Tilba Milk takes the next step with Woolies at its side

Tilba Real Milk - 100% Jersey. Source: Tilba Real Dairy.
Tilba Real Milk – 100% Jersey. Source: Tilba Real Dairy.

Major investment at Tilba Milk is underway as the artisan dairy company steps up to meet demand for its products, including a new contract with Woolworths supermarkets.

Bottling and labeling machinery worth hundreds of thousands of dollars has just arrived from the United States and is waiting to be installed at the historic ABC Cheese Factory on Bate Street, Central Tilba.

The site has been a hub for the local dairy industry since 1891 but under the ownership of Nic and Erica Dibden new life and opportunity has been injected into the building, the industry, and the community.

Another chapter is unfolding.

Building on the success they’d had at a smaller site in Bodalla over the six years prior, in 2012 Nic and Erica set out to expand their mostly cheese and yogurt business on the Tilba site using milk from their Jersey herd down the road.

However the buzz around their fresh, unhomogenised, cream on the top, Jersey milk has flipped the equation, 80% of the business is now milk.

Nic Dibden, on the job milking in the dairy. Source: Tilba Real Dairy.
Nic Dibden, on the job milking in the dairy. Source: Tilba Real Dairy.

“When we first set up the Tilba factory we put in a very small, very labour intensive milk filling machine which requires five or six people to stand around filling, capping, and carting milk,” Nic explains.

“That has worked fine, but our sales have continued to grow, this new machine will fill, cap, and label one bottle each second, with two to three staff.”

Between the factory and their lush farm, 22 people are employed and Nic believes more jobs will be created.

The new bottling machine will activate a different part of the factory, freeing up space for increased cheese production.

“Staff that have been bottling milk will move across to cheese, in fact we might need more staff,” Nic says.

A relationship with Woolworths has also been building. The supermarket giant has stocked Tilba Milk at its Bermagui outlet for the last two years, but in recent weeks the Dibdens have started supplying the Narooma and Bega supermarkets as well.

New bottling and labeling machinery is ready to install. By Ian Campbell
New bottling and labeling machinery is ready to install. By Ian Campbell

Butcher shops, small independent supermarkets, cafes, fruit shops, and delis have been the only go to place for Tilba Milk customers up until now.

“We supply about 200 stores from Eden to Nowra, and then Bowral, Mittagong, and into Canberra,” Nic says.

“60% of our business is in Canberra.

“We’ve never really gone out chasing stores, it has been consumer driven, consumers go in and ask stores to stock our products,” he says.

The new deal with Woolies was a long time in the making and adds an extra 1000 litres of milk each week to the business.

Nic says Woolies approached them and have been great to deal with.

Woolworths like everybody else that sells food, wants safe food. So although we are audited by NSW Safe Foods, Woolies have their own independent auditing system which we had to pass, and that takes time,” he says.

The door is open for further growth with Woolworths but sustainable, manageable growth is important to the way the Dibdens approach their business.

Tilba Milk, now in Wollies at Narooma, Bega, and Bermagui. Source: Tilba Real Dairy.
Tilba Milk, now in Wollies at Narooma, Bega, and Bermagui. Source: Tilba Real Dairy.

“We have no intention of trying to conquer the world, we want to continue to produce a very good product and look after our staff and look after our community,” Nic says.

The financial security that comes with supplying a business like Woolworths is a key part of the Dibden’s drive but they are also mindful of the existing commercial arrangements that have been apart of their development.

“When we go into new stores we have tended to get new customers, it has made very little difference to existing suppliers in the same town, they have their loyal customers who support them,” Nic says.

“In any town that we go into we have a non-exclusive supply arrangement, for us to supply to one store in one town is uneconomic.”

In doing a deal with Woolworths, the Dibdens had to consider the controversy around $1 a litre supermarket milk.

“We have always gone into our stores at the price point that we are at, with no thought of competing against dollar milk,” Nic says.

“Dollar milk is a disaster for the dairy industry ultimately and you get what you pay for, dollar milk has been stripped, but I fully understand people buying dollar milk.

“But if you want to buy our milk it will be at the correct price point, that’s the way we operate,” he says.

The Tilba Real Diary farm, with Little Drom in the background. Source: Tilba Real Dairy
The Tilba Real Diary farm, with Little Drom in the background. Source: Tilba Real Dairy

Most of the core ingredient at the centre of the Tilba Real Dairy business comes from a Jersey herd approaching 300 at the Dibden’s farm, which sits in the shadow of Gulaga on the Princes Highway.

“We continuously grow our cow numbers to stay ahead of the production curve, but at some point we will have to take on more farms if we want to grow the business,” Nic explains.

“I am very much hoping we can find people who might start up a new operation, it has to be 100% Jersey milk of course, that is our brand.”

