IT ALL started at a farm called Ballendella near a little town called Rochester in the heart of northern Victoria.
Far enough from the Murray to avoid the tourism crush but too close to the Campaspe, which from time to time gets overloaded and Rochy, as it is known to the locals, goes under — most recently in 2011 when the whole region was inundated.
But it is where Harold and Lillian Waterman chose to establish their orchard, creating, as great granddaughter Katherine Chernov recalled; “a beautiful farm that many of us remember very fondly”.
“Many summers were spent picking and sorting fruit and making a wide variety of produce, often using the wood fire stove,” Katherine said.
“The days were long, hot and productive and their homemade tangy lemon cordial was a real treat on those afternoons,” she said.
Now as Made by Katherine, she has resurrected this “gorgeous beverage” and it is proving a hit with customers around the country.
And it is to Rochester Katherine turns — and the now small acreage still being run by her mother Rosemary — for much of the citrus and stone fruit that goes into her products.
“We are producers of old fashioned condiments that are cooked slowly and made in small batches,” Katherine said.
“Close attention is paid to ensure consistency of quality and flavour,” she said.
“After a lot of testing, we have developed products that are ready to serve at the table.”
What Katherine did not fully explain was the small batches are unavoidable because for years she has been running her business out of a very, very small kitchen in her home.
A kitchen she confessed is operating at full capacity.
But has dreams of expanding to a purpose built facility in the not-too-distant future.
Telling her story while on the road north to the Handmade Canberra market — the biggest gig of her year — Katherine said her recipes and passion for the business came down from her Russian grandmother and a great aunt.
“I started the business part time with cordials and condiments based on all those old family recipes and then started experimenting,” Katherine explained.
“At the time I was working in a secure administration job in an office full of people I really enjoyed being around,” she said.
“First it was mostly Christmas gifts and birthday presents for family and friends, but it just kept getting bigger and bigger and eventually I had to decide to do something with it or scale it all back.
“So more than three years ago I very nervously resigned from my job and launched Made by Katherine (MBK) as my fulltime role.”
We also have a number of our own original recipes offering fresh new flavours with a contemporary twist. We work closely with small growers and producers to bring seasonally available products to our customers. Our products are all very versatile and we offer many recipes and serving suggestions.
She said after that time MBK now worked with a number of its own original recipes offering fresh new flavours with a contemporary twist.
It has also meant widening her production horizons as mum’s small farm at Rochester is struggling to maintain the pace so Katherine is now working closely with a small network of orchardists.
“Having those extra growers also gives me the chance to bring seasonally available products to our customers,” she added.
“Our products are all very versatile and we offer many recipes and serving suggestions.”
She has also tweaked a few of the good old originals by ensuring they are now low in sugar and free of all artificial ingredients.
That means no preservatives, colouring, additives or artificial flavours.
“These products are the real deal — just old-fashioned condiments the way they used to taste,” Katherine said.
“All our products are 100 per cent handmade and some ingredients are specifically seasonal — apricots and plums for example, come and go quite quickly in the warmer summer months.
“We also have some newer products with which we have already had great success, such as our pear, lime and chilli chutney and in the cordial corner blood orange is far and away the most popular, with lemon next.
“But it is seasonal, only between August and December.
“There is also a mango chilli chutney, blood orange marmalade, and more exotic tastes such as Harissa (traditionally a Maghrebi hot chilli pepper paste made with roasted red peppers, Baklouti pepper, serrano peppers and other hot chilli peppers, spices and herbs such as garlic paste, coriander seed, saffron, rose, or caraway, as well as some vegetable or olive oil).
“We also have kasundi (an Asian variety of mustard sauce with a pungent paste of fermented mustard seeds, spices and sometimes dried mangoes, dried Indian plum and olives, popular as a dipping sauce in Bengali cuisine).”
Other products on the MBK list are sweet chilli sauce, plum jam, orange marmalade, summer fruit chutney, rhubarb chilli chutney, onion relish, crab apple jelly, pink grapefruit marmalade, blackberry jam, old fashioned cordial, raspberry jam, mixed berry jam, apricot jam, quince jam, tomato chutney and beetroot relish.
“I am always looking at new products, right now I am thinking about doing something with pickles, but I will stick to cordials and condiments.”
Like any producer, the key to Katherine’s success is marketing.
She hasn’t had to go down the online path just yet (although she will deliver on email orders) but she works overtime on the road, attending in particular the major field days on the circuit — October saw her at the Elmore field days (a stone’s throw down the road from mum’s farm at Rochester) and Canberra.
And she would never miss any of the quarterly Handmade Canberra gatherings because they provide a significant slice of her annual income.
“It’s a two-day event, with more than 300 stallholders, and goes over three days for its Christmas show and I would never miss it,” Katherine said.
“Some friends had been telling me about it, and saying I need to be there, so three years ago, just after I started out on my own, I went and now it is a must,” she said.
“I go up to there, I go to Adelaide and do a fair bit at field days; so I am spending a lot of time on the road and that gives me plenty of time to think about new products or how to do things better.
“It has also taken me to so many parts of Australia I never thought of visiting, or ever seeing, and I meet so many great people.
“I run my stall on my own and it’s flat out from the minute the gates open at shows such as Canberra.”
Katherine was upbeat about her business and its future, but it hasn’t always been that way.
She admitted her first year out of her administration job she was “very, very nervous” a fair bit of the time.
And it wasn’t much better in year two.
But while she doesn’t get quite as many knots in her chest these days she is always a bit nervous before a major event such as Canberra.
“It is going reasonably well and by year three I might have still been nervous but I was managing it better,” Katherine laughed.
She is also having to consider more managing because her mother is looking to get off the land and have a break so her bottomless well of quality product might be about to dry up.
Her network of suppliers extends from Melbourne to Berrigan in southern NSW where she tops up her blood orange requirements.
Katherine is fairly convinced her next step, that bigger and better kitchen, will take her into the country to find a setup she can afford.
And she hasn’t written off some acreage to replace what she is about to lose.
She has also developed a few stockists as part of her marketing strategy but once again it comes back to that overloaded kitchen.
However, her biggest news of late was she has taken on her first employee — 23-year-old daughter Natasha, who has been helping with bottling and labelling, is officially on the books.
Always thinking on those drives also helped her come up with another outlet for some of her products, she has struck up a partnership with Tim Reardon and his Canberra Distillery.
The pair have dreamt up Blood Orange Gin; a blend of her cordial and his gin. Most recently the pioneering pair have added pomegranate cordial to vodka and it is going gangbusters.
“It’s a fantastic little business and there is enormous potential for cross promotion,” she added.
“You know, people often ask me how I got into this and I always tell them to find what they love and do it to the best of your ability, pay attention to detail, work hard and you’ll get somewhere.
“You have to be passionate, people aren’t really buying your product; they are buying a piece of your enthusiasm.”
No question Katherine was happy to work hard. Her days start around 5.30 am and seldom finishz before 9 pm; even 10 pm — just like a farmer.
Even when she is on the road selling she still exudes energy and excitement and was devoting the drive home from Canberra planning the next products.
And that kitchen.
Made by Katherine
P: 0438 398 595