In the late 1800s, the South Coast town of Bodalla was at the forefront of Australia’s dairy industry but when Sandra McCuaig’s family moved there in 1989 all the factories had closed and milk from local farms was sent away to be processed at inland facilities.
In 2008, Sandra decided it was time to revive the local dairy industry and put Bodalla back on the map.
“I just thought it was sad that we were not being recognised for the work and value of the premium quality milk,” Sandra told Region Media.
The McCuaig family started bottling their milk locally and also opened the Bodalla Dairy Shed milk bar, with a cheese factory following in 2011. Sandra described the journey as a “wonderful learning curve” as they worked out how to make everything from scratch.
They also made the decision to maintain as much flavour and nutrition in the milk as possible by using a small scale kettle pasteuriser. This still adheres to the strict food regulations for pasteurised milk but she said the slow and low process allowed more “good” bacteria to remain in the final product.
“Milk that gets processed by the ‘big boys’ is handled rather roughly. It’s put through high pressure to homogenise it – extraordinary high pressure – so that all the fat globules are broken up into minuscule little parts so they never get together again and they never rise,” Sandra explained.
“It’s become a cosmetic thing more than anything else. Homogenising doesn’t improve the flavour or the health or anything.”
Bottles of Bodalla Dairy Living Milk have a characteristic clot of cream at the top and the amount of cream will also change slightly during the year as the natural seasonal variations are allowed to express themselves.
Living Milk forms the basis of all of Bodalla Dairy’s products, which are made on-site from scratch using natural flavours. They’ve won multiple awards for their creations at the Sydney Royal Easter Show.
For many South Coast visitors, no holiday is complete without a scoop (or two!) of Bodalla Dairy Ice Cream.
Local ingredients are showcased in flavours like Let’s Go Diving – a fun combination of Narooma kelp and green tea – and the Coffee and Coastal Wattleseed, which was my favourite. There are classic flavours like Milk Chocolate, Strawberry, and Salted Caramel for less adventurous eaters but I would definitely recommend sampling the unique flavours.
Wander down to visit the resident poddy calves while you enjoy your ice cream; bonus points if you time your visit to coincide with the twice-daily feeding. You can also watch the cheesemaking process through the windows of the factory next door.
Bodalla Dairy has also become well-known for using native Australian ingredients in its Bush Tucker range of cheddar cheese. Sandra said she drew from her childhood in the country where plants like saltbush and quandong were commonly used.
Flavours like the Gum Leaf Smoked Cheddar aim to evoke childhood memories of sitting around a campfire. It takes eight hours to impart the gentle smoky flavour and the process uses gum leaves from the farm.
Other native ingredients like saltbush and Tasmanian pepperberry are sourced through Outback Pride, a company that works with Indigenous communities to grow and harvest native plants ethically and sustainably.
The past two years have been especially challenging for businesses on the South Coast. The Black Summer fires destroyed part of the Bodalla Dairy Farm but Sandra said they were very lucky that the fire didn’t reach the historic buildings on the main street.
“It would have been devastating; [Bodalla is] mostly wooden buildings except for the granite church. So it was pretty flammable! But the fire went around, right around it, with a lot of help from the fire service keeping it away from the town.”
The pandemic then prevented many Canberrans from visiting the coast, which was another loss for small businesses in the town.
“It’s been very difficult … we’ve kept everyone employed which has been a bit of a push because we’ve had no traffic. [It was so quiet that] one day there was a snake that curled up for a sleep on the Princes Highway!”
Sandra thinks there’s a real sense of optimism in the area and locals are eager to welcome Canberrans back to the coast.
“We’ve all paid a bit of a price but we’re looking forward to a lovely summer where things are a bit more normal.”
Sydneysiders can now also enjoy Bodalla Dairy ice cream delivered fresh from the coast at the new Bodalla Dairy ice cream parlour in Woollahra, which was opened in 2021 by Sandra’s daughter Jane Stuart.
Sandra also hinted at plans for a project in Canberra sometime in the next few years but we’ll have to wait and see!
The Bodalla Dairy Shed is open 9 am to 5 pm every day during the summer except Christmas Day and Boxing Day at 52 Princes Highway, Bodalla. Check their website for special events.
The Woollahra Ice cream parlour is open 2 pm to 7 pm Monday to Friday, and 12 pm to 7 pm on weekends, at 148 Queen St, Sydney.