• The dairy is a one-stop production, bottling and delivery shop. (Saint David Dairy )Source: Saint David Dairy
Small-scale milk producers like Saint David Dairy in Melbourne are changing the way we experience and appreciate our milk.
Yasmin Noone

16 Jan 2018 - 11:10 AM  UPDATED 31 May 2018 - 1:37 PM

We have one question for you food connoisseurs who buy free-range eggs, know the source of your morning coffee beans and can sniff out a menu boasting seasonal, paddock-to-plate produce better than a hog hunting truffles:

Do you know where your milk comes from?

If you’re living in the Melbourne suburb of Fitzroy and consume milk from Saint David Dairy (SDD), the chances are you probably do. That’s because the inner city micro-dairy practices ‘grass-to-glass’ production methods for all of its fresh milk and milk products.

“The people who support us want their questions about their food – where it comes from – answered,” says Ben Evans, SDD’s managing director and food technologist.

“That’s where we’ve struck a chord. We work with third-generation local family farmers and we pay them well above the going rate for milk. We have good, ethical production practices."

The sustainable ethos of the micro-dairy aims to give the white-coloured drink staple the artisan credit it deserves.

"There are not many milk businesses around like us, as we pick up milk ourselves every day, fresh from the farm and we deliver it ourselves to the customer."

The dairy is a one-stop production, bottling and delivery shop. It employs only 20 staff aged between 22 and 45 years old, and sources all of its milk from a farm, located within 100 kilometres from the inner city factory door.

The milk is transported in bulk to Fitzroy where it's bottled on-site and delivered to around 350 stockists.

“There are not many milk businesses around like us, as we pick up milk ourselves every day, fresh from the farm and we deliver it ourselves to the customer,” says Evans, who grew up in a dairy town, has a long family history of dairy production and worked in dairies around the world.

“There’s a level of traceability that people enjoy [with our milk]…We also personally check the milk to see that it stretches [gently aerating the milk for espresso drinks] nicely. We are constantly in connection with the product.”

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Around 90 per cent of SDD’s finished product ends up at cafés, small grocery stores and restaurants within nine kilometres of the factory. The remaining 10 per cent gets delivered to nearby regions within Victoria such as Geelong and the Peninsula.

Customers wanting to buy SDD milk can purchase it direct from the Fitzroy factory from a shop window, six hours a day, and customers can present their glass milk bottle to the shop window in the factory every time they want a refill. 

They can also pick it up from a local stockist or get it delivered to their door via Uber Eats.

“We are doing about 50,000 litres of milk a week all up. That’s equal to selling around 400-500 crates of milk a day,” Evans says.

Although SDD’s micro-dairy is popular in Fitzroy, it’s not the only small-scale dairy in Australia.

In Timboon, about 200 kilometres southwest of Melbourne, Schulz Organic Farms also operates a micro-diary. Over in Copping in the southeast of Tasmania, Leap Farm produces goat meat and dairy products on a small scale, and on the South Coast of NSW, there’s The Pines – a sustainable and biodynamic micro-dairy farm, which distributes milk and milk products to the area and Sydney markets.

Evans believes that micro-dairies are increasing in popularity because they tap into an innate human desire to rediscover the lost connection between what we eat and drink, and the land upon which food is produced.

The seasonal flavours of micro-dairy milk

Drinking milk produced at a micro-dairy boasts another key benefit, Evans says.

The fact it's not standardised means we can enjoy the subtle differences that occur in milk each season, as we do with other food and drink products.

“If you ask other big factories, they will tell you their milk is exactly the same 365 days a year – it’s very consistent – whereas milk in nature isn’t like that.

“Summer milk is different to winter milk. We don’t touch our milk. How it comes at the farm is how it goes in the bottle. We try to celebrate seasonality and educate [consumers] about the different seasonal flavours."

For example, he says, “spring milk is lighter and sweeter, and milk at the end of summer has more bold flavours – the fat goes up in it and is creamier”.

Evans encourages Australians to think about the source of all of their food and drink products – including milk.

“I think for a long time milk was milk. It was white and if you weren’t tasting [different batches] all next to each other, you wouldn’t have noticed a lot of difference on a day-to-day basis.

“That’s something that is changing with micro-dairies.

"If we move back to a dairy industry where there are lots of smaller producers who are passionate about making changes – in terms of sustainability, ethics and quality production – it will probably produce a better milk product.”

Shane Delia's Recipe For Life airs 8pm, Thursdays on SBS and then on SBS On-DemandYou can find the recipes and more features from the show here. 

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