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Scotland's Larder: Katy and her daughter Helena, from Katy Rodger's artisan dairy

Published: December 24, 2020
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The Knockraich farm operation is owned and run by Robert Rodger: his wife Katy and daughter Helena are in charge of the multi-award winning artisan dairy, while his other daughter Catherine, manages the cafe and son Ian (a vet to trade) is in charge of the orchard.

It is a proper traditional family run farm. Mrs Rodger said: "so it is a busy place."

When asked, 'How did you meet Mr Rodger?' she said, "oh that was at Young Farmers, without a doubt. We would meet up at dances at the Museum Hall in Bridge of Allan."

But there is 'no place like home' and Mrs Rodger explains that is how she feels about the farm and the dairy, which is located on the outskirts of Fintry near both the Trossachs and the Campsie Fells.

She said: "It is a very pretty farm, maybe a lot prettier now than it was back when I first arrived, but it is perfect."

Today I am chatting to Mrs Rodger and her daughter, Helena Johnston about their range of natural dairy products made using milk from the farm's pasture fed herd of 60 British Friesian cows.

These include, yoghurt, crème fraiche, crowdie, ice cream, and butter.

The name of the game

The brand has Mrs Roger's name proudly stamped on it, and she tell us how that came about,

"We used to make ice cream about 30 years ago and I was wondering what to call the business, the farm's name wasn't an easy name to say and I had come up with alternatives but they just sounded wrong.

"Then for some reason I thought about Laura Ashley. I thought you know what, why don't I just put 'Katy Rodger's on the packaging.

"If I had a different name it probably wouldn't have worked but it sort of has a ring to it I think."

When her children returned back to the farm as adults, and they decided to restarted the company, "we looked again at names and the kids were just like, we just have to call it Katy Rodger's, so that's just what we did. I don't even think about it any longer, it is just a name.

"I don't actually think about it as my name when I see it on the packaging," she said.

Katy Rodger

Top chefs

The dairy's products are loved by Michelin starred chefs all over the UK, including Stevie McLaughlin from Restaurant Andrew Fairlie and Tom Kitchin.

Mrs Rodger said, "we have worked hard to get to this level, but we have been lucky and because we are small we can adapt.

"If they want more salt in their butter I can do that, if they don't want any salt in it I can do that as well, and the products are so versatile that they can be used in everything from sweet to savoury."

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Mrs Rodger tells us about her favourite celebrity chef moment; when Albert Roux (senior) visited the farm.

She said, "that was just the most exciting day, honestly the kids couldn't stop laughing at me I was totally overwhelmed.

"It was like royalty arriving and as far I was concerned - the ultimate accolade. I just couldn't speak, I couldn't believe he'd taken the time to come and visit, he was not a young man."

Picture attached of right to left: Katy Rodger, Albert Roux, Catherine Taylor, Helena Johnston

Picture L to R: Helena Johnston, Catherine Taylor, Albert Roux, and Katy Rodger

Family ties

Having raised her own family here, Mrs Rodger tells us the benefits of growing up on the farm.

"Farming kids have so much they can do, because they were involved practically since day one.

"I think they all had an idyllic life growing up, but the next generation, my grandchildren, have grown up with the business all round about them which has also been good."

Working with family members can be fraught with difficulties but, she said, "we have got our own skills and lots of different talents as well as good staff."

Mrs Rodger is normally up with the larks and in the dairy by about half-past five most days making butter, she said, "I still find it satisfying, it is an early start but I'm definitely a morning person.

"I do kind of enjoy it and it keeps me incredibly fit and strong because there is a lot of lifting and stuff. It saves me having to go to a gym and doing any workouts."

Then she heads to another of her sidelines an interior business, before going back to the dairy to finish things off later, but she said, "I don't spend all day there."

Mrs Johnston works alongside her mother running the dairy operation, she said her department is , "all the paperwork, I cross the T's and dot the i's and do all the red tape to make things happen."

Her father was brought up on the farm from the age of two; "My dad told me that last week, that he moved here 65 years ago in 1955", she said.

When she and her siblings were growing up in the late 80's, her mother and father diversified into ice cream, she said, "We were always quite involved, but we were all going off to college so they sold the ice cream side of the business.

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"A number of years later, my sister and I returned back to the farm and started up the coffee shop, but people kept asking, 'what happened to that ice cream you used to make?'"

So customer demand meant that they began making it again, then other products like the yoghurts and soft cheese followed: "that is how we fell into it."

"It was fabulous,  like winning the Oscars"

The turning point for the business came when the won the overall Scottish product of the year in the Scotland Food and Drink Awards in 2012.

Mrs Johnston said, "we got our wares into Waitrose, and it really got our name out there. The award made a massive difference, going from (making produce in buckets) to making a more significant quantity."

The next day, the phone started ringing and we started to supply the top restaurants in the country.

Mrs Johnston said, "It was right in the very early days of Scotland Food and Drink awards, establishing themselves as a body, but they were shouting for quality and really putting their backs behind the Scottish food industry."

Their secret? "we have always stuck to what we do well, and the morals behind it that have never changed.

"It wouldn't matter how much we are making, we wouldn't change the quality. People buy the product because they know exactly what they are getting, they know it is simply the best quality you can buy in the country," Mrs Johnston added.

Katy Rodger's Dairy

The Ethos

They have a herd of 60 British Friesian cattle, the traditional black and white cow, which are smaller and produce higher quality milk with more butterfat than the normal Holstein variety, but are not such intense milking beasts.

They are a closed herd, which means they don't buy in cattle because everything is bred on site.

She said, "We know the heritage of every cow and a lot of our cattle are a really good age, so we are not breeding for quick return."

Although not an organic farm, the cows are grass fed to keep things as simple as possible, this ensures high quality and that traditions are maintained.

Mrs Johnston explained, "we are here to look after what we have, so we can pass that onto the next generation.

"It is not a financial thing for us, it is about producing something that is very sustainable that we can really be proud of.

When you see my dad out there with the cattle - there is nobody who cares more about them than he does."

The cows eat grass in summer and silage or hay in winter, and they get outside as much as the British summer allows but she said, "they don't like to be outside over the winter, with cold wet soggy ground under their feet, so they stay indoors."

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Mrs Johnston explained:"our cows are milked by a robot system which sounds quite technical, but it means the cattle wear a collar and can come in and choose when to get milked.

"So there is not a forced milking routine which makes for very contented and chilled out cows and for very good quality milk."

The farm's high quality milk has about 4.8% butterfat, and they only use whole milk in their products.

Mrs Johnston added, "we don't homogenise the milk - which is a process to standardise it - so you get the lovely cream on top of the milk because it hasn't been processed.

"It is better for our guts, anecdotally we have found that people who maybe have a mild intolerance to milk, don't react to it.

"We sell milk from the farm, so people can bring their own bottle or buy a glass bottle and fill it up from the milk station. So you can get fresh farm milk from us."

Next generation

Katy Rodger's Dairy

From right to left: Robert Rodger, Ian Rodger (son), Euan, Beth, Graham, Emma, Callum (oldest 5 of Robert’s 9 grandchildren)

Mrs Johnston lives on the farm with her husband and three boys as does her sister, her husband and their three kids, she said, "we are all very much involved in the farm, and always really have been.

"It is very close to our hearts. We know we have different strengths and weaknesses. We are just one big team just trying to do our little bit."

"My older son has no intention of coming into farming, but my younger two are very keen and my middle one is farming through and through. My sister's older two are also very keen."

Mrs Johnston said, "All the youngsters would much rather have their wellies on, and if you gave them the option between shovelling muck and helping in the coffee shop, every one of them would go for shovelling muck!"

This year, Mrs Johnston said,"we have had to adapt quite a lot, but we are lucky on the farm, with a variety of things all going on; so we have been able to ride the storm.

"We are hoping things will get back to a bit of normality next year."

Katy Rodger

 

 

 

Katy Rodger's artisan dairy

Knockraich Farm,
Fintry,
Stirlingshire,
G63 0LN

01360 860 202

• READ MORE: Scotland’s Larder: Scotland’s Larder: Jillian and Neil McEwan, from Lunan Bay Goat Farm

 

Catriona is based in the Scottish Borders and works as part of the audiovisual team at the Scotsman but she reviews restaurants for Scotland on Sunday and writes for Scotsman Food and Drink in her spare time.

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