With Port Macquarie’s Tastings on Hastings food festival coming up on 27-29 October 2017, celebrity chef Matt Golinski takes you behind the scenes of this vibrant coastal region. Meals, motorcycles and mountains were in abundance as Matt spent three days on a motorcycle meeting the farmers who are gearing up for the biggest culinary and cultural celebration on the NSW North Coast.
We have captured on video Matt visiting our local producers trying the diverse range of food available, so come visit us over the Tastings on Hastings weekend, there is a special accommodation deal available and see why Matt fell in love with Port Macquarie.
Matt's Diary Notes...take the journey of flavour with him
When I was asked if I would be available to do a gastronomic motorcycle tour of the Port Macquarie Region and write about my experience, it didn’t take me long to accept. My love of two-wheeled travel being almost on par with my love of food, the idea of spending three days riding around meeting farmers and exploring the countryside was an opportunity too good to pass up.
The tiny town of Wauchope, one of the many jewels in the crown of the region, has recently been declared New South Wale’s most motorcycle friendly town, so it seemed appropriate that the tour should start there.
Armed with a brand new, awe inspiring Suzuki VStrom 650 loaned to me by Mud ‘n Tar Motorcycles in Wauchope, I did what any self respecting rev head chef would do on a tour like this – visit a winery as my first stop!
Bago Vineyard and Maze - An easy 10 minute ride from Wauchope, with just a few kilometres of well maintained gravel road at the end, Bago Winery and Maze is a great place to start or end a days ride. The cellar door looks out over the vineyard and beautifully designed maze, and offers not only tastings of all the wines they produce; a little kiosk also makes great coffee and snacks if you turn up too early in the day to start sipping away on their alcoholic offerings.
Jim Mobbs has had 20 years experience growing wine grapes on over 10 hectares of vines, and has had the foresight and courage to grow varieties that suit the land and climate rather than making styles that the general public are familiar with. Don’t come expecting to try his Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc, instead you’ll find world class examples of interesting drops such as Verdelho, Viognier, Tannat and Chambercin. Jim also makes a range of dangerously moorish fortified wines from his grapes. With a few minutes free before I had to leave Bago, I decided I would have a quick walk through the maze. Unfortunately I completely overestimated my own intelligence and immediately got stuck in there. Allow at least half an hour to get lost and weave your way back out. Jim’s son, Ian, a landscape architect, designed the maze, and it took 6 years of hard work before it was finally opened in 2012.
Certainly not new to Port Macquarie, but a new addition to Bago, is Baba Lila’s Hand Made Chocolates. Tash Topschij has set up a permanent outlet where she mixes, rolls, dips and wraps thousands of chocolates each week using a generations old family recipe passed down to her from her Russian mother. Tash has developed a range of chocolates using native bush food flavours including Davidson Plum and Lemon and Aniseed Myrtle. A mixed box is essential provisioning for that late night sweet fix while you’re touring around.
A quick blat down the Pacific Highway and I arrived in the sleepy fishing village of North Haven just in time to have a quick bite of lunch overlooking the waterways that wind through the area.
Rockin Oysters - Roll up to the row of oyster sheds nestled along the Camden Haven estuary and you’ll tell which one belongs to James Woods by the loud music blaring from his workshop, as he toils away producing some of the most flavoursome and clean tasting oysters in Australia. I’d swap every fancy dinner in the world to stand ankle deep in that pure water slurping back his freshly shucked Sydney Rock Oysters with nothing but the briny water in their shells as a sauce.
If oysters are your thing, and you’re around between December and June then dropping in to pick some of these up on your trip is a must. James is happy for you to pop in, just give him a call to make sure he’ll be there. I bought a couple of the hand made oyster knives he sells as souvenirs. The handles are made from reclaimed native timber and the blades from recycled op shop cutlery. During the season James couriers oysters all over the country direct to your door. Minimum of 10 dozen. He has also started producing some killer sauces to accompany them.
Figuring I’d need more than a couple of dozen oysters and a bottle of Verdelho to sustain me for the next days ride, I stopped in at Laurieton Riverside Seafoods on my way out of town and picked up some super fresh flathead fillets to cook up for dinner.
Lorne Valley Macadamia Farm - The Lorne Road meanders through picturesque dairy country, and a couple of kilometres before you hit gravel, Lorne Macadamias’ orchard sits proudly on top of a ridge with views back down the valley.
Ray and Joanne Scott have been harvesting and processing macadamias from their 1500 trees for over 20 years, and Joanne has been creating macadamia inspired dishes in the café on the property for almost as long. They have recently decided it’s time to take things a bit easier, so they’re handing over the baton to new owners John and Angie Bell, who will continue to produce the much loved range of flavoured roasted nuts, macadamia oil and macadamia butter as well as opening the café to group bookings and tours by appointment.
A guided tour of the orchard and processing shed makes you appreciate just how much effort goes into the journey from flower to delicious crunchy morsel. You’ll spot Lorne Valley Macadamias products in shops all around the Port Macquarie region, and if you happen to stumble across a market there’s a fair chance you’ll get to meet John and Angie in person as they sell their wares direct from their stall.
