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 pozible.com/project/provenir.

Manzanillo Grove

The perfect olive is the ideal accompaniment to a long afternoon on the deck – still a little salty from the brining, still a little firm from just the right amount of time in the brine, kept in fresh extra-virgin oil.  It’s one of life’s simple pleasures.

Manzanillo Grove started as a gardening project for Renate and Len – something to do in their retirement. It grew rapidly into a business processing well over 100 tonnes of fruit each year. The little shed which once served as a processing facility now houses their farm-gate store. There’s a range of other local produce amongst the infused oils and Manzanillo Grove oil products, but it’s the pure flavour of a simple table olive or a new season cold-pressed oil on bread that carries the day. If you’re planning a Bellarine picnic, start here.

Or, if you’re planning a quiet weekend away, stop at the farm-gate store at the end of the day and grab a big jar of olives and a bottle of oil. Be sure to bring the best sourdough and a couple of bottles of your favourite wine. Then you can sit out on the deck of your accomodation at Manzanillo Grove whiling away the evening. Len and Renate have recently built stylish, self-contained studio apartments right in the middle of the grove overlooking the large dam.

The Little Mussel Cafe

What’s the next best thing to fresh mussels taken from the boat and served hot with just the right amount of your favourite flavours, and maybe a lager or two? How about sitting in a sweet little garden next to the shed where those mussels arrive just minutes after they come off the boat, doing exactly the same? Sounds just about perfect, doesn’t it.

The Little Mussel Cafe is a cute little shed and garden right next to the processing shed of Advance Mussel Supply in Portarlington. They cook mussels just right – so they are the soft little balls of perfection that they should be. Advance Mussel Supply are mussel and oyster farmers. You can get the latter from them too, when the timing is right; they’re also as they should be.

If you have in your group someone who struggles with shellfish, the menu has them covered. There are also ways for you to bring them around to the goodness of these ocean-found molluscs of joy. Purists always wince at the thought of any kind of cooking or overpowering flavours, but beginners will love the introduction. It’s only one or two steps away from getting into the heaven that is au naturel.

The Meat Room

Those who are lucky enough to have grown up with family food traditions that include sausage making, preserving and so on can understand the simple pleasure of making foods that have become commoditised and sanitised by commercial production. There is enormous satisfaction in taking the best produce, like organically farmed pig, and turning it into succulent, delicious sausages.

James is certainly passionate about his pigs. There’s genuine appreciation for the life of the animal, and a sampling of products made from pigs that have had variations in feed is a revelation. He’s also experienced with other livestock, but pigs are a particular interest. He and  his wife Cathy run workshops in making sausages for people looking to turn their hand to the art of this simple staple.

Classes run regularly, and the best way to stay in touch with the schedule or any new classes is at themeatroom.com.au. James says the return of the salami classes have been hotly anticipated.

Mitchelton Wines

When you make your way up the long driveway into Mitchelton Wines, it only takes moments to be struck by the large tower that looks out across the vineyards. The driveway cuts through the coincidentally named vineyard, Airstrip, which echoes the airport control-tower aesthetic of the property’s iconic building. It’s a coincidence that makes you smile.

Students of architecture will spend the whole day smiling out here, not just because of the wines and the stunning food, but because of the great Robin Boyd’s recognisable building design. Sadly, Boyd passed away before the completion of the project, but Ted Ashton finished the build and the tower to complete Boyd’s vision.

Wines from this region of Central Victoria are typically powerful and full bodied. Expect lush fruit flavour for days, to go with your architectural smiles and your lunch of seasonal Goulburn River Valley produce from Muse Restaurant.

If a lighter option or cheeky breakfast is your preference, the Ministry of Chocolate Cafe is worth a visit in its own right. Speaking of chocolate, where’s the emoji for drooling? Some of the finest Belgian couverture chocolate is crafted into all kinds of things you’ll want to take home, but will probably just eat on the way.

