Bringing generations of farmland knowledge to the fore

Words by Della Vreeland
Images Supplied

Yarrawonga’s Vodusek family wants to create a special sort of culinary experience for its customers – one that is instilled with passion, sustainability and gratitude.

“We are passionate about the land, what we grow, harvest and create,” Ros Vodusek says.

We want to share and educate people about where their food comes from and be grateful to our fellow farmers.

With 35 years of experience as a chef, Ros is the frontwoman of Rich Glen – a farm that specialises in the production of olive-based products.

Managing the farm alongside her husband Daimien, and with help from her four children, she says the family brings a combined five generations of agricultural knowledge to the fore.

Rich Glen’s first olive trees were planted in 1998, with the first harvest taking place in 2003.

At first, the farm started selling bulk oil, but later took on a more viable business model which involved the manufacturing and selling of olive-oil products.

Ros and Daimien took over the Estate from Daimien’s parents in 2000 at which point they began selling olive oil from the back room of their Edwardian home.

Throughout the whole journey, the ethos of sustainability has underpinned the farm’s operations – from the implementation of water-efficient methods to the sourcing of sustainable raw materials and, more importantly, supporting other companies that share similar values.

“We are always looking at planting new crops to improve yield and improve the overall health of the soil,” Ros says.

“We are incredibly passionate about operating all aspects sustainably, from the agricultural side of the business to the manufacturing and distribution of our skin-care range.

“This allows the next generation coming up through the business to learn the importance of making smart, long-term decisions and forming a sustainable and environmentally friendly business model.”

The Rich Glen product range includes 150 olive-oil based food and skin-care products produced on the estate, as well as a variety of pantry staples such as meat rubs, dukkah, dressings, cordials and honey.

“Our Olive Oil is grown, harvested and pressed on our farm, so we believe we have the freshest and healthiest Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) possible,” Ros says.

“We love how versatile EVOO is, and we showcase that throughout our Nourish, Nurture and Radiance product range. It is simply the essential ingredient.

“We manufacture our entire range without the use of unnecessary artificial ingredients, additives or preservatives. Every ingredient on our nutritional panel is a single ingredient item that anyone could recognise.”

As well as producing their own olives, Rich Glen also manufactures its products on-site using ingredients, packaging and labels from Australian-made companies.

While Coronavirus presented a number of challenges for the Voduseks, namely the closing of their farmgate store and the loss of employees, Ros says it was also an opportunity for the business to reinvent itself and think more creatively about how to showcase Rich Glen’s premium offerings.

“Our journey here on the farm has been such a thrill. Every day is unique, challenging and simply creative,” Ros says.

“I love having the ability to wake up each day and do what I love, sharing this exciting journey with my husband and four kids.

“One of the most rewarding aspects of creating Rich Glen has been the ongoing positive feedback we receive each day. From a new customer discovering a new product and loving it, to a parent finally sourcing a natural skin-care product to use on their child’s eczema.

“We are always overwhelmed with the amount of people’s lives that we have the opportunity to influence each day positively.”


WHAT: Rich Glen Olive Estate
WHERE: 734 Murray Valley Highway, Yarrawonga

Blue Tongue Berries

When you picture your idyllic tree-change, off-grid, post-corporate life, it pretty much looks like this place, just outside of Seymour. It’s perched on a hilltop, it is totally off-grid, and has a freakin’ cantina. Loaded with all the words you wrote down in your tree-change wishlist, Blue Tongue Berries boasts a straw-bale boutique accommodation, ridiculous rural views, a seasonal cafe, and 20 acres of farm. You’ll be forgiven for feeling like Nick and Cynthia are living the stylish off-grid life you had always planned.

The cantina is a seasonal thing, when the blueberries are ready to be picked there’s an abundance of them, so they make tarts, cook dumplings, and put on the tastiest lunch. It’s only during the season, though, so check their socials (links above) to make sure they’re open.

