Meeniyan is a small town with a big reputation as a foodie destination – and its local dairy products are at the heart of its thriving restaurant and café culture.
The South Gippsland village, which was named the Legendairy capital of Gippsland for 2015, is surrounded by farms that export their ‘clean and green’ dairy products around the globe.
But it’s right in their own backyard that dairy farmers are seeing just what can be created with their world-class produce.
A quick look at the menus in the main street eateries shows this is a true dairy town at heart.
From a smooth latte featuring local milk to pizzas topped with sumptuous regional cheeses or rich dessert creations that tempt the most disciplined dieter, Meeniyan is a town that fully embraces its local dairy culture.
For Marty Thomas, starting his Moo’s at Meeniyan restaurant six years ago was an opportunity to create a menu based as much as possible around local produce – with dairy the cornerstone of his culinary creations.
“It was my passion to use local produce and the area already had a name for it,” Mr Thomas said.
“Locally produced ingredients are very important to me so when I started, I went out to find as much information as I could about local dairy produce.
“Over the years we have been able to get in contact with more and more producers and the dairy industry is obviously a very big part of the local food industry.”
It’s the same story at the Meeniyan Store where Felicity Jones has created a niche business based on making the most of what she can grow in her café kitchen garden and source from the district’s many farmers.
She uses locally produced milk because she thinks it makes better food and drinks and because it’s part of living in a dairy community.
“We think it is better quality and we are all about the low food miles, so the closer we are to where the product is made then the better for everybody,” Ms Jones said.
“We use heaps of milk and, since the word got out that we are using local milk, we find a lot of the locals will come in and buy it, because they like to support the region.”
And it’s not just locals who are enjoying South Gippsland produce in Meeniyan. The town has become a popular destination for the thousands of tourists who flock to South Gippsland’s coastal areas each year.
“I think that’s the number one reason people stop here now,” Ms Jones said.
“The art culture has always been here, but the foodie culture is definitely growing. We get a lot of tourists coming in.”
Trulli Pizza owners Francesco Laera and Rhia Nix have built a booming business combining quality fresh ingredients and flavours inspired by Mr Laera’s home town in southern Italy.
Local blue cheese or buffalo milk cheese can be found atop some of Trulli’s pizzas, while world famous Berrys Creek cheeses are an integral part of their antipasto platters.
For Mr Laera, who grew up on a small dairy farm where his mother still makes her own cheese, sourcing dairy products locally is a no-brainer – especially when their restaurant is based in South Gippsland.
“I truly believe it should be one of the most famous dairy regions in the world,” he said.
The Berrys Creek cheesemakers are regular diners at Trulli, as are many others from the dairy industry who love to enjoy their own products in a local restaurant.
For Mr Thomas, serving the people who make his ingredients is what true local food is all about.
“The dairy industry is not only a very big part of my business, they make up a large percentage of my customers as well,” he said.
“They look after me just like I try to look after them.”