The Ashgrove story began in the 1880s when James Bennett bought 100 acres of land surrounding where the Ashgrove Cheese Factory now stands in Elizabeth Town Tasmania.
Successive generations of the Bennett family grew the farming tradition on the land and expanded operations with the acquisitions of surrounding pieces of land. James’ grandson Barney and his wife Ruby lived in the house built on the original factory site.
Ashgrove Farms is formed
Ashgrove Farms was formed in 1983 when brothers Michael and John Bennett with their respective wives Maureen and Connie, formed a new farming partnership following the death of Michael and John’s father Dudley. The name Ashgrove was chosen because several of the farms owned by the farming operation belonged to the land parish of Ashgrove.
The 1980s, a Change in the Wind
Ashgrove Farms continued the Bennett family tradition of mixed farming operations with a dairy herd, cross bread sheep, and cash crops. The decline in wool prices, and the stagnation of the vegetable industry saw the business focus on the dairy aspect of their operations in the mid 1980s.
John Bennett had been President of the Australian Dairy Farmers Federation from 1977-1986 and had lead the industry through a period of rationalisation and change.
John and Michael desired to gain independence from low commodity prices that dominated the Tasmanian milk supply and decided to pursue on-farm value adding through cheese production using the farm’s milk. It took 6 months for Michael to convince his daughter Jane that cheese-making was a good career option, but eventually she agreed to become a cheese-maker with the intent to establish a cheese factory on the farm.
Meanwhile John’s son Paul pursued a farming career and working together John and Paul built a new 50 unit rotary dairy in 1990 to prepare for the increased milk demand. This enabled the farming operations to increase the dairy from 300 cows in 1990, to the current 1300 cows in 2010.
Ashgrove Cheese is born
Ashgrove Cheese was established in 1993 with the first vat of cheese produced on 29 November 1993. The Ashgrove Farm Shop was opened in April 1994.
In the early years Ashgrove Cheese supplied specialty delis and independent supermarkets but over the years the company has grown to supply supermarkets, restaurants and specialty food stores throughout Australia and overseas
During the 1990s John’s son Paul gradually took over the management of the farming operations and is today the Ashgrove Farms Manager.
In 1999 Michael’s son Richard returned to the family business having compete a Diploma in Dairy Technology at the Gilbert Chandler campus of the University of Melbourne. Richard quickly moved into the position of Ashgrove Production Manager.
2001 – 2008
In 2001 the families purchased a second dairy farm “Hawthorn” which adjoined an existing property “Rubicon” in Elizabeth Town. This provided irrigated pasture to improve the summer and autumn milk supply to the factory. Ashgrove Farms now milk 400 cows in the “Hawthorn” herring bone dairy and 900 cows in the Ashgrove rotary dairy.
Ashgrove Farms has invested heavily in water infrastructure on both dairy farms building water storage dams and installing centre pivot irrigators to maximise gross growth during summer and autumn and improve the quality and quantity of milk supplied to Ashgrove Cheese.
In 2005 Ashgrove established a relationship with the Danish Dairy Board that has resulted in a number of young Danish cheese making graduates working at Ashgrove for up to 12 months. This provides hands on cheese making experience for the graduates and continues to bring new ideas and knowledge into the Ashgrove business. The growing range of Danish inspired cheeses in the Ashgrove range is an outcome of this relationship.
After a lean year in 2007, it was decided to expand the product mix offered by Ashgrove. In 2008 Ashgrove commenced bottling fresh milk and cream for the Tasmanian market. A range of butter and ice cream were also added to the Ashgrove product mix.
What makes the Ashgrove milk special is that the milk is bottled straight from the cow leaving the natural fat content in. Nothing is added and nothing is taken away.
2011 A Year of Change
Ashgrove began a building expansion project in 2010 that will be completed in late 2011. This project has involved construction of a large building behind the existing factory to house the milk bottling and cheese packing operations.
The new facilities will include a milk bottling line with much greater capacity than the initial bottling plant and create space to allow efficiencies to be gained in milk bottling and cheese packing. It will also provide improved facilities for the growing number of staff on the site.
In February 2011 the founding Managing Director Jane Bennett left the business to pursue other interests. Richard Bennett has stepped up from Production Manager to become the General Manager whilst his brother David Bennett has taken on responsibility for National Sales and Marketing. David graduated from the University of Tasmania in 2008 with a Bachelor of Commerce and a Bachelor of Law.
A growing number of committed staff of local people take pride in the production and packing of Ashgrove dairy products for the customers from around the world, who know and love Ashgrove Cheese.
The Ashgrove Cheese factory has become as well-known landmark and must see tourist destination on the Bass Highway north of Elizabeth Town. The Ashgrove Cheese Shop at the front of the factory provides an opportunity for visitors to learn about cheese making and the Ashgrove Cheese range.
Today Ashgrove Cheese remains a family owned and operated business with a number of James Bennett’s descendants currently involved in developing his legacy including:
- Richard Bennett, our General Manager and Director;
- John Bennett, our Chairman of the Board of Directors and Project Manager of Construction;
- Michael Bennett, Director;
- Paul Bennett, Director and Farm Manager and
- David Bennett, National Sales and Marketing Manager.