From ‘shovelling chicken shit’ to making premium goat cheese
By Ieva Tomsons
NEXT month, Margaret and Ken Vinicombe (left) will chalk up 22 years of producing award-winning cheeses at Kytren goat dairy in Morangup.Read more
Forty years ago, the newly married couple were on the lookout for some land where Ken could indulge his passion for race horses.
Ken had been a sales rep for L’Oreal and Margaret, a hairdresser and hospitality worker; both were looking for a change of pace.
“At the time, I was shovelling chicken shit in Wanneroo,” said Ken who decided to look for a block in Royd Nook subdivision in Coondle just north of Toodyay.
“It was too far away for me,” said Margaret who recalls turning back towards Perth and heading up a dirt track to have a picnic.
In the middle of the roughly graded pea gravel track they encountered four men sitting around a card table in what is now Dryandra Road.
They were salesmen for Countrywide Real Estate who were spruiking blocks in Morangup’s first subdivision, Rolling Green.
“Let’s get out of here,” was Ken’s first thought after they were cajoled into driving around the endless blocks of scrubby parrot bush.
By late afternoon they had bought an uncleared 15-acre (6ha) site which had direct access to the community water supply.
They paid $13,000 for the land in 1978 and soon after Ken discovered some weatherboard houses in Midland which were being sold for $500, transported and restumped*.
By January 1979 the house had been relocated and the Vinicombes became the first permanent residents of Morangup.
“There was no power, no phone – he had brought me to absolutely nothing,” said Margaret.
The couple worked various jobs, Ken in agriculture/horse studs with Margaret mainly doing bar work in the Hills.
Margaret applied for work in Toodyay but she was told she “lived too far away”.
By 1984 the Vinicombes had two children.
With two toddlers in tow Margaret headed by bus to NSW to visit her grandfather.
Leaving Ken to his own devices was not a good idea.
On a night out at the Noble Falls Tavern Ken sold the house – on a whim.
The pressure was on to buy another block but by this time they had learnt the value of a good water supply and enlisted the services of Bailup water diviner Basil Davies who confirmed their current 25-acre (10ha) farm on McKnoe North had an abundant supply.
“It cost me a carton,” laughs Ken.
For the next couple of years the family put in the hard yards, clearing the block and building a house while they lived in a hired caravan that leaked badly.
In 1991 Ken started farmhanding in Gidgegannup for Gabrielle Kervella who pioneered goat-milk cheesemaking in WA and achieved cult status among Australia’s culinary elite.
A year later Margaret joined Gabriella in the cheese factory and learnt the techniques for making fresh curd, creamy-ash logs, feta and other handcrafted cheeses.
Gabriella’s decision to go organic and fully biodynamic didn’t sit well with Ken and after working for her for five years he got the sack.
Margaret stayed on for another year until the couple had been repaid their outstanding wages.
In 1996 they branched out on their own, built the dairy and cheese room and bought equipment and 70 mixed breed goats from a Coolup dairy that was closing down.
Within a year the Vinicombes had more than 80 per cent of the WA goat’s cheese market and are today the state’s top supplier by a country mile.
Their Kytren brand name is a fusion of their children’s names, Kylie and Trent.
“I tell all the journos that it’s Arabic for perfect cheese,” laughs Ken.
Producing award-winning cheeses and maintaining a consistent supply to distributors throughout Australia is a gruelling seven-day-a-week, year-round commitment.
Margaret’s day starts at 5am in “the dungeon” where she makes fresh curd to order and turns out the previous day’s cheeses to drain.
At 7.30am, the Vinicombes do the first milking for a couple of hours; the second daily milking is shorter, from 4pm to 5.30pm.
For four months, when the nannies are in kid, milking of their 130 Saanen goats takes place once a day but there is still plenty to do – feeding, animal husbandry, bookwork and deliveries throughout the metropolitan area.
Producing untainted goat’s milk is a tricky business and relies on strict management of mating foreplay.
Not only do the nannies have to come into season, so do the bucks and the mating ritual where the buck sprays urine on his head to attract the female requires human intervention to prevent milk contamination.
The Vinicombes aren’t coy about the challenges of working together day in and day out and readily admit that at times it isn’t easy, but 40 years later they’re still together and still going strong.
Forty years ago, Margaret’s step-father bet Ken $50 that he couldn’t keep Margaret in WA but he took 25 years to settle the debt.
“He should have charged interest,” quips Margaret.
*Countrywide Real Estate latched onto Ken’s idea of transporting cheap houses and followed suit, offering house and land packages in Morangup.