By Melissa Keogh
An artisan dairy farmer in one of South Australia’s most renowned regions is pushing a paddock to plate ethos that is helping support the local produce industry.
Barossa Valley producer Michael Wohlstadt is behind The Dairyman, maker of handmade butter, cream and premium fresh pork cuts, as well as cured and smoked meats.
The dairy and pork products are produced on site before leaving for some of the state’s most prestigious restaurants, including Gourmet Traveller Restaurant of the Year, Orana, its sister venue Bistro Blackwood and rooftop bar and restaurant 2KW.
Michael has lived on the traditional, mixed-farm property between Lyndoch and Williamstown for the past 40 years, raising a small herd of 20 Jersey cows for milk that goes into premium cream and butter products.
“It’s very old school, we use a milk machine but it’s a very old system and it’s hands on, low stress, very laid back, but fairly manual process,” he says.
“We milk the cows and at the moment about 60% of the dairy goes into the cream and butter and the balance is the skim milk by-product which goes to the pigs to see out a substantial diet.”
The free-range Berkshire and Tamworth pigs are among few Australian pig herds fed milk opposed to usual grain feed.
But along with the milk, the pigs are also fed grain sourced from a local farmer about 5km away “meaning total food miles are quite low”.
“Nothing leaves here as a commodity, it all leaves here as food,” Michael says.
“The pork is killed and processed offsite in the Barossa and comes back here for distribution, it goes into ham, bacon and fresh pork.”
As for the dairy products, cream is produced on site, as is the butter which is churned in small batches onsite using traditional methods that capture a full, creamy flavour.
Aside from Orana, Blackwood and 2KW, The Dairyman also supplies Magill Estate Restaurant and InterContinental Adelaide.
Its products can also be found at the Adelaide Central Market’s Smelly Cheese Shop and Lucia’s Fine Foods, as well as the Barossa Farmers Market, Barossa Co-op, Adelaide Farmers Market (every fortnight) and online.
Michael has adopted a mixed farming approach, a method common 50 years ago where landholders would undertake a number of complementary agricultural practices between.
“Mixed farming was common in those days where you had a small herd of cows to make cream and then there would also be the skim milk left for the pigs,” he says.
“When I came to the Barossa that was still very common, but now agricultural regions have gravitated towards a single dominant stream.
“We have seen a reduction of dairy farms in the Barossa, there is only a handful now.”
Michael came to the Barossa at the age of 12 with his German parents who migrated to Australia post-WW2.
At the age of 23, Michael bought his current property in the foothills of the Barossa ranges, milking a herd of 40 cows, pursuing a successful career in town planning and helping raise three children.
Taking on the life of a dairy farmer full time, The Dairyman business was born eight years ago.
But the farming venture means more to him than just his income. He also takes pride in assisting the animals’ welfare with comforts such as rugs to keep the cattle warm and a shelter for the pigs.
Rugging cows is not common practice, but Michael says it plays a part in ensuring the livestock live healthier lives, and in turn make better quality products.
“They are healthier because they are using less energy trying to keep themselves warm, meaning more energy is available for the two things they have to do which is produce milk and grow a calf,” he says.
“The pigs also have a shelter, so it’s a very warm environment and in summer they have plenty of shade.
“A low stress environment is very important for the welfare of the animals. Happy pigs and happy cows make happy products.”
The Dairyman has won many awards over the years including a gold medal at this year’s 2018 delicious magazine National Produce Awards.
While producing high quality dairy and pork products is at the forefront of The Dairyman’s operations, delivering an authentic farm experience to visitors is also a priority.
Michael also runs accommodation offerings at the farm, one is a luxury cottage that was once a working milking facility, the other an 1840s house once used to cut chaff and crush grain.
Guests are treated to a breakfast full of local produce and are also invited to join Michael during the afternoons to feed the pigs.
Michael says the majority of guests are domestic visitors, while 15-20% are international visitors.
“When you come and stay with us we spend a bit of time with you in the afternoons, you can hear the stories, feed the pigs, and that is something you won’t get elsewhere,” he adds.
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