James and Kate Clairmont moved their dairy sheep flock – and their two school-aged kids – from Waiheke Island to the foothills of the Craggy Range in the stunning Tuki Tuki Valley, Hawkes Bay in the late 2010s.James had been a rodeo rider before becoming a corporate warrior in Auckland. After losing his job in the global financial crisis he and Kate, who grew up on farm near Ashburton, decided it was time for a real change, and they wanted that to be in food production. James went to ‘cheese school’ in Pūtāruru. Settling on Waiheke, they ‘imported’ sheep milk from a farm near Taupō, before buying their own flock.
They are committed to ethical farming practices on their rolling 180 acres which they converted from a sheep and beef block. The lambs stay with their mum until they’re about six weeks old and ready to be weaned as this is much kinder and healthier for both ewe and lamb. Their 150 ewes graze all day in green paddocks or relax under a shade tree before wandering down to the milking shed. They milk for about 5 to 6 months a year, meaning we have to treasure their cheese even more!
Sheep milk is naturally homogenised, leading it to be creamy with a velvet-like texture. With more calcium, protein and amino acids than cows’ milk, sheep milk is an A2 milk and generally suitable for people who have lactose sensitivity. The creamy nature of sheep milk means it’s perfect for cheesemaking. Craggy Range work with the talented and highly-experienced cheesemakers at Hohepa – who share their belief in ethical farming practices – only twenty minutes down the road. They are also selling fresh sheep milk. Their motto is ‘better for you and ewe’ and could not be more apt as they provide a great life for their ewes and great cheese for you and I.