A HANDFUL of peachicks make a mad dash across the backyard as Melissa Sheppard calls out to me from her kitchen.
She has been tinkering with an old family recipe for vegetable stock concentrate, kindly given to her by her Swedish mother in-law, Annica.
With a Le Cordon Bleu Diploma through The International College of Hotel Management, and a business degree from the University of South Australia under her belt, Melissa is brimming with pride after setting up her commercial business last year.
“About six or seven years ago Annica brought me a jar of home made vegetable stock and she said, ‘Try this. I’ve made a traditional vegetable stock - just put a teaspoon in water’.
“I left it in the cupboard until one night, I was making a risotto, and I got it out and I used it and I thought, ‘This is amazing! I’ve never tasted anything so fresh and flavoursome.”
The completely vegetable-based stock or ‘Vaxtkraft’ has since become a leading product for Melissa’s business Mormor Food. Based on a farm near Helidon, Melissa has been perfecting Vaxtkraft for the past year and a half, all the while ensuring she is using locally made and sourced ingredients and forgoing preservatives and additives.
“As a vegetarian, a good quality plant-based stock is hard to find,” Melissa said.
“Stock cubes leave a residual oily taste and powered stocks are full of preservatives and MSG.”
When the family recently packed up and moved to their new residence from west of Toowoomba, Melissa took the opportunity to pursue her passion.
”I wanted to pursue something different and I thought the vegetable stock concentrate would be the perfect product and would fi ll a gap in the market.”
With an opportunity on the horizon, Melissa wrote a business plan for Mormor Food.
“Initially, it wasn’t viable and I thought I wasn’t going to be able to progress with my idea but the next day we walked out to the mailbox and there was a magazine that featured local farmers and the produce they made - so I had an instant starting point.
“I had faces, names and contact details right in front of me and that’s when I thought - ‘I can do this!’”
More than a year later, Melissa has an established speciality food business delivering her handmade goods to business outlets across south east Queensland.
“By networking with farmers and Council, I have developed strong relationships that have helped me source the freshest produce available so I can produce large quantities of high quality vegetable stock from a commercial kitchen”.
Melissa says she wanted to use locally grown produce that is handled as little as possible.
“It’s all about trying to find a balance. I could make it completely organically but I would be sourcing produce from other parts of Australia, it wouldn’t be local. It’s important for me to support Lockyer Valley farmers who then support me.
“I feel like this is the perfect product for me to be making and selling because I believe in it so much.”
Melissa’s desire to become part of her new community has garnered traction with new friendships made with the neighbouring tomato, onion, carrot and herb growers.
“I’m able to sell a product back to the community in which I purchased the ingredients. Some of the ingredients that goes into the stock is only hours old from being picked or harvested and that not only adds to the flavour but it reassures me that it’s the best quality available.”
Melissa said even though the ingredients are hyperfresh, the shelf life of the finished product can surpass 24 months on the shelf.
“Traditional Swedish cooking uses salt to cure and preserve food so the salt in my stock acts as both a natural flavour enhancer and a preservative.”
The painstaking process of chopping the vegetables down to the correct consistency has become somewhat of a personal challenge for Melissa who runs her stock production from a commercial kitchen in Grantham.
“The Grantham Butter Factory has been the perfect place to make and bottle my stock and I have a team of people helping me in the kitchen” Melissa said, adding the Lockyer Valley Regional Council had become her biggest supporter.
“The Council have been extremely helpful with pointing me in the right direction from the beginning. Council referred me to the Butter Factory and gave me information and guidance on how to become a commercial business.
“They have linked me to State Government resources to help me with business planning, introduced me to other small producers, and included my business in their food tourism network.”
Melissa said the growth in small businesses in the Lockyer Valley and the unfettered access to fresh produce, meant the area was well on the way to becoming the next big food destination.
“It’s only an hour outside of Brisbane and Council want to encourage people to come and experience the Lockyer Valley - and my products are part of that.”
With her business continuing to flourish, Melissa said it was staggering to see the positive response from locals.
“I love it here and I feel genuinely welcomed by the broader community. Melissa’s aim is for Mormor Food to become a recognised brand in gourmet delis and fruit and vegetable shops throughout Queensland.
Over the past few months she has formed business connections with distributors and her products are now stocked in high quality establishments throughout Queensland, including The Stores (West End), James Street Markets (New Farm, Brisbane) B-Fresh Kawana (Sunshine Coast), and Bio-Fresh (Noosa).
High profile chefs including Alastair McLeod and Glen Barratt are also using Melissa’s products.
“I would encourage anyone with a good idea to follow their passion and the first step in achieving this is to contact your local council and go directly to other similar professionals in the industry.
“Don’t be afraid to make those network connections or find a mentor.”
The heat of the day has started to creep onto the balcony as Melissa looks across the valley toward Helidon.
“We are very proud of everything we’ve achieved during our first year of business. It’s hard to believe how far we’ve come in such a short space of time.
“This is our passion, we love our farm and lifestyle. I couldn’t imagine bringing our kids up anywhere else - we’re in a beautiful clean environment, we’re living in a safe and welcoming community and I’m grateful for everything we have.”
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