Source locally harvested Saffron from Squirrel Gully Saffron

Words by Richard Cornish
Images Supplied

Saffron, by weight, is more costly than gold. But a little saffron goes a long, long way, a tiny pinch is an essential spice flavouring dishes from paella to bouillabaisse. The local saffron harvest has just finished and Rosemary Pamic and Andrew Black from Squirrel Gully Saffron have finished drying their precious threads and now have the 2022 season stock for sale.

“Saffron is the stigmas, thread-like parts of the flower of a crocus bulb,” says Rosemary. She and Andrew grow their bulbs in above-ground containers on their farm at Dunolly, halfway between Bendigo and Ballarat. “The crocus bulbs are easy targets for fungus and the raised beds offer better drainage,” she says.

The bulbs flower in late autumn and there is a brief fortnight when the flowers can be picked. The small blooms are hand-harvested before sunrise and the red saffron stigmas are painstakingly removed. They are then carefully dried to develop the aromatic compounds in saffron.

“There is a lot of fake saffron around,” says Rosemary. She refers to the ‘saffron powder’ an imported imposter that is artificially coloured and flavoured fakery. Some product sold as saffron can be stigma from other plants that has been artificially dyed.

The busy pair at Squirrel Gully Saffron also produce a range of saffron value-added products from rather delicious saffron-flavoured caramelised popcorn and saffron-flavoured salt. The product range is highly regarded and has been used in the kitchens at Goldmines Hotel in Bendigo and Trofeo Estate on the Mornington Peninsula. The 2022 season saffron is now in stock as are other saffron products such as dulce de membrillo, paella packs and cultured butter-making packs.


THE DETAILS

What: Victorian Saffron
Where: Buy online for $13 per 100mg at Squirrel Valley Saffron

We wish to acknowledge the Dja Dja Wurrung  people as traditional owners of this land and to pay our respects to their Elders, past and present.

Step-up your Sunday roast game with the Slow Cook Deckle

Words and Images: Richard Cornish

Farmer and butcher Alan Snaith is always coming up with new ways to trim and package his award-winning belted Galloway beef.

Based on his farm out in Clonbinane 70km north of Melbourne, he and his wife Lizette raise the cattle that they fatten on the lush pastures in Healesville and Macedon. The cattle are raised free range and processed when they are around 650kg or between 2.5-3.5 years. The Snaiths sell their beef under the Warialda Belted Galloway brand and have worked closely with chefs across Victoria to produce a highly recognised label selling the Scottish lowland beef.

In the past he has championed brisket years before the belly cut became popular with hipster meat smokers and developed fermented beef smallgoods with licenced processors. Alan trained to become a butcher and is known for his use of the boning knife to sculpt out the tender pieces of muscle that lay between tough and chewy connective tissue. He has given us hangar steak and bavettes. He carves out the tender banjo steak from the chewy blade.

His latest offer is the deckle. This is a cap that runs over the brisket. It needs slow cooking but is quite thin. If cooked until tender it would be quite dry. So, what Alan has done is layer up several pieces of deckle, seasoned each piece with Olsson’s garlic and lemon salt and trussed them up. The result is a lovely ingot shaped piece of beef, artfully strung that slow cooks to a sweet, juicy and tender piece of meat that is well seasoned and tangy.

Ideal served with vegetables and mashed potato or salad and polenta. It needs to be placed in a tray in which it just fits and placed in a hot oven for 20 minutes to get a little colour. It should be covered, the oven turned down to 120°C-140°C and slow cooked for between 4-6 hours depending on its size.

It needs to rest for 20 minutes, and the juices used to make a sauce.

What: Slow Cook Deckle $28 p/kg
When: Available now
Where: Buy online directly from Open Food Network, or from Veg Out Farmers Markets, Lancefield Farmers Market, Castlemaine Farmers Market, Bendigo Community Farmers Market

To flee the coop: Small producers calling it a day in exchange for family time

Words by Della Vreeland
Images Supplied

Eight years ago, Bruce and Roz Burton transformed their 20-hectare acreage into an operational farm growing award-winning Sommerlad chickens, and occasionally some sheep, cattle and old-fashioned fruit and veggies.