With spring creeping into the air and the busy tourist season approaching Nic is hoping specialist technicians from New Zealand will have the new bottling and labeling machines installed and working at the factory in the coming weeks.

“This has been a steep learning curve,” Nic says with a smile.

 

Thanks to About Regional members Kym Mogridge, Patrick Reubinson, Pam Murray and Julie Rutherford Real Estate for supporting local story telling.

Want to become an About Regional member? Click HERE to learn about the perks and benefits.

 

 

 

River Cottage Australia @ Central Tilba sold! Meet the new owner

River Cottage Australia at Central Tilba has been sold.
River Cottage Australia at Central Tilba has been sold.

The new owner of the River Cottage Australia property at Central Tilba on the New South Wales Far South Coast is a 36-year-old single builder from Sydney looking for a place to put roots down and call home.

Tristan Diethelm says he is comfortable with the price he paid for the famous TV set but wouldn’t reveal the final figure.

“Considering it was River Cottage, I am sure I paid a bit more, but opportunities like this are rare,” Tristan says.

Reportedly listed for $895,000 in late April, Tristen told About Regional that the 9-hectare property was a dream come true.

Bermagui based real estate agent Julie Rutherford was the exclusive agent and says it was a real thrill having such a famous listing on the books.

“The fact that it was the home of River Cottage was a factor in the level of interest,” Julie says.

“But there were also many buyers who were attracted by the size and quality of the land, the beautiful Tilba landscape, the character of the home and the temperate climate of our area.”

Tristan Diethelm and Paterson
Tristan Diethelm and Paterson

The sale comes after production of the TV show wrapped up at the end of season four late last year, much to the distress of fans.

Host Paul West has also moved on, his young family settling into Newcastle in recent months.

“We’re keen to get back to the South Coast in the next couple of years, especially as Otto gets ready to start school,” Paul says.

“I was so busy with the show, I needed to reconnect with family and take some time out and keep a low profile.”

The new owner of the property says he is keen to carry on the principles Paul put in place.

“I want to tap into local food and the community, that’s part of what attracted me in the first place,” Tristan says.

Currently living in and renovating a terrace house in Paddington, Tristan has plans for the Punkalla Tilba Road property.

River Cottage will be open for holiday rentals in time for spring 2017.

The heart of River Cottage Australia - the kitchen.
The heart of River Cottage Australia – the kitchen.

“It will be a place where family, friends and I can escape to, but I will be listing it for holiday rentals on Airbnb soon,” Tristen says.

All the animals that starred in the show alongside Paul were sold off late last year, the veggie beds remain and have continued to produce under their own steam, indeed a carrot from the River Cottage garden has become somewhat of a trophy for locals.

“I’ve pretty much bought the place as is,” Tristan says.

“Most of the furniture and what people saw on TV comes with the property, so it will feel like a River Cottage experience to fans of the show who want to stay.”

Being handy on the tools, the new owner also sees great potential in some of the property’s other buildings.

“The bedrooms in the house need a little bit of work, and the old dairy and silos could perhaps be turned into further accommodation,” Tristan says.

The vendor in the sale wasn’t Paul West, the property was owned by British TV production house Keo Films.

The new owner of River Cottage Australia sees great potential in the properties out houses.
The new owner of River Cottage sees great potential in the properties out houses.

David Galloway, Executive Producer and Director of Programmes at Keo says, “After several seasons making the show and watching Paul grow the property it was a hard decision to sell.”

“Unfortunately without a TV commission, it was a business decision in the end.”

Up until tonight (July 3) the show was only available on pay TV and DVD, but SBS will screen all 64 episodes weeknights at 6pm, opening the show and the South East of New South Walse to a whole new audience.

“Who knows where that may lead to in terms of future programming,” the Keo TV boss says.

“For Keo, River Cottage Australia was a hugely successful venture, with four seasons airing on Foxtel’s Lifestyle Channel.

“It also gave the company a production base in Australia from which other highly successful Keo formats – like Struggle Street’ (SBS) and ‘War on Waste’ (ABC) have been produced,” Mr Galloway says.

Paul West. From RCA Facebook page.
Paul West. Source: RCA Facebook page

As the new owner of the property, Tristan Diethelm chuckles as he confesses to only watching the first series of River Cottage Australia.

“But I’ve been looking for a property outside of Sydney for a while, there’s a buzz about the South Coast at the moment and I’ve been scanning the area for about a year,” he says.

“I am keen to nurture the property and would love to be working in the area down the track.

“There’s the beach nearby, a rural lifestyle, and a beautiful little town, it ticks so many boxes.”

While he lives in Sydney Tristan says he doesn’t feel like he has a hometown.

“My Dad is a yachtsman and we spent a lot of time sailing the world when I was young, so I am looking for a place to put down some roots,” Tristan says.

