Flocks of white ducks appear like little clouds beyond the home of Greg and Jodi Clarke. As I wind up the dirt track that leads me to Great Ocean Ducks, Port Campbell bay is on the horizon, the dams are full to the brim and after a long wet winter the paddocks are as lush and green as they get in south west Victoria.
Jodi welcomes me into their home which is filled by the warmth and smell of a blazing wood fire. Nostalgically, I am reminded of my own childhood home. Greg is finishing a late lunch of hearty homemade soup and fresh sourdough, Jodi dashes to answer the phone, Madi and Milla – their two daughters – bounce through the lounge with wide warm smiles. Greg tells me he’s just arrived home after the weekly two-day round trip of getting the ducks from the paddock, processed and off to the chefs, restaurants and markets. It’s now 4.30 and all I can think is – he’s apologising to me for eating lunch!
Processed. I must admit, this word confused me. As a farmer’s daughter growing up in the 80s and 90s, I was used to more candid descriptions of what happened to the animals. No such words passed the lips of Greg or Jodi. It was clear that their priority is the welfare of their ducks and any farmed animal, driven by the philosophy of the good-food movement. The final taste of these ducks results from their whole hearted and complete dedication to the practices at Great Ocean Ducks.
Great Ocean Ducks lies a few kilometres inland from the wind swept cliffs and rolling green hills of Port Campbell, the Great Ocean Road and the breathtaking 12 Apostles. On their 16 hectares, Greg and Jodi lovingly breed, rear and distribute several dozen ducks a week to many of South West Victoria’s and Melbourne’s top chefs and restaurants. Great Ocean Ducks makes regular deliveries to restaurants including Royal Mail, Brae, La Bimba, 10 minutes by Tractor, Lume and The Press Club. I was also excited to hear that Greg and Jodi are diversifying into a line of specialty Great Ocean Duck small goods, to include terrine, pâté, duck neck sausage, smoked duck breast and confit duck legs. Greg and Jodi are hoping to launch this line in time for Christmas. I make a mental note to keep an eye on their website for details and I’ll be sure I keep you updated on when these products become available.
Greg and Jodi, originally from Melbourne, had careers that weren’t preparing or leading them to a life of breeding ducks and are relatively new to the farming industry. Jodi describes the move quite simply: she wanted to be in a career where she could be at home with her children. When I ask of her experience in farming, she jokes that she’d never picked up a shovel until their move to Port Campbell and still gets confused between a fork and a hoe. She mimics with her arm, wrist and hand to show a hoe. Or fork?
In the beginning they farmed beef, then made a decision to do something that was different, something that wasn’t being done. After considering their options with the rich land at hand and much research, Jodi suggested ducks. Greg and Jodi farm both Aylesbury and Pekin ducks. Greg speaks fondly about the quality of the Aylesbury, its popularity in 19th century England as a table bird and how the farmers would walk their ducks for miles and miles to sell them at the markets in London. They first began with Aylesbury ducks because of its historical story and its rare breed status. To allow their farm to grow and keep up with supply and demand they made the decision to also farm Pekin ducks. Great Ocean Ducks are fed Timboon Strawberries, seasonal fruits from their orchard, grass and grains. This diet, being free range and the considerable time and care taken to raise the ducks, is what gives them the unique flavour, tenderness and complexities. Qualities that chefs like Andrew McConnell choose to put on their menus and serve up to happy diners all over Victoria.
I am thrilled to go out into the paddocks with Greg and Jodi (and of course Tom the duck dog) to herd the ducks from the paddocks into the sheds, as they do each evening for their protection. I have rounded up many farm animals in my time, but ducks I have not. Watching them waddle ahead of me with a murmur of quacking filtering through the flock makes me laugh out loud. Tom rounds them up like a good farm dog should, as they make their way towards the shed to settle in for the night.
As I pull out of the driveway and head back into the township of Port Campbell, I smile to myself in admiration of the life Greg and Jodi are living with their two daughters and flock of ducks. This husband and wife team moved themselves from city life to take on the hurdles, challenges and heartbreaks that new and old farmers are faced with every day. In reward, I can only imagine that Great Ocean Ducks will be sought after in markets, kitchens and restaurants for many years to come.
Back in Melbourne, standing at my kitchen bench, I flick through the pages of ‘Just Duck: The Farm, The Chefs, The Cookbook’. This is Greg and Jodi’s story filled with recipes and generous advice from the renowned chefs who prepare Great Ocean Ducks. I start to ponder which recipe I might trial first for my Great Ocean Duck Food Affair. Then contemplate just making a booking at Lûmé…
By Amy Wilson