Tom and Jane’s Waterfall Eco Cabin - After a decent day’s ride and a full day of culinary information overload, this peaceful little cabin with its sweeping views and abundant wildlife was a welcome sight.
Tom and Jane originally built the cabin for friends and family to come and stay in, but decided it was too good to not share with everyone. A 200-metre walk through the bush leads to a cascading waterfall with a huge swimming hole at the bottom. I imagine during summer you could easily waste away a whole day sitting on those rocks and soaking up the tranquillity.
There’s a big shade house bursting with fresh vegetables, and the hosts are more than happy to share their bounty with visitors so they have an opportunity to create a true paddock to plate experience for themselves during their stay. I picked snow peas, broccoli, carrots, kale and coriander to go with my flathead for dinner. I’d pinched some citrus and curry leaves from Lorne Macadamias so it was shaping up to be a good feast.
The next morning I woke to find a family of Red Necked Wallabies grazing straight out the front of my cabin. Lots of flowering Grevilleas and other native trees means there’s a healthy and varied bird population.
Barbushco Australian Native Bush Foods - Backtracking a few kilometres along Lorne Road, my first stop on my second day was at Bruce and Barbara Barlin’s Australian native bush foods farm, Barbushco. As I took off my helmet I could smell the unmistakably Aussie aromas of Lemon Myrtle, Aniseed Myrtle and Lemon Scented Tea Tree wafting through the office door. The Barlins decided they needed to diversify from beef cattle production in the 90’s when prices were low, and after a bit of research they started planting their 26000 strong native tree grove, and they haven’t looked back.
They now produce not only dried leaf in huge drying cabinets and essential oils in their distiller, (most of which gets shipped off to the cosmetics and food industry in bulk), they also make an extensive range of sauces, syrups, jams, dressings, spice mixes and even native bush food flavoured pasta. Following the popularity of a tasting session Barbara did with the kids at a local school, the couple created an educational pack which includes all the info, things to smell and taste and a DVD which they can post out to any school that’s interested. I think this is something all schools should be encouraging their students to learn about and experience.
The food service industry has finally started to embrace these uniquely Australian flavours over the past few years, and begun to use them as everyday spices instead of treating them as a novelty ‘bush tucker’ ingredient. Bruce and Barbara are passionate ambassadors for this fast growing industry, and are a wealth of knowledge on the subject. They are happy to organise tours of the property for groups by appointment. All of their products are available by mail order through their website.
Ticoba Avocadoes and Blueberries - The ride along Lorne Road up to Comboyne includes about 20km of well-maintained gravel, easy riding but a bit dusty if you’re caught behind a car like I was. The views once you hit the top of the range are worth getting a bit dirty for though. The tiny town of Comboyne with its rich red soil, high rainfall and an elevation of around 700 metres is lush and fertile, and the place where 15 years ago Ernst and Penny Tideman decided they’d try their hand at growing blueberries and avocadoes.
With a bit of trial and error over the years, they chose in 2014 to remove the early fruiting varieties of blueberries and up the avocado production. That move still left them with 10000 very productive blueberry bushes, but a much shorter season of around two months. The week before Christmas, after the main flush of the crop has been picked by professionals and sent off to market, the family opens the farm up to the public to ‘pick their own’. A great family day out in a beautiful setting and a good opportunity to gorge yourself on the freshest, juiciest blueberries you’ll ever eat. The Tidemans also have 7000 established hass avocado trees on the 190 hectare property which they harvest and send off in bulk each season to go straight into the market.
It was lunchtime, but before stopping in Comboyne for a bite I couldn’t resist riding down through the twisties of Comboyne Road to Byabarra just so I’d have to ride back up and then back down again! “The Lutherie at Comboyne” (the name of a craftsman who makes or repairs stringed instruments) is a cute little cottage that serves a few simple hearty, homely dishes and great coffee, while Graham Caldersmith’s guitar workshop can be viewed through a big glass window out the back.
Lavender Hill Open Pastured Produce - So back down through the sweeping bends of Comboyne Road to Byabarra to meet Brendan and Cassie Vos and their tribe of kids at their farm, Lavender Hill.
To say that Brendan is excited about creating a healthy lifestyle for him and his family as well as providing lots of great produce direct to the public is an understatement. The energy and enthusiasm he has for sustainable, holistic farming is inspiring. Chicken, beef, lamb and pork are all available to order online through their well designed website, and they do free deliveries straight to your door every fortnight. Their delivery area now covers the Hastings, Manning and Macleay Valleys. Their honey has won awards, and as soon as I ate a spoonful I could see why. It’s probably the best honey I’ve ever eaten in my life. When I visited there was a huge patch of ground that had been dug and planted with lettuces, Asian greens, herbs and other vegetables, and these will soon be added to the list of produce you can order in your fortnightly delivery. The couple’s oldest son Seath, is keen to be a duck farmer and a chef, so ducks may be added to the portfolio before too long too. I’m hoping he can manage both jobs; the world needs more duck farmers and chefs.