“And if Keo wants to film another series one day, I’d open up the property again for River Cottage.”

*Photos supplied by Julie Rutherford Real Estate, with photography by Kit Goldsworthy from Tathra (internal and some external photos) and Josh McHugh from Bermagui (drone aerial shots).

About Regional – a new place for the stories of South East NSW. Podcast 8

Sherringham, Tilba. By Robyn Lucas
Sherringham, Tilba. By Robyn Lucas

About Regional – the new place for the stories of South East NSW.

In episode 8…

Show season in South East NSW is coming to an end with Cooma (March 11) and Bemboka Show (March 12) this weekend,  and Bombala Show on March 18.

Bega Show is the biggest in the region, 3 days and 3 nights in the middle of February.

The sideshows are a big part of show time, but at the heart of any country show are the people, produce and animals that grow on this land.

Tilba Dairy farmer Robyn Lucas and her son Charles claimed the prestigious supreme champion dairy cattle award at the Bega Show – the best of the best in the dairy ring.

The win was bittersweet for Robyn, who after 15 years is being forced off her beloved Sherringham Farm through family circumstances.

I spoke with Robyn just after her Bega Show win.

Hope you enjoy the new snappier version of the program, listening options:

Click play to stream here and now…

 

Or you can listen and subscribe via Audioboom or iTunes

Feedback, story ideas and advertising enquiries to hello@aboutregional.com.au

About Regional – the podcast, episode six, January 19 2017

Triangle Farm Tilba. From Facebook
Triangle Farm Tilba. From Facebook

About Regional, the podcast, January 19 2017.

In episode six…

The TV show River Cottage Australia has been mothballed, host Paul West gives us the inside story and speaks of his plans for the future. Read more HERE.

Author Deb Hunt shares her amazing love story with a pilot from the Royal Flying Doctor Service, a man given up for dead in a horrific helicopter crash as a young fella that goes on to help lead this iconic organisation.

And one of the Anglican Churches newest priests, Merimbula’s Anthony Frost talks about his life of faith and the relevance of the Bible in 2017.

Thanks for tuning in, feedback, story ideas and advertising enquiries to hello@aboutregional.com.au

About Regional – a new place for the stories of South East NSW.

Cheers

Ian

Listening options:

Click here to listen and subscribe via iTunes

Click here to listen and subscribe via Audioboom

River Cottage Australia on hold – Paul West making new plans

River Cottage Australia, just outside of Central Tilba. From RCA Facebook page.
River Cottage Australia, just outside of Central Tilba. From RCA Facebook page.

River Cottage Australia at Central Tilba has been mothballed as backers of the TV show press ‘hold’ on further filming.

Host, Paul West says the future of the series is up in the air but he’s hopeful the show might return to TV screens one day.

“We don’t have a commission for the 2017 viewing year,” Paul says.

“For the last four years we have filmed a season every year continuously and this will be the first time we have had a break.”

The lush property, come TV set at the foot of Gulaga Mountain has been de-stocked, the cast of animals have all gone to good homes, their celebrity status attracting interest but not higher prices.

“We have stripped the high maintenance livestock out, like the chickens, the pigs and a lot of the cattle,” Paul explains.

“We just left a couple of the cows to keep the grass down, the property will still tick away but it won’t thrive like it has in past seasons.”

Digger the dog stays with Paul as part of his growing family.

“He’s not for sale…although that depends on how he’s behaving,” Paul laughs.

The West family on Paul and Alicia's on wedding day. From RCA Facebook page
The West family on Paul and Alicia’s wedding day @ The Sanctuary in Tilba. From RCA Facebook page

Having moved their life from Tasmania to the South Coast of NSW to film the show, Paul and his wife Alicia are now exploring new income options.

“It’s [River Cottage] not my property, I didn’t own it,” Paul says.

“As much as I do love going up there, I’ve got a family to feed, so I need to generate income, I can’t just do it for the love.”

Given the warmth many have for the show, it’s easy to forget that River Cottage Australia is a business – a partnership between Keo Films and pay-TV channel Foxtel.

According to Paul, the decision to rest the series is a commercial one that relates to the modern media landscape.

“The TV environment has changed rapidly in the last couple of years with the proliferation of on-demand streaming services and that caught our broadcaster on the hop a little bit,” Paul believes.

“They [Foxtel] had a restructure and River Cottage didn’t meet the criteria.”

Based on the long-running UK series hosted by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall,  the Tilba version of the show reached into communities right around South East NSW.

The skill, passion, and beauty of these small communities was showcased to 17 countries across Asia and Eastern Europe.

Local people and their flair for food, the environment and each other became the star of the show – and generated terrific goodwill and prosperity beyond the TV production houses.

“There is no doubt the filming of 32 episodes of this national and international show has had a positive impact on the region in many ways,” says Sarah Cooper, Business Assistance Manager, Eurobodalla Shire Council.

