at La Dolce Vita Festival: