There’s nothing disingenuous about Ben Evans. His casual approach may very well play into our city-dwelling idea of a farmer, but that belies his knowledge and dedication to knowing and doing something well. When he speaks, it’s from the experience of a fourth generation dairy farming family that adds up to more than his 33 years.

Evans and his new St David Dairy in Fitzroy is the result of such knowledge and dedication. Evans’ world is milk. You can tell this by spending any amount of time with him. He knows it, you could go as far as saying he loves it, and there is no doubt that he certainly lives it. Up at 5am collecting milk from one of a select bunch of dairy farms, either in the Yarra Valley or somewhere near Daylesford, Evans is back to the street that gives his business its name, where he bottles three times a week.

It’s a craft and there is technique, but that’s not to say Evans is living in the past. His equipment is new and specifically made for his business and location, which for any meat lovers or Melbourne food history buffs is the old Jonathon’s (the butcher) storage and prep warehouse. Suffice to say, the old cool rooms are coming in very handy today. From the milk’s arrival, it is pumped into the necessary vats ready for bottling by hand. The milk, pasteurised at the lowest permissible temperature, allows a taste as close to fresh as legally allowed. And if a product in its natural state floats your boat, spring for the non-homogenised and it’s about as close to raw as you’ll get, plus a delicious and old-school ring of cream around the top of the bottle.

There are loads of variables with milk: where it’s from, what the cows are fed, time of year and seasonal changes. The natural sweetness originates in the grass the cows eat, which is the preferred feed for premium milk. Evans ultimately hopes his milk can come from a single source and from there, all things going well, his own biodynamic farm.

The ethics of the business are important to Evans, but a lot of his strategies stem from practical concerns. The dairies he uses are never more than an hour away and the point of preparation and bottling in Fitzroy. While his location may well be a nod to local history (in 1920 there were 27 dairies in Fitzroy), it’s chiefly to provide absolute freshness – a return to the days when we bought what we needed daily or every other day and didn’t expect used-by dates to last through the apocalypse.

Right now, Evans talks about the “milk journey” cafes are on. With all the love and care that goes into coffee and bean selection, consideration is now being given to milk, which is particularly important when you consider that approximately 70 per cent of coffee drunk in Melbourne is with milk.

Evans’ milk has a beautiful texture and stretch needed to create great milk-based coffees and the taste is clean, almost sweet and the definition of good. And if only for the way it looks and pours, the early adopters have seen something they like and are already coming back for more.

But it’s not just for coffee either. Word has spread quickly and restaurants and budding cheese makers are jumping on board too, picking up the 30-litre pails for their kitchens and daily requirements.

Evans has been planning his approach for more than a decade. From the family farm in Koroit, outside Warrnambool, to work in a butter factory via food tech at dairy college, milk has played a pretty big role in his life. The traditional rite of passage trip through Europe for any young kid took him to milk and cheese factories. “My photos are of me with cheese vats in Bavaria,” he says with a smile.

After his return, the time seemed right, especially considering the machines and tools necessary to establish a dairy of this scale had become more available and accessible, thanks in part to the growing microbrewery scene. So the apartment was sold and he and his wife, Bianca made the move.

“I don’t want a mega-factory, I think when you get to certain size, the economies of scale start to dictate quality,” says Evans, explaining that the big companies make their milk from a seat in front of a computer screen and flashing lights. It’s one thing to have the technology, but to lose the craft and the hands-on aspect is another. “I would feel as if something would be lost.”

Right now, the options stands at three: low fat, full fat and full fat non-homogenised. But the dairy is so flexible and butter, creams and flavoured milk made with non-homogenised milk are on the horizon.

“I think people might be able to taste the love,” Evans offers wryly, if not modestly. His subtle farmer’s charisma is no doubt playing a small part in that.

Retail Stockists where you can buy St David Dairy milk:
Backstreet Eating
Brunswick East Project
Padre Queen Vic
The League of Honest Coffee
Padre South Melbourne
Simon Johnson Fitzroy
Wide Open Road
Princess Victoria Cafe
Hardware Societé
Seven Seeds

Venues using St David Dairy milk:
Hardware Societé
Princess Victoria Cafe
Backstreet Eating
Grafete
Newtown Social Club
The Town Mouse
Kent St Bar
Wide Open Road
Brunswick East Project
Padre South Melbourne
Padre Queen Vic
The League of Honest Coffee
Tomboy
Hams & Bacon
Bowery to Williamsburg
Cantina della Casa
Bar Lourinhã
Seven Seeds
Brother Baba Budan

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