Investing in dairy

A family’s belief in sustaining the industry
The Southern Farmer

IN an industry that has had standardised milk for so long, with limited offerings from small independently owned pop-up dairies, Inglenook

Dairy was initially a huge leap of faith.

With an ethos based on investing in the sustainability of the dairy industry and pushing for a higher farm gate price for farmers and the production of better quality dairy products, Troy and Rachael Peterken established the award-winning dairy in 2011.

“It was pretty tough at the start,” Troy said.

“We were half way through the build, 12 months into the process, and that’s when $1 milk came out.

“We thought about stopping then, about walking away and leaving the facility.

“But we knew we had a better product and we said to ourselves ‘let’s keep going’.

“And the first three years were really hard, as it was all price-driven.

“Then all of a sudden in the fourth or fifth year, people recognised the quality, and price became less of an issue, and people wanted to know where their product came from and wanted local.”

Inglenook Dairy, situated in Dunnstown in the Shire of Moorabool, just east of Ballarat, is a testament to Troy and Rachael’s vision.

The dairy processes on average 27,000 litres of milk a week, producing milk, cream and yoghurt, and providing unhomogenised milk for artisan cheesemakers and smaller cottage industries.

There are plans to produce butter in the immediate future, with a 300 kilogram butter churner scheduled for arrival late October, imported from England.

The impetus to make butter was born not only from a desire to use the excess cream from the low fat milk, but from the realisation that there was customer demand for butter and cultured butter.

This demand, Troy believes, will see the dairy also increase production, and as a result Inglenook is currently in negotiations with other local farmers to ensure supply.

It is a far cry from an idea initially born around a family discussion in the shed to assist Rachael’s dairy-farm-owning parents.

“Why don’t we process your milk?” Troy said.

“Then I was held accountable for my words, and the next day I started googling.

“I didn’t even know what pasteurising was, so I googled that, and after that the pressure was high, and I kept doing research.

“We contacted the Maleny Dairy in Queensland, and they were very supportive, and shared heaps of information and help.

“We took two years to build the facility as we worked to finance it, and all the time we kept researching as we wanted to get it right.”

And get it right they did.

Since that long-anticipated first day when they turned it all on they have had no issues at all.

“We processed 180 litres on our first day,” Troy said.

“Wilsons Fruit and Veg were the first people to take us.

“They are a small local grocers, and Rachael worked there as a teen.

“I pulled up with our first load of 10 crates and the owner looked at me and looked at the crates and he said ‘Are you sure this is legal?’

“And I said ‘Yeah, it is’, and then he asked me for a price, and I said ‘I don’t know’.

“So we’d just spent two years building this million and a half dollar facility, and on our first drop-off I didn’t even know the price we wanted for it.”

This is just one of the stories Troy shares as he recounts the meteoric rise of the Inglenook Dairy from conception to the success story it is today.

It has been an organic process, with the dairy processing between 1000 and 2000 litres of milk a week during the first 12 months of operation.

At this stage, the Peterkens were doing their own distribution, and Troy was still working full-time off-site and Rachael was managing the dairy and her role as mother to three young children.

It was incredibly hard work, but the hard yards began to pay dividends as they got a bit of leverage in the market and sales started increasing.

With customers enthusiastic about the quality product, Troy and Rachael were encouraged to enter competitions and awards, and the accolades began to flow in.

In the 2016 Australian Grand Dairy Awards, Inglenook Dairy was recognised as one of the top three milk producers in Australia, and the dairy consistently rates in the Australian Fine Food Awards.

“The funny thing,” Troy said, “is that we are that busy that when we enter these competitions, we just go to the cool room and grab a product.

“We make sure the dates are on it, and then we throw it in an esky and take it down to the judging.

“We don’t do anything special to it, so what every single person gets who purchases our product, is the same thing that we have entered in the awards.

“We’re a bit blasé about it, and forget about it, and then we win an award, and it’s fantastic.”

With such a whole-hearted belief in their product, the awards are well deserved and justified.

With five full-time staff, and looking to employ a sixth, Inglenook Dairy continues to grow, and Troy and Rachael continue to innovate and strengthen their brand.

School tours have been a part of the itinerary at Inglenook for the best part of the year now.

“Rachael and her sister do the school tours,” Troy said.

“It is the most rewarding thing, seeing the kids go through the dairy.

“We do onsite milking of the cows, and we make butter with hand churns.

“They see all that sort of thing, and we’re just attempting to bridge that gap, for the kids to understand what it’s actually like in a dairy and for dairy farmers.”

The next goal for the Peterkens is to transition packaging from plastic to glass.

There are numerous requirements that have to be fulfilled, and strict guidelines regarding handling, but this is the direction they would like to take the dairy.

More farming news and stories can be read in the November, 2019 print edition of The Southern Farmer or click here to access digital editions.