Episode 36 - Milky Baas
On the next episode, screening 22 October at 7pm on TVNZ 1:
At the tender age of 24, Julie Brownlee is already running her own business and she’s doing what she loves.
“I just love sheep. Sheep aren’t dumb – they’re misunderstood. The girls are hilarious. They all have their little personalities and stuff. It’s awesome to be doing what I do with them.”
What Julie does is milk them. She’s never been a fan of cows. “That’s why I milk sheep and not cows I guess. And they’re really cool animals and they’ve got a lot to offer.”
In her last year at high school someone suggested to Julie that milking sheep might be an option. She was at first sceptical, thinking she was having her leg pulled. However, some research soon convinced her that it might be viable in New Zealand.
She got a job as a shepherd on a Neudorf Valley sheep-milking operation in Upper Moutere near Nelson. The farmer had built a factory on his farm and was making sheep milk cheese. However, after a few years the owner decided to get out of the business, sold off the equipment and put the factory up for sale.
When Julie heard that it had been sold, she approached the new owner, David Barrett, to see what his plans were. They hadn’t thought of sheep milk but then he was approached by a French cheesemaker looking for a job. Francis Bigot had a young family and wanted to settle in Nelson. David, with a shepherd and a cheesemaker banging on his door, saw an opportunity he couldn’t resist, especially as his father had been a cheesemaker in his native Denmark.
When David started thinking about a name and brand for his new business, he settled on Thorvald, his father’s middle name. David is a savvy marketer and, along with the name, he created a Nordic myth for his website and a slogan: ‘stolen from the gods’.
Julie had to start from scratch, leasing land, buying a flock and re-equipping the milking shed. For David to make his spreadsheets work his factory needed milk all year round so Julie has started something no-one else in New Zealand is doing: milking 12 months of the year.
That involves lambing and all its attendant hard work three times a year. Dairy farmers - and other sheep milk farmers - dry off their cows in winter and head off to the islands for a holiday. Not Julie. Milking and the lambing beat are seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year. It is major commitment, perhaps one that only a young person with a young person’s energy could take on.
Right now, Julie can’t supply Francis with all milk he would like to make a range of exceptional sheep cheeses - camembert, feta, blue vein and white vein, curado, gruyere and Devotion, a semi-soft washed rind cheese similar to the famous French cheese Reblochon. Devotion is impressing the experts and David has high hopes for it, especially as sheep milk has the same advantages as goat milk for the dairy-intolerant.
They have only been in business 18 months but they have high hopes for it.
For more about their business, visit: http://www.thorvald.co.nz/
OR find them on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/ThorvaldNZ/
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