The Farmer’s Place

We don’t know how many times we’ve taken this trip and passed the shed-like structure made from shipping containers which houses the Farmer’s Place on our way to Lorne or Anglesea. We’re glad we made this pit stop though. The day was perfect for a long breakfast outside in the herb garden. We had the rice pudding and French toast. The former was light (for such a big dish) and tasty. The latter was as you’d want your French toast to come. The lavender syrup was amazing.

If you’re staying in the area, consider booking ahead into one of their many courses on food and growing. These guys preach what they practise, making the Farmer’s Place much more than a simple pit stop.

Warragul Farmers Market

It’s hard to believe that this vibrant market in Warragul has only just turned five years old. It has the feeling of a long-established tradition of growers and makers who gather once a month to present the fruits of their labour. People come from all over to get their produce, enjoy street-food or a great coffee, and meet up with the people who grow the produce and make wares locally. It’s definitely dog-friendly, and OHO dog Rosie the kelpie had as much fun making new friends as your intrepid OHO adventurers did. Available produce will vary seasonally of course, but with over 60 stallholders listed as regulars, there really is something for everyone, even Rosie, who took home some delicious liver treats.

There are so many stalls, it’s going to take a few visits to get into the swing of the market (every third Saturday of the month) and establish some long-term favourites, but here are some early highlights.

Hope Farm Sourdough The way it should be.
Lime & Co.  Delicious Mexican food, made right there.
Wild Dog  Great wines and a spectacular pair of gins.
Craig’s Hut Coffee  Literally a replica of the famous hut, and great coffee.
The Bunyip Beekeeper  Because proper honey is better in every way.
Cambodian Street BBQ  Fills the whole place with delicious smells!

Better come hungry, because you’re going to want to eat it all.

Australian Pumpkin Seed Company

Like most amazing simple things, once you’ve tried the real thing, you’ll never look at another imported pumpkin seed again. “Pepitas” as they’re sold in health-food shops, are mostly a cheap imported product, often made from the wrong pumpkin. Owners of the Australian Pumpkin Seed Company, Jay and Sharan, have set themselves a huge task of educating an oblivious market. We were fortunate to step on to their property with them, and see first hand what it takes to grow a simple product to a level of excellence like this.

For starters, this is not an eating pumpkin. It’s awful. It really is grown for its seeds. And there are thousands of them in perfect rows in front of us at harvest time! Then there’s the processing. Obviously, most of the pumpkin is not the seed! And without the help of an established industry, these guys have had to build or import (but mostly the former) the gear required.

The result is worth it. Honestly, the crunch and flavour of such a simple little thing is one of life’s joys – like the perfect apple or the best peach.

You can visit the farmgate store and sample their various seeds, from plain to flavours of all kinds, as well as other products like the oils. There are health benefits which are best explained by the proprietors, but the flavour is king. Jay is an ex-chef who knows a thing or two about flavour, and it shows.

Your breakfast cereal toppings will never be the same again.

Pomonal Estate

Something is happening in the tiny community of Pomonal. Pep, owner of Pomonal Estate, points to the neighbours in various directions and tells OHO, ‘The carpenter lives over there, the builder just there, the beekeeper over that way, and the guy who grows the salad greens, just there.” Almost on cue, the guy who grows the salad greens walks in the door with today’s box of salad greens. He talks about the horseradish-peppery flavour of the curly red lettuce.

The owners’ enthusiasm for all things local is infectious. The build is brand-new, and made by locals. The accommodation they’ve just opened on site is set right in the middle of the place they love. The Grampians are right there, changing all the time with the changes in light, and you can stay in a brand-new luxury home with picture windows to all the views.

What you’ve really come here to read about, though, is one or more of the following burning questions:

1.  Can I get a good coffee? Yes.
2.  Is there good food? Yes. Local, simple and fresh.
3.  Is there a view? Yes. A damn good one.
4.  Is the wine good? Yes it is.
5.  Is the beer good? Yes it is, and it’s truly small-batch, made on site.
6.  Is it far? No, not if you stay over. Otherwise, expect a 3-hour drive and a mix-tape.

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.