The biennial Tasting Australia came and gone but fond memory lingers on. Every two years, South Australia will turn into a food lovers' playground where chefs, writers and journalists in food, wine and travel from all around the world are here to celebrate. Helen and I have had our first Tasting Australia two years ago and we were back this year for more.
During the eight-day trip, contingents of media delegates are split into regional side tours and I was sent to Limestone Coast during my last trip, but this time I will be exploring the region known as the growers' paradise, the Fleurieu Peninsula.
Fleurieu Peninsula is only just over an hour drive, around 85km south of Adelaide city. It is most well known for its McLaren Vale wine region, but look beyond the wineries and you’ll find a strong farming tradition, of long-established almond groves and fruit orchards and livestock and dairy cattle graze freely over lush green hills. The stunning coastline provides not only a bounty of seafood, but also a popular spot with surfers.
Willunga Farmers Market
A must-visit in Fleurieu Peninsula is the Willunga Farmers Market, it is also the first farmers market in South Australia, opened by Cheong Liew back in 2002. The market now has an average of 55 stalls selling fresh primary produce from regional farms and Fleurieu Peninsula products with a steady 2000 visitors every Saturday and up to 5000 on holidays.
One of the greatest things you'll find here in South Australia is they offer membership at farmers markets where members are not only entitled to 10% discount at all stalls but also to support this not-for-profit organisation to keep it running. Today they have over 2335 members. I really like the membership idea and hopefully the Sydney farmers markets will catch on with the concept.
Willunga Farmers Market is small but the variety of stalls here are fantastic and you won't find more than 2 stalls selling the same thing. Some are more unique than others, native spinach, also known as coast saltbush, freshly picked along the coastline at the peninsula that same morning then selling them at the market. Why not?
A bakery stall that sells all different types of breads, rolls, buns, pizzas and even fresh pizza doughs.
Exotic spices a plenty including comet tail peppercorn, bali longtail peppercorn and fleur de sel sea salt infused in vanilla.
Then I find Alexandrina Cheese Company who sells fresh cheddar curd! Don't see fresh cheddar curd for sale very often, as many people still don't know what to use it for. I've been told a few chefs in Adelaide are already experimenting with the cheese curd and imagine it will be on the menu in future. For me, it is all about poutine. Here is one I've prepared earlier. :P
Fresh free range chicken eggs aplenty.
Do Bee Honey stall seems to be the locals favourite. They produced honey from a variety of blossoms including blue gum, orange and a unique blend of mangrove blossom honey. All honey are using cold extraction process to maintain vitamins and minerals. And the best part, many locals simply bring their empty buckets back to the stall for refilling, it is a more economical way to have a month long of honey supply, only if lasts that long. I take home some honeycomb, always good to go with a bowl of hot porridge.
Willunga Farmers Market Main Road
Willunga SA 5172
P: 08 8556 4297
No. 58 cellar door & gallery - Waverley Estate
Lunch stop is at No.58 Cellar Door & Gallery, a modern corrugated iron building on the historic grounds of Waverley Estate in Port Elliot on the Fleurieu Peninsula. Here you will be able to sample local wines or enjoy a cup of coffee and cakes while admiring a range of artwork by local and international artists. Light meals are also available here at No. 58 as well as regional tasting platter which showcases local and regional produce.
Friendly sheepdog at No. 58.
Our lunch will be accompanied with Mt Billy and Thunderbird Wines which are available for tasting here at No.58 Cellar Door.
The entree is a hearty comforting seafood and pipi chowder that warms the body. This Manhattan style soup is filled with local Coorong Pipis and flakes of fish meat.
Fresh Field Mushrooms are so plump and delicious, served with Matchetts double reduced balsamic and Hindmarsh Valley Goats Fetta.
Our main is supplied by this lovely lady, Charlotte Morley of 'Illawong', one of the few sheep farmers here in Australia that produces prime Texel lamb. They call it the "super muscle", these heavy muscled lean lambs are originated from the Isle of Texel in north-west Holland, but the ones from Denmark and Finland are more suitable for Australia conditions.
All meat after being cooked will shrink because the moisture and fat being rendered out, but Texel lamb is almost 1-to-1 because of their natural attributes of heavy muscling and leanness. And here they are...
The 'Illawong' texel lamb is served on Thai salad with lime dressing. Indeed the lamb meat is dense and heavy, but somehow still very juicy and tender.
As Charlotte flips through a little photo album and shows us some faded photos of her sheep farm and the herd, she also tells us how she wish there are more butchers out there will stock Texel lambs because right now customers can only buy the lamb through a few stockists in SA and she mainly sells them at Victor Harbour Farmers Market. So Sydney folks, if you want try to some Texel lamb, you will have to travel to South Australia, unless we have butchers up here ready to stock them. Oh, did I mention it is delicious?
