Making cheese is something the Harper women have done for generations, originally bringing their skills to New Zealand from Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire, the home of English stilton cheese.
It’s been a recipe for success, which culminated in Lisa Harper taking away the Supreme Winner trophy at the RWNZ Enterprising Rural Women Award 2011 during our national conference in Auckland in May.
Lisa learned cheese making from her grandmother and mother. Growing up it was just another regular household task, “It’s like vacuuming. Cheese and I have grown up together!”
Lisa spent her childhood on the family farm at the head of the Mahau Sounds in Marlborough, and received her education through The Correspondence School, before setting off to Wellington to do a science degree.
She began her working life travelling the country as a research scientist, but returned to the farm eight years ago to help out ‘for a few months’. It became a labour of love, and Lisa has transformed the flagging fortunes of the sheep farm by developing cheese making into a business to compliment the farm stay accommodation she and her mother run.
Lisa says she loves feeding people, and her farm guests were often fascinated by the cheeses she served at dinner and wanted to see how it was made. Quick to see a new business opportunity, Lisa now runs cheese making classes that even-out the seasonal cash flow, attracting guests to Sherrington Grange all year round.
Lisa’s also a regular at the Marlborough Farmers’ Market, where people are treated to tastings of her cheese. “I get to feed people for three hours. It’s like a weekly date.”
Lisa describes her range of cheeses as mild, medium, and “deadly”, depending on how long they age for.
“I consider myself a cheese ager, not a cheese maker, because my job is to make sure the cheese ages properly and develops to what it’s supposed to.”
Back on the farm the cheese making process continues through the week. “We lovingly coax fresh milk into cheese in our tiny farm dairy from recipes more than two centuries old,” says Lisa. “Each cheese is hand-crafted using traditional methods which have been discarded by modern dairy factories in the quest for efficiency.
“We choose to make only limited quantities of cheese, using the old ways, because we believe it creates a better product – this is the way cheese was before mechanisation and standardisation became the norm. Sherrington cheeses look, smell and taste the way they were meant to.”
Like many of our entrants this year, Lisa was encouraged to enter the RWNZ Enterprising Rural Women Award by one of our members, and giving recognition to rural women entrepreneurs achieving extraordinary things is a key reason for our running the Award.
Lisa’s win has received extensive publicity on TV, in provincial and farming newspapers and trade journals, as well as from overseas publications such as the USA goat industry magazine, and is an excellent way of promoting our organisation.
Runners up in the Award were North Island winners Nestling Limited, run by sisters Bernadine Guilleux and Maria-Fe Rohrlach. Their Rotorua-based business makes baby slings and pouches from merino wool and organic cotton. The judges were particularly impressed with the business’ use of New Zealand raw materials, as well as their online marketing strategies which connect them in a very personal way with their customers.
We thank our Award co-sponsors, Access Homehealth Ltd and Telecom for their support.
Categorised in: Uncategorized