Anita Funnell from Opiki, New Zealand was working for an advertising agency in Sydney Australia when it suddenly dawned on her that her heart wasn’t in it.
In true Antipodean style, she made her mind up there and then that she “ didn’t want to be a suit” any more and gave it all up. She spent a month in Bali thinking about what she really wanted to do and then returned to her homeland where she set up a business selling picnic baskets.
Her interest in the food that went into the picnics grew and in particular she became passionate about organic, artisan produced food.
Anita decided to visit France to learn more about cheese making. Famous for its artisan produced cheeses the world over, she felt that it was important that she also had an opportunity to get really involved with cheese making herself so she signed up with WOOFING France which offers a WWOOFING experience that was perfect for Anita.
WWOOF means Willing Workers on Organic Farms – a growing movement that encourages people to learn about life on an organic farm, experience life as a farmer/producer and see the passion behind the business.
We caught up with Anita in Auvergne, central France and asked her about her experiences as a WWOOFER in France…
“I’ve been surprised by how much I’ve liked France” she told us “I’ve been before as a tourist but this visit has been a total contrast”. Using WWOFING France Anita spent five weeks travelling around France, staying on farms, getting to know the host families and seeing a side of this country that Anita says most people will never know.
Anita told us that she can’t speak any French but found that most French people she met spoke a little English and all of her hosts were friendly and helpful – some have become firm friends. In fact she’s enjoyed it so much that she stayed longer than she intended!
The experience has fired Anita’s imagination and passion for artisan produced cheese – five weeks of living with French cheese has left her with a taste for more and she told us that she wants to share her new found knowledge and passion with others.
Anita is planning to set up cheese tours in France – introducing visitors to a unique experience of cheese making and the French lifestyle “real French food, cooked the proper way”. She wants to show how inspiring artisan producers are, passionate about their produce, committed to making a difference.” I would also like the chance to bring like-minded people together to share a wonderful experience. I have found the European culture is so giving and focussed on sharing time and their passion and I would love others to be reminded of what seems to be becoming lost in our lifestyle”.
In the course of her French WWOOFING experience Anita visited Normandy, Montpelier, Bordeaux, and Provence. Everywhere she was welcomed be says she absolutely adored Bordeaux “it has great energy because of the wine! Bars, gorgeous chateaux, it’s so pretty by the river – such a dynamic place”.
We asked her what her favourite cheese was “impossible” she declares “I’ve eaten cheese every day, cooked in different ways for breakfast, lunch and dinner and OMG it is amazing” though she admitted eating cheese late at night did induce some strange dreams. But she does tell us that she loved fromage blanc “such a simple cheese – so delicious” and was surprised at how good the sheep’s milk cheese she came across tastes.
Anita says that sheeps milk cheese in New Zealand is a real rarity – it’s considered more of a hobby than a commercial production. Her family own a dairy farm back in New Zealand and she is considering buying sheep that produce milk for cheese and producing her own artisan cheese “however in the mean time my cheese cave will develop and my palette will gain plenty of experience”.
Anita’s advice for those wanting to WWOOF in France: Sign up to WWOOF France “you can either buy a book or access the farms on line and organise your travel to and from farms in advance. Booking trains last minute can be expensive”.