• Kate Stark

La Cantara Artisan Cheeses



MEET THE MAKERS: Genaro and Rosselyn Velasquez have found success at their Smithton-based dairy business La Cantara Artisan Cheeses after officially opening in January 2021. IMAGE: Meg Powell

 

WHAT was once a dream has turned into reality for Venezuela-born couple Genaro and Rosselyn Velasquez, who are finding success and support through their Smithton dairy venture. The pair have officially celebrated their first year in business after opening La Cantara Artisan Cheeses last January, at Agritas' Duck River Meadows Dairy project.

Running 100 head of dairy cattle, while simultaneously creating delicious handmade fromage, is all in a day's work for Genaro and Rosselyn who have both previously worked as qualified vets.

"At the moment, it's only my wife and myself doing all the work but, as we get established and the business grows, we will be requiring external help - both in the factory and around the farm," Genaro said, adding he and Rosselyn are working seven days a week covering the farm work, cheese factory and markets over the weekends.

Set on about 36 hectares (including 26ha of pasture), the robotic dairy was developed by Agritas with the couple able to lease the infrastructure and alleviate the intensive labour often required with dairy farming.

"It has given us a lot more freedom to do other things like to make cheese as well as run the farm.

"It's also a very sophisticated system that provides you with a lot of data on the health and production of the herd, or individual cow, so we can focus our attention where is needed."

While the majority of the cattle are cross-bred Friesian and Jersey, Genaro said the breeding program is focussed on transitioning to a pure Jersey herd.

"We believe this type will produce the milk components that we need for our cheese and will also bring uniform appearance to our herd in the body of a small, but very productive, animal suitable for our soils and weather conditions."


Tasty success

Originally hoping to make two or three types of Venezuelan-style cheese for the local community, La Cantara Artisan Cheeses has grown to include state of the art facilities and eight unique cheese varieties.

"We are making eight different types and they can be found at different outlets around the state and directly from our website where you can also find who our stockists are."

In Genaro's words "a good cheese starts with the milk" and so it's not surprising that herd husbandry is a top priority for the pair who are hoping to increase the current production average of 20 litres per cow, per day to 25L.

"We focus very strongly on prevention rather than cure. We aim to identify the potential causes of illness and try to mitigate that," he said, adding no two days on the farm are the same.

"The day starts by checking the reports in the computer to review the daily performance of the cows and identify any possible issues, alarms, etc.

"As on any other dairy farm, fences need to be shifted, water needs to be checked, outside jobs need to be done," Genaro said.


The herd

The La Cantera herd is run on pasture with supplementary concentrates fed via a robotic system matched to seasonal conditions.

"Robotic farming involves more paddock allocations per day, therefore more paddocks to set up and more logistics when working out the right feed allocation and the correct management of more paddocks being grazed simultaneously.

"We also supplement with hay and silage as required.

"Special consideration must be taken when feeding fodder as there may be associated problems that may affect the cheese," Genaro said, adding summer crops can also be grown to fill some seasonal gaps.

With the herd voluntarily milking itself up to three times per day, Genaro said it's even more important to keep an eye on herd health as the cattle come and go as they please. "On the days we make cheese, we pump the required amount out of the vat into our pasteuriser.

"Once pasteurisation is completed, we transfer the milk into the cheese vats and work the magic," he said.

"It's fascinating to be able to manage all the aspects of the operation and to be able to learn hands on how each factor of the operation has an effect on the others and they all have to be in harmony."

Genaro and Rosselyn say working together to overcome any challenges which may arise is part of what farming is all about.

"We do all this together and to see how we overcome the challenges is very fulfilling."


Passion for farming

Genaro and Rosselyn's passion for farming is evident in their products which have already gained a number of accolades including a gold medal in the 2021 Royal Tasmanian Fine Food Awards for their 'Blue Cow' variety.

"We spend all our weekends at farmer's markets along the North of the state to bring our products to the people - letting them know that we exist, who we are and sharing our story and journey."

The pair say, while they have already developed a full range of products they are happy with, there is "always room for improvement".

"We are now working on perfecting what we are already producing and thinking about what other varieties we could produce."

While it may have only been 12 months since their official opening, Genaro and Rosselyn say they have been overwhelmed with support from the community and look forward to continuing their work well into the future.

"The greatest things in life take time and require patience, drive and perseverance," Genaro said.

"Who would have thought, 12 years ago when we left Venezuela, that we were going to be living the dream in Tasmania and that it was going to become home for us.

"We are very grateful for the receptiveness and support we have received throughout our journey," he said.

"All we can say is 'thank you'!"

 

*First published January 2022 for Tasmanian Farmer Newspaper - owned by Australian Community Media.