“Aside from the immediate economic benefit that comes with a full TV crew filming for 3 months each year, there will be long-lasting effects,” Sarah says.

“The increased tourism in and around Tilba with visitors wanting to sample the ‘River Cottage Australia’ life has been a huge economic boost for the region and will be for some time.

“It’s been a four-year partnership with Council and the community, we will miss the show.” she says.

Paul West speaks with Ian Campbell about his plans for the future:

Paul West laughs as he remembers meeting viewers from Hungary on the main street of Central Tilba.

“If you have an eye for natural beauty, great communities, and that true regional character, then this is the best part of Australia,” Paul says.

The cooking and gardening program has also made a number of skilled locals ‘famous.’

Matt Christison with Paul West. From RCA Facebook
Matt Christison with Paul West. From RCA Facebook page.

As the show moved along Paul needed to call on expert advice, drawing on CWA cook Nelleke Gorton, farmer and felter Tabitha Bilaniwskyj-Zarins, Erica and Nic Dibden from South Coast Cheese and Tilba Milk, and mobile butcher Matt Christison, among many others.

Matt says the show has changed him.

“It’s been a huge buzz, the crew made me feel so welcome – they are great people.

“I was gutted when I heard the news, I will miss it. The Cooking School especially has been very satisfying,” he says.

Matt’s profile on the show has been good for his own business, which he’s very grateful for.

“Other’s have been inspired too, there are a lot more mobile butchers out there now,” Matt says.

While the show featured the recipes and gardening tips you’d expect, it was also known for showing regional life in all its colours, including the slaughter of farm animals.

As the one firing the gun and often cutting the throat of an animal, Matt says the reaction of viewers was interesting.

“I am very proud of that work,” Matt says.

“We showed how it can be done naturally and humanely.”

On the flipside, Matt says he’s disappointed his butcher jokes were cut from the show.

“I cracked every ‘meat’ joke there is, none of them made it to air,” he laughs.

Kelly Eastwood is another of the names tied to show reflecting on the positive impact it’s had and making new plans for the future.

Paul West and Kelly Eastwood. From RCA Facebook page
Paul West and Kelly Eastwood. From RCA Facebook page

Kelly was the TV Food Producer and as a qualified chef was Manager of the River Cottage Australia Cooking School, which ran in conjunction with the TV series.

Kelly says the region has left its mark on her and she’ll be staying.

“With all the travelling I’ve done, this is the first place I’ve had an affiliation with, it feels like home,” she says.

Just like Paul West, Kelly has built a connection with the local community that has moved beyond the TV screen and into the fabric of what regional living is about.

Kelly has become a key member of the Tilba Chamber of Commerce and has just been appointed president of the 2017 Tilba Easter Festival committee.

“I got involved to say ‘thank you’ to this community for its support of the show and the cooking school,” Kelly says.

“Moving here for River Cottage Australia has been life changing, there are lots of reasons to stick around.”

Kelly says she’ll take the next month off and rest before jumping into anything new.

“There are lots of opportunities for good food here and I’ll be writing my cookbook over summer,” Kelly says.

“I believe so much in this region and I just want to show it off to the world.”

For Paul West, his wife Alicia, their 2-year-old boy and baby due early next year, River Cottage Australia lives on in many respects.

Triangle Farm Tilba. From Facebook
Triangle Farm Tilba. From Facebook

While the show might be hibernating, Paul’s passion for food is awake and kicking under the banner of Triangle Farm Tilba.

Over the last couple of months, Paul has been turning a grassy paddock on the Princes Highway, opposite the Dibden’s dairy farm, into a market garden.

“When you are making a TV show you do more TV making than you do food growing,” Paul says.

“Now that the TV show isn’t on the horizon, I want to do more food growing.

“I’ll be growing a variety of chemical free vegetables that I hope to sell into the Bermagui and Tilba farmers markets, and maybe I’ll get down to Bega as well, and supply a few hospitality businesses,” Paul says.

A pop-up food stall is also part of Paul’s thinking, but he’s keen to get the garden producing first.

“Tilba sits atop a region that is colloquially known as the triangle,” Paul explains.

“It’s the trio of villages – Bermagui, Cobargo, and Tilba, they make a triangle on the map.”

Paul says the name Triangle Farm is also a nod to the triangle being the strongest shape.

“And the three points [of a triangle] also symbolise produce, place and people – the three most important elements in food,” Paul says.

Over the last four years, River Cottage Australia has been nominated for a number of TV industry awards, including best lifestyle show at the recent Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts (AACTA) Awards, it has attracted weekly audiences of up to 132,000 people and sold thousands of cookbooks, but perhaps its greatest achievement is the mark the show leaves on the community that took it on.

Farewell River Cottage Australia – fingers crossed you come back one day.