The cantina and hacienda are also available as an event space, and here is where your imagination can run wild. Book the accommodation, have friends over for a celebration, and when they’ve all gone, wake up in the serene surrounds of a hilltop haven.

If live music is your thing, Nick and Cynthia run events with local talent too. Again, staying appraised of the socials is the key.

By the way, when it comes to fulfilling the off-grid tree-change dream, Nick and Cynthia will be the first to ask, “What are you waiting for? Get out and do it!”


OHO in ISO: Nigel Wood from Truffle Paddock

Images supplied

Nigel is one of Australia’s most trusted truffle experts and is the founder of Truffle Paddock. The brand is named after his farm near Phillip Island. Truffle Paddock farm produces fresh black winter truffle which is sold to chefs and retail customers across Australia during the winter truffle season. He is also the founder of Truffle Melbourne, which runs an annual winter truffle festival program of more than 80 events including a weekend festival (now the largest outside Europe). The program usually runs from June through to August and includes truffle hunts at a number of Victorian truffle farms, truffle dining events and an education program for chefs.

How is the Truffle season looking?

Truffles are a seasonal pleasure and once the cooler weather arrives, they’ll ripen and be ready – so only a few weeks to wait now. You can never be really sure about how many there’ll be each year, but the early signs for the 2020 season are looking great – in our Truffle Paddock there are lots of truffles poking their heads through the soil right now – so I have my fingers crossed!

What does the future look like for small producers?

2020 will be a very challenging season for a lot of growers – large and small, as many restaurants in Australia and around the world are closed, drying up a lot of the wholesale and export markets (75% of Australia’s truffles are exported). But every year the number of people across the world appreciating the seasonal joys of fresh truffles is growing – and with lots of iso cooking going on, I reckon even more people will be hanging out to savour fresh truffles or experiment with truffle products this season. So 2020 is likely to be a bit of a “swings and roundabouts” year, but I’m optimistic about the future of the industry.

What will be happening with the festival this year?

The Truffle Melbourne festival weekend attracts tens of thousands of people to the Queen Vic Market each year, but because of lockdown protocols, unfortunately, that can’t happen this year. But the truffles don’t know about the virus – they’re coming to the party anyway, so we’re expecting lots of people to come to our Queen Vic Market Pop Up this season, we’ll be creating some online truffle recipes and working with our chef friends to organise some truffle take-outs across town.

How are you handling lockdown personally?

I’ve been in iso at Truffle Paddock farm for a month now, which is the best time to be here as I can better manage the farm with the truffles almost here. At other times of the year I’m usually at the farm on weekends, and busy with our Truffle Paddock products in the city during the week.

Early season truffles which poke above the soil need to be covered so they won’t be attacked by pests and will ripen properly, and there are always lots of jobs at any farm, so I’ve been busy with those too. My baking skills have really improved too – I love the tactile nature of working with doughs for breads or pizzas. I’ve also been able to cook something new most days with daily harvests from our veggie patch.

What’s helping you get through this period?

Getting dirt under my fingers in the paddock every day! And I’m really enjoying being closer to changes in the season. I like watching the grazing kangaroo “families” and getting to understand each group. I like seeing the rapid growth of mushrooms around the trees in the Truffle Paddock – these are a great indicator for how widely the tree roots have spread and therefore where truffles can be found.

Finally, the luxury of being able to isolate on a sixty-acre farm with lots of native forest to stroll through and a wonderful array of native animals in our other paddocks – including the odd nocturnal wombat strolling past – it’s a very different experience from pacing the three-metre balcony in our Melbourne apartment!

Find out more:

Truffle Paddock is Australia’s leading specialist truffle producer, exclusively using Australian grown French black winter truffle in all of their products, unlike most imported truffle products which use cheap summer truffle. The Truffle Paddock range features everyone’s favourite truffle products – oils, salts and honeys, and also some innovative and world exclusive products such as the hugely popular Ponzu Sauce, Truffle Aioli and Truffle Dijonnaise and Truffle Salad Dressing.

