Churning up a business

Bronwyn Ingleton shares her daughter’s passion for showcasing their butter by trying new and seasonal flavours in the kitchen.SINCE it came to stand on the alpine trail between Wangaratta and Bright in 1906, the Myrtleford Butter factory has seen days ringing with the clang of cream cans and the stamp of many feet. In more recent times, it has seen dark days, with the scuttle of rats and the cooing of pigeons the only sounds to be heard.

But the dairy icon has been resurrected in fine style by two tenacious business women who have determinedly shaped a modern agribusiness success from the simple traditions involved in making quality dairy products.

In a modern world, Bronwyn Ingleton and her daughter Naomi have found their niche by offering what Australian supermarkets and commercial dairy manufacturing businesses were simply failing to provide: old fashioned artisan cultured butter.

Naomi recalls a feeling of sadness in years gone by as she would drive past the Myrtleford Butter Factory standing empty. It was purchased and structurally restored some years ago by a man from Melbourne, but the café business subsequently established in the factory was not enough to sustain the premises. Naomi, a talented chef, says it was a daunting prospect, but an easy decision to broach the subject of buying and running the place with her mother, Bronwyn, who grew up on a diary farm in Gippsland.

In 2007 the pair purchased the factory and the café swung back into action. All too soon however, it became apparent that the economic down-turn and its impact on the tourist industry meant the café would never be a self-sustaining operation.

“After drought, flood and petrol prices, we realized we can’t rely on this tourism, we had to something which fitted into another niche.”

So, the factory returned to what it did best – making butter. And not just any butter, but a product of a high enough quality to fill the needs of Australia’s top chefs and restaurants which until these two came along, were relying on imported frozen French butter.

Since their first year of production in 2009, Naomi and Bronwyn have pioneered a space for Australian artisan cultured butter and are now supplying restaurants across the nation, including the Lake House in Daylesford and Cecconi’s in Flinders Lane. They do the rounds of farmers markets in Victoria, and distribute broadly in Western Australia, South Australia and New South Wales, while Tasmania is the last state they are yet to crack.

The two have come a long way, acquiring from scratch the equipment and skills they needed to make butter, and all the way along Naomi said, they have been “winging it”.

A 500 litre churn unearthed in a scrap yard in Koramburra now forms the centre of production; patiently restored by an engineer from Wodonga who fixed up the electrics and fitted the door with the aid of several Youtube videos.

They scrounged more items they would need from old bits and pieces on local dairy farms, including two large tanks for cream. Add in a sausage press strung with piano wires to cut the butter into smooth logs, and the Myrtleford Butter Factory was back on its feet.

The business uses cream supplied from the Murray Goulburn Cooperatives’ Kiewa factory.

“They were fantastic,” said Naomi.

“We went to Murray Goulburn and said that we need pure pasteurised cream. The business actually had to add in an extra step for us, as we needed the cream before it had emulsifiers and additives mixed into it.”

The factory only uses Australian produce, and Bronwyn and Naomi produce seasonally flavoured butters, using truffles from Victoria, wasabi from Tasmania and chestnuts from “just up the road.” Their lightly salted butter uses Lake Dimboola salt from Lake Bulla.

Naomi’s father farms potatoes in Gippsland, and these appear on the café menu, as does sweet, succulent ‘buttermilk pig’ grown by a nearby producer using the by-products of the factory’s butter making process.

Determined not to waste anything, Bronwyn and Naomi have also branched out into a range of buttermilk skin products. Its high level of lactic acid is touted as a great gentle exfoliant which does wonders for tightening the skin, and proved effective in treating Naomi’s four month old son’s cradle cap when he was a newborn. In the rare spare moments between running the factory and café with her mother, Naomi is also busy writing a butter milk cook book, which she says will probably attract more interest in the US and Europe where it is widely used, than it will in Australia.

Raising a young family in the idyllic alpine gateway of Myrtleford and churning butter to meet their growing orders may seem like enough work for the Ingletons, but Naomi says they are enjoying the business challenge just as much as anything.

She took home the 2010 New and Emerging Agribusiness Award, and says she relished taking part in a Rural Women’s Governance and Leadership Workshop, which is about getting more women on boards, and looking for future leaders in rural communities.

On the morning Naomi and Bronwyn talked to Stock and Land, the butter factory was abuzz with dozens of senior citizens from Wodonga, being treated to morning tea in the café as part of a mystery tour. SBS personality and chef Maeve O’Meara had also just led a ‘food safari’ through the premises.

Soon, Bronwyn will be the only captain at the helm, as Naomi gears up for a trip to Europe in May, having been awarded a fellowship to study with Swedish butter guru Patrik Johansson.

The Ingletons have also established a butter club, which sends out butter packs to-order, al wrapped neatly in their unique, eye-catching packaging, designed by Melbourne company Swear Words. The retro-inspired wrappers just took out the champion trophy and gold medal for packaging at the Royal Melbourne Show.

Due to the youth of the business, the Myrtleford Butter Factorys is not yet self-sustaining, but given a few more revolutions of the butter churn, and Naomi and Bronwyn are sure they’re not far off. With several start-ups and existing producers following in their wake, it looks like the only way for this particular business niche, is up.

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