Ben Evans produces 37,000 litres of milk a week at his small scale dairy operation.
Ben Evans produces 37,000 litres of milk a week at his small scale dairy operation. Photo: Simon O'Dwyer

A new Fitzroy micro dairy has been a roaring success on the back of the niche food craze, reviving the days a century ago when family dairies dotted the suburbs.

After just two years in business, St David Dairy is riding the hipster fashion for all things local and crafty. It supplies milk, yoghurt and cultured butter to 180 Melbourne cafes and restaurants, and 20 small supermarkets and milk bars.

Ben Evans says the milk he produces at his micro dairy contains more fat and protein than mass produced brands, and froths up better for cafe lattes.
Ben Evans says the milk he produces at his micro dairy contains more fat and protein than mass produced brands, and froths up better for cafe lattes. Photo: Simon O'Dwyer

Its speciality is "non-standardised" milk, which St David founder Ben Evans says means its fat content is retained but can vary seasonally from about 3.8 per cent to 4.3 per cent.

However his milk contains more fat and protein than mass produced brands which prefer a consistent level, and which skim some of the fat off to make cream.

Evans says non-standardised milk froths up better and is fuller-bodied, making it more suited to cafe lattes.

Ben Evans fires up the coffee machine in the morning to test milk is suitable for cafe lattes.
Ben Evans fires up the coffee machine in the morning to test milk is suitable for cafe lattes. Photo: Simon O'Dwyer

His dream is to go "grass to glass" and own a farm to supply his dairy.

For now, he drives to a Thomastown cheese factory four days a week at 4am and fires up a coffee machine to test milk arriving from farms.

He looks for "the body, its stretch – the nice silky froth on top of your latte, that holds". The taste and smell must be "not too strong flavoured that it's going to over-power the coffee".

The chosen batch is taken to his dairy in St David Street, off Brunswick Street, to be pasteurised, homogenised and packed.

Evans says his smaller scale operation – producing 37,000 litres a week, including 7000 litres of light milk, which is standardised – means his milk retails for about $2.40 a litre, about 85 cents higher than the 2014-15 average for mainstream milk.

But he says clients including restaurants Stokehouse and Cutler and Co, cafes Seven Seeds and Padre and even the caterers to State Parliament, are looking for a point of difference.

They like that the milk is processed locally, using carbon neutral power and fewer middlemen, and that he is a small businessman known to them, "more akin to butchers and bakers, little corner stores and milk bars".

Fiona Parsons, a director of coffee wholesaler and retailer Padre Coffee, said there was an increasing market for speciality milk.

"There's no point if you are going to buy the best, most expensive coffee, use the best, most expensive coffee machine, prepare it extremely carefully, to then mix it with something [milk] that's standard or cheap," she said.

Evans says there were 27 dairies in Fitzroy in 1927, and locals tell him there was one in nearby Moor Street, next to the Labour in Vain pub.

The former food technologist with big cheese companies says his next step is to open a shop and public viewing area at the dairy, and to start making cheese – specialist, of course.