Pierrepoint Wines

Andrew and Jenny are the kind of family hosts you expect from a little cellar door on a private property. They love what they do, though like most growers and makers, they question their own sanity. We didn’t have any further questions after sampling the wines, though. They’re all a perfect education in terroir – that fancy French word for the intangible combination of place, climate, season, and ‘vibe’ that makes wines taste the way they do. Regular music gigs held at the venue make it worth signing up to the newsletter.

These little places are why we leave the city for a long weekend.

Buxton Trout and Salmon Farm

If you’re new to fishing, impatient, or really you’re just interested in a BBQ with fresh fish you caught yourself, then this place is ideal. The gear is supplied by the farm, you catch the fish, the friendly staff help you with the rest. Then, et voila, you have the freshest fish right there for your BBQ in the park-like surrounds of the farm.

There are several different areas of waterway on the farm, so if you’re impatient for lunch and just need fish now,  there’s a more densely populated pond where your plate-sized fish will volunteer fairly readily. If you’ve got more time and patience, and are happy to get a little more lost in the serenity, then there is a more challenging area with less fish for you too.

The BBQ area is substantial and well equipped, and the expansive grass area is perfect for throwing a rug down under a tree.

Benton Rise Farm

One of the reasons you take a trip into regional areas is that warm fuzzy feeling you get from seeing where your food comes from. It’s a particularly warm and fuzzy feeling to buy it from the farm and cook it for yourself. Benton Rise Farm has a service from their website where you can order their box of veg or make up your own for your weekend away, pick it up from the farm on your way down, and have all you need to cook delicious food in wherever your self-contained accommodation is.

If I can push the “fuzzy” link a little further, the mushrooms grown at Benton Rise are a highlight. We were lucky enough to try them in a dish on the menu at Merricks General Wine Store. Flavour country right there.

The Saturday morning farmers markets at the property are awesome, and staged from a “Red Rattler” train carriage.

Cheeky Grog Cider Co

If you’re an apple grower, and you see the premium paid for cider apples and the further value-add from making cider, it’s really a no-brainer to have a bit of a look at selling your own stuff. Cheeky Grog have nailed the concept of grower-turns-brewer with their roadside cider house.  With orchards everywhere in the surrounding fields, it’s both no surprise and an absolute delight to find that someone is taking the fruit and turning it into the makings of a fab Friday night.

The list of ciders on taste is long, and there’s something for everyone’s palate. Some medal-winning drops are on taste too, and of course available for you to take home.

For anyone after adventurous flavours, they’re doing some funky things with brettanomyces (“brett”), much as beer brewers are doing. It’s not for everyone, but it’s interesting and a bit of fun.

The outdoor lounge area is fantastically created from old fruit bins, with sprawling timber lounge chairs and tables for group tastings, or for enjoying a few slow cold ones and something to eat. The kitchen has a short simple menu, which on the weekends includes wood-fired pizzas. Regular live music happens out there on the lawn too.

Of course, you can just pull in to the roadside stall and, old-school honesty-box style, pick up a bag of apples or pears.

Grampians Olive Co.

At the base of a spectacular Grampians escarpment is an olive grove that plays home to the Grampians Olive Co. It’s reminiscent of old Mediterranean groves, with gnarly weather-worn trees planted into rocky soil, fighting the elements to survive. The result is flavourful olives producing bright peppery oil of exceptional quality.

Greg Mathews, in the second generation of his family to run this grove, tells us that this plantation was put down in 1943. It’s a small operation, though 28 000 trees does sound like a lot. All the fruit is processed on site: pressed and bottled. The farm gate is a nice way to sample some of the fresh oil from the most recent harvest. Wow, what a difference in flavour there is from fresh oil! It makes a great substitute for butter, just poured over good bread.

Definitely worth a visit to stock up on high-quality oil for your road trip picnics.

