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Growing up on a dairy farm, Monica Cavarsan would savour the butter her mum made by hand. Even years after moving on from the family farm outside of Timboon in western Victoria, she still remembers the taste and texture.
“You could taste the cream,” Cavarsan says. “It was easy to spread and had a lot of flavour to it.”
Her interest was awakened again when she discovered artisanal cultured butter while in France. There she visited the country’s much-loved Bordier Creameries to get a better idea of the rich, creamy style of butter that’s underrepresented in Australia. From there she did a cheesemaking course, and then a full butter-making apprenticeship at the University of Wisconsin, before trialling different cultures and creams on her own to nail the perfect flavour.
Once she got it just right, Lard Ass Butter was born, in 2017. Her business is based two hours east of her old family farm in the popular coastal town of Ocean Grove, where she and her family live. Eventually she plans on making the butter factory a place where tourists to the area can visit and “see the process, taste the butter and take some home”. Given the popularity of Ocean Grove as a family holiday spot, it’s easy to believe.
In terms of product, Cavarsan’s wares have been opening people’s eyes to cultured butter ever since. “In Australia we’re so used to having sweet cream butter, which has lactose sugars in it,” says Cavarsan. Lard Ass butter is churned in single batches using cultures imported from Europe. Thriving in the days before electricity, that style of butter-making values down-to-earth richness and flavour over preservatives and processed ingredients.
And even though Australians’ awareness of cultured butter lags behind Europe’s and even America’s, we’re loving it. Cavarsan points to St David Butter in Sydney and small producers in other states joining the party; even the ubiquitous Western Star is now making an unsalted cultured butter (though it’s harder to find than its other products).
Cavarsan focuses on Victorian ingredients, and sources 1000 litres of cream per week from Camperdown Dairy in her native Western District, as well as salt from Mount Zero. Now with a staff of six, including a bookkeeper and a sales rep, Lard Ass makes 800 kilograms of butter a week. It’s shipped to assorted retailers (like Wild Things in Fitzroy North) and farmers markets around Melbourne’s suburbs and regional Victoria, where people get to taste the difference for themselves. They even serve it at Parliament House.
Lard Ass also produces sweet vanilla, smoked garlic, roasted fennel seed and other head-turning varieties of cultured butter. “It’s a case of exploring the versatility of butter,” says Cavarsan. “Why not have a chilli butter? And you can get truffle butter from time to time – that’s seasonal.”
She says she’s keen to explore the possibilities of other fermented dairy products too. Cavarsan already makes buttermilk but hopes to branch out into yoghurts and soft cheeses. She points out that real buttermilk – as opposed to the skim version often found in supermarkets – can be used for everything from brining and marinating to making salad dressings and smoothies. She also plans to produce a buttermilk ricotta soon.
As for the name – which she says always gets a reaction – it goes back to her older brothers teasing their sisters about eating too much butter. Apart from that childhood connection, the name appeals to the cheeky Aussie sense of humour. “Some people just buy the butter for the name,” says Cavarsan. “That’s half of our marketing done.”
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Visit Victoria.
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