written by Lilani Goonesena
Intrepid and innovative are the words that spring to mind at our visit to Myrtleford Butter Factory on the third day of the Electrolux Appetite for Excellent Produce Tour in Victoria. In 2008, Naomi Ingleton, a former chef, bought a rundown, 110-year old butter factory. Initially she set up a café but a year later, dwindling business pushed Naomi to change direction.
“I was making butter in the café from scratch but the bulk of it came from Belgium and France. And I thought, ‘Why isn’t anyone doing a really good French cultured butter in Australia?’ So I did.”
It wasn’t quite that simple. There was very little information available on making butter on a commercial scale. However, an AusIndustry grant in 2010, a Churchill Fellowship in 2012, and a Skype friendship with Swedish butter maker, Patrik Johansson, who supplies to Noma Restaurant, helped things along.
Naomi spent 8 weeks in Europe learning from some of the world’s best butter makers. When she returned to Myrtleford, things “fell into place”.
“We had consistency, started winning awards and got really busy. My husband, David, left his pharmacist job and became the production manager. I started managing the business.” Naomi’s mum, Bronwyn, put the proceeds of her Melbourne property into the business and moved to Myrtleford too.
They started supplying to chefs and restaurants, and opened an online shop. “We sell to everyone we can – gourmet retailers, direct consumer online sales, restaurant, food service and bakeries,” says Naomi.
7 years later and Myrtleford is a national business. In early 2016, they will open their new factory at Moyhu in the King Valley, quadrupling the size and output of their business.
“It’s another beautiful old 100-year old butter factory on 6.5 acres. Here, we’re turning 500L a day; over there, we can do 2,000L. We have the market for it but not the product,” says Naomi.
Myrtleford, soon to be called King Valley Dairy, currently produces cultured crème fraiche, buttermilk, and salted, unsalted and flavoured butters. There are also plans underway for flavoured buttermilk, apple brandy cream, almond and honey butter, whey-based protein drinks, pastry sheets, and pork and veal smallgoods.
It’s ambitious but the foundations are strong. Myrtleford has a reputation for excellence using local, sustainable and quality ingredients.
“Our cream is here 48 hours after milking and it’s butter within a day,” says Naomi. “It’s really fresh cream. We know what the local cows are eating everything is done by taste and smell and feel.”
“When the fresh cream comes in, we test the pH, smell, taste, fat content, and protein content,” says David. “Winter cream is a bit flat; this batch has less proteins. There’s certainly nothing wrong with it but spring is always the best time to make cultured dairy products.”
David keeps an eagle eye on the pH levels and temperatures inside the churn room. “It’s a balancing act,” he says. “Everything runs according to time, pH and temperature.”
The warm, delicate crème fraiche is the first off the cream that morning. It is just cream and cultures – four strands of lactic acid bacteria that eat the lactose (sugars) in the cream, converting it to lactic acid. A 42% butter fat content gives the crème fraiche a light acidity and clean finish.
The cultured cream is then moved to the churner where after about 10 minutes – “just long enough for a cup of coffee” – the buttermilk is ready. David expertly funnels it directly into plastic 1L and 350ml bottles. He manages 260-280L per batch.
It’s a light and delicious buttermilk that’s “completely different” says Naomi. “It’s full of probiotics and lactic acid. It has 5-week shelf life, even with a broken seal.”
When the buttermilk is finished, David runs very cold water (1 degree) through the churner, to remove the buttermilk remnants and harden the butter.
Australian butter requires a minimum 82% of butter fat. “Producers often add water to get it closer to 100% but this changes the composition,” says Naomi. “Our butter content is 88-89%; we don’t add water.”
Myrtleford butter is a lovely sunflower yellow, thanks to the grass fed cows. “Some imported butter is white,” says Naomi. “It’s made by cows that never go outside and see daylight.”
They also produce flavoured butters – confit garlic, smoked salt, and truffle, contracting local farmers to supply all the ingredients.
“Our garlic is supplied by a local grower in King Valley. We forecast how much we’re going to sell each year and they grow a whole crop for us,” says Naomi.
David is also enthusiastic about the factory’s equipment, some of which he has salvaged and repurposed himself. A sausage press is used to make their log-shaped butter rolls. Crumpet molds shape their flavoured butters. David also developed a ghee using a 78L cooking pot from a microbrewery.
Myrtleford’s success is a testament to Naomi and David’s perseverance, creativity and love of their trade. As Kim Galea, co-owner of Pitchfork Restaurant says, “They’re constantly trying to find something different to do, to be better, the best in this field. They’re not going to stop.”
David’s tips for cooking with buttermilk
“I make pancakes for the kids and banana smoothies, and I marinate meat in it; my favourite is beef rending. At Christmas, we’ll pour 5L into a bucket and marinate a whole turkey.”