14 September 2023

Paddock to pantry: sixth-generation Kiama farmer who broke with tradition

| Siobhan O'Brien
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Kel Grey, the owner of The Pines Kiama

Kel Grey, the owner of The Pines Kiama, is a sixth-generation Kiama-based farmer who broke with tradition when he branched out to make artisanal products. Photo: Supplied.

In life there are those who flounder and those who flourish. Kel Grey, the co-owner of The Pines Kiama, a sustainable micro-dairy in Kiama NSW, belongs in the latter group. He comes from a long lineage of landowners who’ve lived and worked on the bucolic property with sweeping views of the rugged coastline since 1854. But it wasn’t always the land of milk and honey.

Kel and his wife Mahlah took control of the property in 2008. They had big dreams, however the vicissitudes of farming soon had them doubting their decision.

According to Mahlah, “We had to make some tough decisions and realised we couldn’t continue to be viable by supplying the commercial dairy industry. But we were determined to keep the land in the family and decided to go independent.”

To turn the idea into reality the couple sought the guidance of John Crowl, the mastermind behind the internationally award-winning gelataria Cow and The Moon. The Enmore-based John mentored them in the art of bottling milk and making gelato. Yoghurt and cheese came later.

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Then in 2012, The Pines Kiama – home to some of the best artisanal dairy products in the country – was born.

“My father always taught me that farmers are caretakers and you must leave things in better shape than those that preceeded you,” explained Kel.

Fast forward a few years and the Greys did exactly that when they embraced the transition from conventional farming in favour of sustainable and regenerative agricultural practices. Biodynamic composting, high-rotation grazing, solar energy and minimally processed dairy products are just a handful of methods they employ on the farm.

“Our biggest asset is our soil and enhancing our ecosystem. We put the wellbeing of our animals and the land at the forefront of everything we do and our farming practices ensure that nothing goes to waste,” Kel said.

The Pines Kiama is a micro-dairy that employs sustainable and regenerative agricultural practices.

The Pines Kiama is a micro-dairy that employs sustainable and regenerative agricultural practices. Photo: Supplied.

The result is a multiple award-winning operation that’s burgeoned from a team of two, to one that employs a bevy of staff: cheese maker, operations manager, delivery driver, gelato maker, retail managers and casual staff.

“It’s amazing to see all of our hard work pay off,” said Mahlah.

For many years, the products from this South Coast dairy were sold directly to the public at events such as Carriageworks Farmers Market, Mould The Cheese Festival, Kiama Farmers Market and the like.

But in keeping with their baptism by fire approach, Kel and Mahlah opened a retail space in late 2022 on Collins Street in Kiama to house their products under one roof. The Pines Pantry – as its known – also offers artisanal products and produce by other Illawarra-based entrepreneurs – olives, sausages, ready-made meals, honey and such. It’s a gastronome’s delight.

Mahlah Grey, the co-owner of The Pines Kiama serves gelato at The Pines Pantry, on Collins Street, Kiama.

Mahlah Grey, the co-owner of The Pines Kiama serves gelato at The Pines Pantry, on Collins Street, Kiama. Photo: Supplied.

Doubtless this enterprising couple can’t sit still. The latest instalment in their product lineup is Three Daughters Cheddar which is hand milled, wrapped in cloth and aged in an old stone silo for eighteen months. The cheese – which has a buttery, caramelised, full-bodied flavour – has gone from being an idea over dinner to something that features on the menu at multiple hatted restaurants around the nation.

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A host of gongs from delicious magazine’s annual produce awards helped it get there.

“Those awards mean so much to us because they recognise the work that goes on behind the scenes, all the effort, all the care. Our products are so much more than what you see on the table or the plate,” said Mahlah.

That – combined with this couple’s vision, dedication and tenacity – is the raison d’etre for their success.

The Pines Pantry

Opening hours: Sun – Thu 10 am – 5 pm, Fri – Sat 10 am – 7 pm

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