Sandra McCuaig, a dairy farmer from Bodalla, is selling her milk in Canberra. Photo: Jamila Toderas
All along the NSW far south coast, dairy cows graze on lush green fields overlooking the sparkling ocean. It's an idyllic scene and Sandra McCuaig has been in love with it for many years.
McCuaig owns the Bodalla Dairy, a small dairy that's now supplying milk to supermarkets in Canberra and Sydney. Every week she drives up and down the coast with thousands of bottles of her low-temperature pasteurised milk.
It's part of a rising trend - another dairy on the coast, the ABC Cheese Factory at Tilba, also brings milk to Canberra to sell at markets and other outlets.
But things weren't always like this. McCuaig says the dairy industry had seen tough times with big producers dominating in the area.
"Bodalla Dairy is one of the traditional farms, it just seemed to be sad that the whole dairy business was under such stress and young people weren't staying to help it," she says. "The Bodalla name is linked with cheese and milk and good products, and I thought we should use it."
She realised this after she bought the motel at Bodalla.
"People were still coming to Bodalla saying 'can we get cheese', 'can we get milk'. So I decided to renovate the motel into a retro milk shop, knocked down three of the rooms and built a boutique cheese processing factory,"
Now they make soft cheeses, including a range of "Bush Tucker" cheese flavoured with Australian native ingredients such as purple pepper berries, saltbush, and wattleseed. They're sold in the dairy shop and online.
"I'm very much into everything that's iconically Australian. We experimented with all these lovely plants and we're getting all the beautiful flavours. We used native sage and saltbush and lemon myrtle in the yoghurt," she says.
McCuaig says the milk is pasteurised at a very low temperature - 63C - which helps produce what she terms the "living milk".
"The less you do to it the better. The beneficial bacteria are less disturbed, they are more active. If you raise it to a very high temperature you're actually killing off the activity in the milk," she says.
"We are the only people who still do it in a vat,'' she believes. ''You put it into the vat, heat it to 63C and then cool it down quite quickly. The more activity you kill in it, the longer it will last. Long life milk goes up to 100C and you can keep it for nine months."
The herd that produces Bodalla milk is small - only about 350 cows - and is made up of Friesians and Jerseys with the milk combined. It creates what McCuaig says is a creamy but not fatty "good old-fashioned milk". She has no interest in lite milk ("you might as well be drinking water").
She describes herself as a country girl. "It suits me to live [on the south coast] and it's gorgeous. The south coast has beautiful land with wonderful nature and I'm over battling in the city. Every time I go back I think, 'why do they have traffic jams at 11am?'"
Now the only traffic she really faces is heading in to Sydney and Canberra with the milk, which is available in Supabarn supermarkets.
"Canberra people seem to love our milk and I think they are much more aware of health. We are the closest dairy to Canberra and I think people are much more aware of the good stuff and they buy the good stuff."