Interview: Naomi Ingleton
How would you describe yourself in 3 adjectives?
It’s not easy to answer these type of questions, just 3? Ok – determined, happy & confident.
I believe that you are a mother and business woman. How do you manage to do this and how will you manage to travel, will the children come with you?
I am very fortunate to have lots of family around me, I work with my mother, my partner is taking leave from his work as a pharmacist and his parents are coming to Myrtleford from Echuca to look after the kids. I am teaching the three-year-old to Skype, but the seven-month-old is a bit young yet. I will miss them terribly. If I was just vacationing and the children were a few years older I would be taking the family; as this is work and I have a lot to do in a small space of time, it’s best I do it on my own.
Have you always thought / felt that you would like to run your own business? (Tell us about your personality… Are you personally competitive? Do you enjoy taking risks?)
I have always done some work for myself, even as a young child I would sell ice cream to the pickers and other farmers during the potato harvest – my father is a potato grower. I also had a chocolate stall outside a barber shop owned by the father of my best friend at primary school, which was quite successful for a ten-year-old. Since then I have taught cooking lessons, done a spot of private catering and consignment work. I am a chef by trade and I think chefs by nature are competitive, you have to be to succeed, it’s a competitive industry. I don’t know whether I enjoy taking risks, I think it is more the fact that I am not afraid to take risks.
Congratulations on winning the Jack Green Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellowship. Would you please tell us about the Fellowship and why you think the judges chose you and your project?
The Churchill Trust was established in 1965 to honour the memory of Sir Winston Churchill by awarding overseas research fellowships known as ‘Churchill Fellowships’. Churchill Fellowships allow you to design your own research project, travel the world and further your knowledge in your chosen field, before returning to make a real contribution to Australian society. The Jack Green Fellowship is awarded to a project in the dairy industry. Being a chef by trade the only butter factory I have been in is my own, so being able to go and work in what is considered the best butter producers in the world is an enormous privilege. I am going to look at the production methods and culture used in butter production.
Why have you decided to learn French? Do you have any connection to France and the French? (What learning process have you been using and how is it going?)
The greatest part of my trip is in France, so to be able to communicate and immerse myself in the culture it will help to at least speak a little French. I have quite a few French friends who have been helping me with conversation, it helps that I speak food and now butter manufacturing. I have taken private lessons specific to what I will be doing and I am listening to French music, watching French news and calling up my friends. Having been to France before I know that I will be more than able to make myself understood, ordering at restaurants and [using] basic words. We have recently had a French couple staying across the road from us helping out on a dairy farm. I have cooked them dinner in exchange for conversation, although they want to speak English to make their language skills better.
How did you end up in the butter business? When did you start the business?
I started a café in an empty butter factory in 2007. We are located on a main tourist route and found we were faced with a decline in tourism through drought, fires, petrol prices and then finally floods. We needed to find our niche; I had been making butter for our customers in the café so recreating the butter factory seemed like a good idea. Australia lacked good commercial butter like Europe and America. I applied for a Tourism Grant through AusIndustry in 2010 and was successful; this helped set up our manufacturing plant. We built a viewing platform so customers could watch us making the butter. It has been 12 months of production now and I think I am finally getting the hang of it.
Would you tell us about the innovation that is happening in the Australian dairy / butter industry?
Australia is finding its feet with its dairy production. With so much emphasis on the ‘Colesworth duopoly’ and cheap dairy, the industry is fighting back, making more interesting products and giving consumers a choice. There will always be a section of the community who choose price over ethics, but with greater awareness and choice I can only hope people would want to support the farmer and producer directly.
Your butter is already some of the best in Australia, what do you think you are going to learn from this trip in Europe in terms of butter production?
Ah shucks, thanks. I am using this trip to benchmark my butter against the best and also get some ideas that I can put into my production, whether it is streamlining or developing new products. See what cultures are used and in what methods, how the butter is worked and what machinery is used.
Where can we try or buy your butter? Can you give our readers an address where to buy or taste some?
We distribute to most states, I also go to farmers markets on most weekends, Melbourne, Mansfield and soon Canberra. The details are on our website; if you have a favourite deli ask them to stock us.
What’s the secret to making good butter?
I don’t know if there is a secret as such, a lot of trial and error, determination, good quality ingredients and sleepless nights.
I read that you plan to develop buttermilk skin products ? Do you have them already ? Tell us more about it.
Buttermilk is so amazing, we use it in everything. The lactic acid is a gentle exfoliant and it helps to hydrate skin. Its great for acne and eczema and all skin types, I work with a soap maker not far from me and we use our buttermilk in her beautiful hand-made soaps; I also have bath salts made with buttermilk and you can use it as a face cleanser.
What will your first trip be like in Europe ? Can you give us some idea of what you expect? And what are you most looking forward to?
I am heading to Sweden first to work with the butter maker for Noma and a few other Michelin restaurants, he is doing some really interesting things, a bit different and experimental. Then I am having a weekend in Paris before I head down to Niort in Poitou-Charente to work at Pamplie and the Echire factories. I am also visiting a factory that makes raw cream butter. I will be in the Niort area for two weeks and then head north back to Paris through Brittany and Normandy to visit Jean Yves Bordier and a few other factories before flying home. I have hired a gîte and a car so I am looking forward to having a whole other reality for a few weeks.
What is your dream for the future?
For my business the first thing I will do is source some organic cream, I would love to be certified organic, so I will look for a farmer I can work with to achieve this. I would love to spend more time with my kids, so I need to work on the ‘work/life’ balance.
You went to Europe in 2000, have you been to France before?
When I was in France in 2000 I spent only a short visit to Paris (backpacking) and then spent the rest on a train travelling through, so I look forward to stopping this time.
Do you have a favourite French region and why?
My mother’s cousin Mary McGuire was an actress who moved to Avignon so I have always wanted to visit, I think it will be a little too far this time so I will have to return.
Where is your favourite place to eat in Paris or France?
When I was in Paris I went to this amazing little Moroccan restaurant in a basement, so I will dig out my old journal and try and find it again.
Where is your favourite place to drink in Paris or France?
People-watching on the Champs Elysees with a croissant and a coffee or a glass of rosé.
Where is your favourite place to shop in Paris or France?
I follow ‘I can 2’ on Facebook, so I am definitely going there to shop.
Do you have a favourite French place in Melbourne?
‘France soir’ is always a favourite. I used to visit the Fromagerie at Richmond Hill larder and talk cheese with the affiner, not French but lots of French cheese does that count?
Do you have a favourite French butter?
I have only really tasted the French commercial butters, so I am looking forward to seeing real artisans at work.
Thanks a lot, we really appreciate the time you have taken to answer our questions. I’d like to take this opportunity to wish you ‘Bon voyage!’ from everyone here at Ma Vie Française !Image credits:
1. Naomi Ingleton
2. Old butter churn
3. Bronwyn and Naomi
4. Butter factory
5. Salted Butter Bars
6. Unsalted Butter Bars