Ewetopia Farm - I couldn’t have scored a better time of year to get to stay at Ewetopia’s farm stay cabin; it’s the beginning of spring and there are lambs everywhere. In fact a set of twins had literally just been born as I arrived late in the afternoon.
Cheese making is in full swing, and the whole family is involved in rounding up lambs and ushering mums into the stalls for their daily milking.
Ian and Jill McKittrick moved to their piece of paradise in 2011, starting out with a basic knowledge of cheese making, a few sheep and a whole lot of courage and optimism. Over the years they have developed a product with cult status amongst locals, and are a favourite at farmers markets all over the region. Producing yoghurt, labneh, fetta and haloumi from their sheeps milk, they also have a Jersey cow who produces plenty of milk to sell to their discerning customers in the form of unhomogenised fresh milk and yoghurt.
The farm stay cabin is well equipped with 3 bedrooms, a big kitchen and lounge room, and a covered deck that looks out over the surrounding mountain ranges. I had collected chicken from Lavender Hill, Warrigal greens and aniseed myrtle from Barbushco and avocadoes from Ticoba throughout the day, and with the addition of some Ewetopia haloumi, I once again had all the right ingredients to make myself a memorable dinner.
Heading back towards Wauchope I finally got my chance to experience the legendary Oxley Highway on the Vstrom. Well known amongst the motorcycle community as one of the best riding roads in Australia (if not the world), I quickly understood why. It’s almost as though it was designed by a biker!
Arriving back in Wauchope a bit early I thought I’d drop in to a café and put this whole “motorcycle friendly town” thing to the test. And I wasn’t disappointed. The girls at Curly’s Café welcomed me and pointed out the visor cleaning kits they have on the tables especially for their touring visitors.
Koree Herbs - Recharged with some quality caffeine, I headed back out of town to meet Lauchie Hollis and Jan Olive at Koree Herbs. This island farm on the Hastings River has been in Lauchie’s family since 1856, and after 20 years travelling and farming around Australia, in 1992 he and Jan headed home and set about the task of converting the land to certified organic. They now produce pure organic essential oils from their Lemon Scented Tea Tree, Tea Tree and Rosalina.
Each year they produce 1 – 2 tonnes of organic garlic which they sell directly into local IGA’s and fruit shops. When I visited they were about 2 weeks away from harvesting, and they said that amount would generally see them through until about June. The pair joked that they love their island block so much that they have to draw straws to see who has to leave and go to the shops to get milk. I think if I lived there I’d feel the same way.
Redbank Organic Farm - When you meet a farmer who is excited to show you his soil before you even look at his cows and chickens, you know you’ve struck someone who truly cares about the future of farming and looking after his land for generations to come. Chris and Ann Eggert put a huge emphasis on soil health on their organic dairy and egg farm, and it shines through in the quality of their livestock.
The diversity of grazing fodder in the pastures ensures a strong microbial ecosystem, and all of the manure is collected, turned and spread back through the paddocks to complete the cycle. All of the milk from Chris’ herd goes straight to Norco to be sold in their organic range – in fact he’s the only farmer in Australia to supply organic milk to the processor. Chickens in big open pens which get moved every day lay their eggs in mobile chicken ‘tractors’, happy chooks scratching around in grassy fields the way nature intended. The Eggerts eggs are branded as “Oxhill Organic Eggs” and are available at local markets, health food and organic stores anywhere from Noosa to Melbourne.
Ricardoes Tomatoes and Strawberries Farm - is a household name in the Hastings Shire, an incredible success story built on hard work and great vision. Brothers Anthony and Richard Sarks have turned a productive farming venture into a bustling tourist attraction, giving visitors an opportunity to see what’s involved in growing tonnes of perfect hydroponic tomatoes each year through their daily farm tours.
Their busy café knocks out hundreds of tomato-based meals every day, and the shop stocks a huge range of produce from other local businesses, as well as about 6 types of tomatoes to take home. Huge sheds of vertically planted, hydroponic strawberries are there for the picking, grown exclusively for visitors to experience the joy of pulling berries straight off the bushes and stuffing them into their mouths. It’s worth the visit just to see the miles and miles of tomato vines trailing around the rows laden with their big trusses of fruit.
Sadly riding back into Port Macquarie, knowing that soon I’d have to hand back the keys to the Suzuki, I thought I’d drop in to visit The Lost Plot Community Garden. It would be a good chance to see what I might have to work with when I come back next month to do my Sustainable Table Brunch as part of the Tastings on Hastings festival. I love this garden, it’s really a true barometer of what grows well in the area and what’s in season.
Volunteers tend to the various beds of broad beans, kale, potatoes, snow peas, chard, tomatoes and herbs. My brain instantly started spinning with all the different ideas of what I’d like to cook, and how I could incorporate all of the new produce I’d discovered over the past few days.
I feel so lucky to have been given an opportunity to get to know the food of the region and the people who make it so special. The overwhelming common thread between everyone I met over my three day journey was the love and passion that all of these people put into what they do every day. And I leave Port Macquarie with 20 new friends.
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