When my work colleague Donovan told me he was driving to New South Wales with his father-in-law to buy a trailer full of goats on the weekend, I thought he was joking. A few years, a change of job and a tree-change to north-eastern Victoria later, I saw for myself that this was no joke. He and wife Melissa had bought a farm, moved their family, established a cheese-making factory and are proud owners of a large number of very friendly white Sanaan dairy goats. When Mark and I went to visit in early June, we were taken into the paddock to meet all the animals. The super-friendly goats were not only trying to climb on us, but also eat buttons off my jacket. They were being ably protected from foxes by a couple of llamas (who are very cute to look at but spit at you when you approach them) and a 6-month old orphan cow named Gypsy (who thinks she is a goat).
We spent the weekend in accommodation just out of the nearby town of Wangaratta and not only spent time with Donovan who showed us how he went about his 5.30am daily milking duties, but we helped Melissa make cheese. We got all dressed up (rubber boots and hair-nets) and entered the cheese-making cave, which was warm, filled with sparkling stainless steel cheese-making equipment and smelled super milky. We helped Melissa to separate curds and whey (feeling slightly like Miss Muffett as I write that) for some marinated feta cheese (Gem) that she would be making later. Melissa has recently made a tree-change from an HR role and told me that she just loves spending time in the cheese making room, listening to music and going about her craft. And looking at her smile, she certainly looked right at home and happy in her new work-space.
Varieties that are made at Tolpuddle include Goat Curd, Chevre (classically creamy and crumbly), Great Alpine Road (my favourite – a french-style farmhouse cheese), Gem (marinated in olive-oil and infused with lemon myrtle and juniper berries) and Ned (a delicious semi-hard alpine-style cheese). They also sell goat’s milk. You can buy Tolpuddle products online – except you won’t find a lot available right now as the goats are pregnant – and they need all their energy to make little baby goats. Check back in spring for a full range of products or at one of the Farmer’s markets, where they often have a stall. The day I visited Melissa was manning the stall at the Wangaratta Farmers Market, but they are regulars at the Coburg and Mansfield Farmer’s Market.
That evening Donovan made dinner – goat of course. He said that the dish was capra nel siero di latte, (I think this was a google-translate version), but it was essentially slow roasted goat cooked in goats cheese whey. He served it with roast potatoes, a salad and a side of soft polenta. It was cooked in a 1950s St George’s Grillmaster oven, which came with the old house they bought and is apparently a collector’s piece. It certainly did a great job of roasting the goat – which was so tasty and tender – and I would have drunk those pan juices in a glass if no-one else had been around!
The next day we went back to the farm and I carefully picked a large bunch of stinging nettles I had seen growing in a field by the house. I was telling Donovan that I had seen them for sale at a Farmer’s Market for $5 per bunch – he gave a belly laugh, as there were so much of it growing wild at Tolpuddle. I had a plan for the nettles – and imagined they would go down really well with some goats cheese.
So when I got home, I blanched the nettles and added them to eggs and flour, rolling out a vibrant green pasta dough. I had brought home a packet of Tolpuddle chèvre, which delicious, was a bit overpowering as filling for ravioli. Adding ricotta to the dough balanced the taste nicely, and I whipped them together to make a smooth paste. As I’d bought some walnuts at the Wangaratta Farmer’s market, I toasted them and folded a handful though the cheese mixture. Delicious. I served the nettle ravioli (which tasted like a field of greeness) with some melted butter and a sprinkling of lemon zest. Mark had his with good quality extra virgin olive oil (no lemon zest) and said it tasted even better, as it allowed the chèvre and nettles to shine through.
nettle ravioli with goats cheese
230g flour for pasta (I use half 00 flour and half superfine semolina)
2 eggs (70g)
40g nettles (leaves and fine stems only, blanched and well drained)
200g chevre cheese
freshly ground black pepper to taste
8 whole walnuts, shelled, toasted then finely chopped
100g unsalted butter (or excellent quality EVOO)
lemon zest (if desired)
Pick the leaves and small stems from a bunch of the nettles (whilst wearing gloves) and wash them in plenty of water. Plunge them in a large pot of boiling water, allow thing the water to return to the boil and then remove from the pot and drain the leaves in a colander. Rinse them in icy cold water and when cool enough to handle, wring them well with your hands (no gloves needed).
To make the pasta, place the flour on a work surface, make a well in the centre in which you will place the eggs and the nettles. Work the flour into the centre ingredients little by little with your fingers until it is all blended and then knead until smooth. You could also do this step with a food processor (I tend to as the nettles will be distributed more evenly through the dough), although you will still need to knead it until it is smooth. Form a ball with the dough, wrap in cling film and allow to rest for at least 30 minutes (a couple of hours is fine).
Make the filling whilst the pasta is resting. Place the two cheese and egg in a small food processor and process until well combined and smooth. Stir in the waluts and plenty of black pepper. Adjust salt to taste (remembering that the pasta has no salt). Set aside until ready to use.
Make the pasta by running it through your pasta machine (if you have not made pasta before, see this post for more detailed instructions) until it is the desired thickness (I ran it through to the second thinnest setting). You will make a long sheet of pasta. Make the ravioli with the first sheet before rolling out the remaining pasta.
To make the ravioli place a teaspoon of ricotta mixture on the long sheet of pasta, slightly off centre along the long axis of the sheet. Repeat along the whole length of the sheet ensuring the mounds of filling are well spaced (the spacing depends on how large you are making your ravioli). Dip a finger in water and wet the pasta around all the mounds of filling then close the other half of the pasta over the filling, pressing down well around the filling to make sure it is sealed and there is no trapped air. Now cut your ravioli around the filling to your desired shape (using a fluted pastry cutter, the rum of a glass, a cookie cutter or a mould – they can be round or square). Try to make all the ravioli a similar size so they will have the same cooking time. Dust the ravioli lightly with semolina and cover with a tea towel. Repeat.
To cook, bring a large pot of well-salted water to the boil and drop in the pasta. Cook for 5-10 minutes until “al dente” (cooking time is entirely dependent on size of pasta shape and its thickness. Taste as you go if needed to determine when they are cooked). Drain and serve with melted butter or EVOO, sprinkled with lemon zest (optional).