No. 58 Cellar Door & Gallery 58 Waterport Road
Port Elliot, SA 5212
P: 08 8554 3149
Kangaroo Island Sailing
After lunch, we have the option of hiking or sailing. Hiking with full stomach? No thanks! So, let's go sailing - Enya style!
"Sail away... sail away... sail away!"
Make it stop!
Enya shall never be allowed on board, but instead we are in the good hands of Skipper Ashley Newman, the founder of Kangaroo Island Sailing and also the proud owner of Lady Eugenie, a beautiful 75ft rigged yacht. Ashley is only in his 30 and his wife, Renee Newman have already sailed around the world including a 10 month voyage from Spain to Australia in 2010.
I am sure there is no lady would like to hear this, but Lady Eugenie is huge! This 75ft yacht has four queen size bedrooms with private ensuite, a spacious saloon with dining table and comfortable lounge. The top deck that you can walk on is perfect for dolphins and other marine life watching, or simply kick back and relax, bathe in the sun with a glass of champers.
Sadly, the weather isn't so kind to us, so we all retreat back to the shaded central cockpit for some bubbly and food instead.
Yes! More food!
The delicious food is prepared on board by Kangaroo Island Sailing's head chef, Simon Burr. A former cheese and wine maker, and with his successful catering business, Simon will pamper his guests with a new menu for each three-day sailing trip sourcing only the freshest and ripest produce.
And guess how Ashley and Renee met back in 2005? Through chocolate. It was a sweet love story of a skipper who fell in love with chocolate and the pretty lady who served him. Just like an Avril Lavigne song, "He was a boy, she was a girl, can I make it anymore obvious? He was a punk. She did ballet.
What more can I say? He wanted her. She'd never tell. Secretly she wanted him as well."
And as they say, the rest is history.
With perfect timing we arrive at Port Willunga just before the sun starts to set over the horizon.
That's our handsome and talented Matt Armendariz from US doing his thang!
Star of Greece cafe
We conclude our first day activities with a scrumptious feast here at Star of Greece, situated on the Esplanade at Port Willunga with the most spectacular panoramic view of Gult St. Vincent. The restaurant itself is very homely and unpretentious, as owners Doug Govan and Nikki Seymour-Smith believe that serving good food with fresh seafood and local produce that is all matters. I think they just being humble, because the settings for dinner tonight looks absolutely stunning.
As we are all still mesmerised by the dramatic sunset, plates of salt and pepper squid are hovering among the guests but disappear just as fast. This super delicious tender squid are wild caught from right out the front of the restaurant at Myponga Beach, simply can't get any fresher than that.
Tonight we are celebrating the high quality wines produced by a group of small batch winemakers here in McLaren Vale. Vale Cru brings together passionate small producers who are doing the hard yards in the pursuit of high quality hand made premium wines.
There are just over 20 small winemakers in the CRU and they prefer to stay as small operation, to get their hands dirty to get involved in the whole process of winemaking from grape to bottle. That way they can ensure to produce the best quality wine that is artisan, that is unique, small and personal.
The dinner is nothing short of fabulous! We are spoiled with delicious options from each courses. For entree, some guests go for the blue swimmer crab with scallop cake, served with potato mousse and chive. I am eye-ing those golden crumbed scallop cakes, hoping Matt will share with me...
Oh well, I'll settle with my pork belly instead.
Yes, I'll order anything with the words "pork belly" on it and it's a beauty! A small block of smoked pork belly is one gob of gelatinous satisfaction, paired with perfectly seared scallop, pumpkin puree and a trail of croissant crumb.
It is great to see everyone and not just the food bloggers taking photos of the food at the table either with cameras or iPhones to capture such a memorable evening. Again, we are spoiled for choice on the mains. This dish would have been my second pick, lamb backstrap with horseradish and bone marrow crust, served with celeriac puree, truffle and pomegranate. Win!
The other two seafood options are poached snapper with lobster emulsion, and Kangaroo Island King George whiting with parsley crumb.
But the sweetbreads are calling me and definitely happy with my choice. Two perfectly cooked beef tenderloin are impeccably tender served with two deep-fried crumbed creamy sweetbreads and carrot puree, candied fennel and black garlic. Hmm creamy creamy sweetbread.....
Desserts are less intimidating with the choices, either go with the beautifully presented white chocolate mousse with raspberry sorbet and a table service of yoghurt consomme...
...or go with the decadent chocolate pave with caramel popcorn ice cream.
