Under the shadow of an extinct volcano west of Daylesford is a regenerative farm where rare breed pigs and cattle are raised on a complex pasture of grasses, flowers and vegetables. The resulting pork and beef from Brooklands Free Range Farms, writes Richard Cornish, is exceptional.

What is it? 
Brooklands Free Range Farms is a small regenerative farming operation where Berkshire pigs and British White cattle graze on a ‘salad bar’ that includes everything from bloom to turnips. Only two 26-month-old steers and 16 sows weighing 60kg are turned off each month, and they’re then processed at a small-scale butchery near Colac that caters for small farms.

Who’s producing it? 
Wife and husband Natalie Hardy and Jonathan Hurst have been farming at Brooklands since 2012. Hardy is a veterinary nurse, while Hurst comes from a family sheep, cattle and deer farm on the South Island of New Zealand. Together, they’ve transformed a series of compacted and overgrazed paddocks into lush, diverse pasture. “This is a story about biodiversity that starts with the soil,” says Hardy. “In it, we plant species that the animals will forage, that produce food for insects, and habitats for birds and reptiles. The manure, the plant matter – anything organic feeds the bugs in the soil: our tiny soil army,” she says. “Those micro insects, crustacea and fungi, produce more organic matter that feeds the grasses. It is a virtuous circle: healthy soil, healthy animals, healthy food.”

Where is it from?
The 60ha farm is at Blampied, 30km north of Ballarat, in undulating country dotted with extinct volcanoes. Here, the soil around is deep, chocolatey brown and rich. The minerality is also good for the animals’ development and gives a deep earthy note to the beef.

How is it different?
The pigs are moved from paddock to paddock, which are then oversown with 16 different types of pasture, grains, brassicas, and flowering plants. The cattle graze the pasture in thin strips for two days at a time, their range limited by mobile fences in a process known as strip grazing. The animals pick and choose which species they eat, and some of the plants get trampled into the manure, which fertilises the soil without compacting it. “It’s an effective way of grazing that has awakened the indigenous seed bank,” says Natalie. Over the past few years, the pair has seen the return of wallaby grass, kangaroo grass and chocolate orchids grown from a long-dormant cache of seeds from when the paddocks were not grazed.

Who’s a fan?
“Nats and Jono have a passionate adherence to regenerative farming and maintain an extraordinary level of animal husbandry,” says chef Annie Smithers from her Trentham restaurant, Du Fermier. “I love that they grow their steers out to two years so they can develop proper flavour.” Smithers buys 30kg of the lesser-loved cuts such as chuck, brisket and shin, which she uses in slow-cooked braises that suit her style of French farmhouse cookery. “The pork too is superior,” she says. “You can taste the pasture, and there is the perfect amount of fat for terrines, with enough left over to render into lard for pastry.” Daylesford chef Oliver Edwards from Bar Merenda uses the shoulder to make terrines and slow braises it in the pizza oven with white wine, chicken stock, local fennel seed and garlic and cherry tomatoes. “We love their farming practices, the focus on soil health and how the animals are an integral part of the regeneration of the farm.”

Where can I get it?
Daylesford, Ballan, Trentham, Carlton and Alphington farmers’ markets, or by appointment at the farm gate, brooklandsfarms.com.au

By Richard Cornish