Sally’s Paddock at Redbank Winery

For those who remember what they were drinking in the Melbourne restaurant scene a decade or so ago, Sally’s Paddock was a prominent feature at the premium end of the wine lists in some of the top eateries in town. Now, with the emergence of the next generation in the family, Sasha Fair is making sure that the wines from the Redbank winery are true to the reputation earned by her family – a reputation which includes the classification ‘Distinguished Winery’ from Langton’s.

The building that was put up to serve as the winery in the 70s now does duty as cellar door. Its remarkable timber shingle roof is a feature that takes your eye as soon as you come in. The cellar door is a great place to sit at a long table with a bunch of friends and kill a few hours with local produce platters and the truly amazing wines that Sasha is making.

In case you’re wondering about that gorgeous little mudbrick house as you come up the long drive to the winery, the answer is yes – it is available for rent for up to three couples at a time.

Sally’s Paddock is a stalwart of the Pyrenees wine industry, and plays host to local events (such as the Ballarat Winter Festival) when they pop up on the regional event calendar. It’s a spectacular spot, and events on the property are relaxed and fun.

Making Meat More Local

Words: Richard Cornish

Victorian eaters are at risk of losing some of the best tasting and most humanely raised beef, lamb, chicken and pork. Small farmers are being placed under pressure due to the accelerated rate of local abattoir closures around the state. In the past decade, we have seen the closure of small abattoirs serving their local community from Inglewood to Foster. Farmers who deal directly with their customers, or sell through farmers markets, are being forced to truck their animals hundreds of kilometres to larger, centralised abattoirs. Long hours in unfamiliar vehicles and rough country roads can stress animals. In beef, this causes the meat to toughen and make pork mushy.

“I hate it,” says Lauren Mathers of Bundarra Berkshires. “We used to have abs (abattoirs) down the road at Gunbower. It meant a lot for local food production and helped smaller growers get a foothold.” Changing economic conditions and a hostile government regulatory regime saw Gunbower abattoirs close two years ago. Lauren produces both fresh pork and makes salume and charcuterie employing several people in the small twin towns of Koondrook and Barham that straddle the Murray River some 90km north west of Echuca. Her products are critically acclaimed and sell at premium prices in Victoria and New South Wales. She and 19 other like-minded farmers did not take the closure of the abattoir lying down. They teamed up and put their money where their mouths are and formed an association to build a micro abattoir.

Housed on a decommissioned dairy farm near Koondrook the small facility will be able to process the various animals raised in the region in a slower way more aligned to the ethical husbandry practiced on their farms. “Big abs have to kill a lot of animals to make profit, so it all happens rapidly and sometimes corners get cut with some of them,” says Lauren. “We won’t be doing that,” she says.

The new micro abattoir will have a special treatment plant to digest waste and turn it into electricity and there are long term plans to use waste to raise worms which will be transformed into pig feed. It will be a zero-waste facility. “It will also give us greater control of the quality of the meat but also in what we get back from the abattoirs,” says Lauren. At present, she sends her pigs away for slaughter and only gets back the body. The head, trotters and offal – including valuable caul fat, are all kept by the processor. “I can value add to all that through charcuterie,” says Lauren. “I am losing almost $90 000 a year. That could pay the (pigs’) feed bill or I could hire more staff.” Lauren and her team look set to be up and running by Christmas processing local beef cattle, lambs, pigs and chickens.

Another business, Provenir, completely cuts out the negative impact of moving animals at all. Provenir brings the abattoir to the farm in the form of a specially built semi-trailer. The Provenir business model sees the company buy the cattle from the farmer, slaughter them in the mobile abattoir then take the carcasses to a central (but relocatable) processing facility. The people behind Provenir include a chef, farmer and a vet. Cattle are slaughtered in the mobile abattoir using humane technology developed by American animal psychologist Professor Temple Grandin. Provenir works with farmers to help them meet certain quality specifications such as the cattle must be grass-fed and that no hormones or antibiotics are used. The first cattle are expected to be processed by mid-winter with the beef being sold to restaurants, distributed through select butchers in Melbourne and delivered to customers’ homes.

Customers are able to pre-purchase Provenir beef at