I obviously didn't take the easy way out on this dinner, is either my way or the highway. Pork belly, beef then chocolate - BOOM! All I need now is a comfy bed, please send me back to the hotel, pronto!
Star of Greece 1 Esplanade
Port Willunga SA 5173
P: 08 8557 7420
Lunch: Wed - Sun 12-3pm
Dinner: Fri - Sat from 5.30pm
Kiosk: open 7 days
Day two is a more hands-on kind of day. We first hit Coriole Vineyards at McLaren Vale, but we are not here for wine tasting, instead we will be joining owner and operator of Coriole, Mark Lloyd on an interactive and informative olive oil tasting.
Coriole Vineyards is owned and operated within the Lloyd family since 1967. They are not just producing high quality, innovative wine, but Mark himself is also a pioneer in the Australian Olive Oil industry and has started bottling olive oil in 1989. Today we will be tasting five different types of olive oils, from rancid old oil, cooking oil to some high quality filtered and unfiltered extra-virgin olive oils.
So, how do you do olive oil tasting? Exactly the same as wine tasting. Warm the oil in the palm of your hand, sniff the aroma, then sip and suck lots of air into mouth at the same time, make as much noise as you can to let the olive oil flavour opens up. I can differentiate the good and the bad oil, but if you ask me to choose between good and best, I absolutely have no clue as they all tasted bloody good to me. I think I'll stick to the wine. :)
Coriole Vineyards Chaffeys Road
McLaren Vale SA 5171
P: 08 8323 8305
Lunches available on Fri - Mon.
Producers of McLaren Vale
Producers of McLaren Vale is an interesting place. From the outside it looks like a winery but it isn't. Yes, they do make wine, but they also make olive oil, preserves, verjuice, baking, cheese, sausages and more. David Arbon and Tori Moreton are the real regional "producers" who own this beautiful space where they run regular workshops to showcase the best produce from McLaren Vale.
We meet David in the courtyard where he shows us now to make fresh ricotta. It is like a magic show, David pours in an acid mix of vinegar and lemon juice into hot milk and it separates into two layers of curd and whey in a blink of an eye. So so simple.
Then we are split into two groups for some hands-on pasta and cheese making workshops. I am assigned to the group to make spinach and ricotta tortellini with head chef Nigel Rich from co-located restaurant The Elbow Room while the other group will be learning on how to make mozzarella. Check out Christina and her ball stretching skill. :D
All the cheese and pasta that we made will be cooked as part of our lunch at The Elbom Room afterwards.
The Elbow Room
The Elbow Room shares the same space with Producers, this fine dining restaurant is only 7 months old, a long open space with window wall that offers a view of the vineyards from every table. Chef Nigel Rich, formerly of d'Arry's Verandah Restaurant, has prepared a two-course lunch using local produce, some of which has been kindly donated by the Willunga Farmer's Market stallholders.
First course is the spinach and ricotta tortellini that we made earlier at the workshop. It is served with a simple olive oil dressing, roasted cherry tomatoes, fried basil leaves and a generous shaving of parmesan. The freshly made ricotta feeling is simply delicious, it has so much flavour compare to the store bought.
For mains are share platters of goat curry with roast parsnip and green beans, and roast pork belly with braised lettuce and azuki bean. Both dishes served with side dishes of roast potatoes and salad. I like the Asian-style slow braised pork belly in master stock that is delicious and comforting, how I wish to have a bowl of steamed rice to drizzle the sauce all over. But the highlight is the goat curry, it doesn't have a strong goat flavour as I thought it would be, beautifully balanced spiced curry sauce that is so rich and fragrant, how I wish to have a second bowl of steamed rice to drizzle the curry sauce all over.
Producers and The Elbow Room 68 Branson Road,
McLaren Vale, SA 5171
P: 08 8323 0060
Opening hours: Lunch Fri - Sun only
Group bookings Mon - Thur by appointment only
And our last stop in Fleurieu Peninsula will be at Goodieson Brewery for some beer tasting. We meet owner/brewer Jeff Goodieson, who is a very witty and charming man, cracks open their small range of boutique beers to let us try. From a cloudy pale ale, to strong coffee flavour stout, but we all loving the spiced Christmas ale, it is a Christmas pudding in a bottle!
Fleurieu Peninsula has been a great side trip as part of our Tasting Australia program, within the two days, I felt that we have only skimmed the surface and didn't even get the chance to visit any of the small wineries of the VALE CRU. Well, you know what Arnie would say?
"I'll be back!"
Goodieson Brewery 194 Sand Road[A Table For Two attended Tasting Australia as a guest of South Australia Tourism]
McLaren Vale SA 5171
P: 0409 676 542