Just as nature intended, slowly and tenderly, the couple spent years finding the best produce with truly unique textures and flavours, and supplying some of Australia’s best chefs and restaurants under the name Milking Yard Farm.

Now, almost a decade later, and following two years of financial difficulties as a result of the health pandemic, the Burtons have made the decision to close up their beloved venture.

‘The business really wasn’t at a sustainable size in its current shape, so what that meant was I couldn’t afford to have enough help to allow me to get off the tills and spend more time running the business. It needed to be bigger,’ Bruce says.

‘Another of the challenges was that supply from the abattoir and boning room was at risk because they’re growing so much they couldn’t really handle us, so we were asked to find somewhere else if we could. That meant we’d have to build our own abattoir or coop and it’s a big investment.

It just wasn’t profitable enough.

According to Bruce, Milking Yard Farm lost all its restaurant revenue overnight once the COVID pandemic hit. ‘That was half the business,’ he recalls. While he says the farm did indeed ‘pivot’ – introducing the Community Sustained Agriculture model, as well as online sales – he says the business would need to expand significantly in order to remain viable.

The closure of small regional businesses is a familiar story in the current climate. The health pandemic, the soaring cost of fuel, the overseas war crisis, and even the interstate floods all have ripple effects when it comes to how businesses are coping. At the end of the day, business owners simply yearn for space to breathe and time to spend with their loved ones.

‘We will keep farming , running sheep and cattle, and growing food and spending more time with our expanding pool of grandchildren,’ Bruce says. ‘We’re looking forward to that.’

The tale’s the same in Healesville, where Yarra Valley Pasta has decided to close up shop after 25 years.

While the providore’s retail offering was consistent during the pandemic, owner Lisa Giffard says it was finally time to focus on her boys, her mum and her dad and diminish some of her stress for her own sake and that of her family.

She says with the rising price of fuel, and with the demand on wheat crops – particularly with the floods and overseas war crisis – now was a tough time to be a food producer.

‘When we opened in 1997 there was nothing in Healesville. You couldn’t get a decent cup of espresso anywhere, so we were new and exciting. Of course [the business] has had lots of different lives, but it was time to reinvent again and in order for the business to thrive, I would need to dig a lot deeper and find a different energy and headspace.’ she says.

‘All those floods in the northern rivers where our wheat comes from, and all the stuff happening in the Ukraine and overseas – the government could quite possibly want to allocate wheat to them and not to us. It’s interesting to see how the events in the world affect a little food producer like me. I know all those stresses coming up that are going to really affect me and ultimately my family.’

Yarra Valley Pasta was integral in cultivating the town’s reputation for artisan produce and global dining, so choosing to close its doors took a lot of courage on Lisa’s part. But she says she’s eager for the next chapter.

‘You have to have the confidence to do it,’ she says. ‘A lot of people are scared, and of course there are financial commitments and I get that.’

25 years is a long time. My time’s up. It’s alright to change and to do something different. When you close one door, another one opens.

For Bruce, he too is maintaining a positive outlook for the future.

‘The way it needs to be for small producers is to have direct relationships with customers,’ Bruce says. ‘Community Sustained Agriculture is the way of the future. It was evidenced in the pandemic. People are now prepared to buy online and have their food delivered to their home while they’re not there and have it sit at their doorstep.’

‘Our other hope is overcoming structural inefficiencies by having shared abattoirs and boning facilities available for multiple facilities because what’s holding our industry back is a lack of access to those facilities.’

‘Our final hope is that the genetics of birds like ours don’t get lost as growers like ours switch off their businesses. Ours was one of three heritage breeds in Australia, and we need to share and propagate the genetics broadly so reach is greater to consumers across the country and more people can experience chicken how it should be.’

We wish to acknowledge the traditional owners of this land and to pay our respects to their Elders, past and present.

Introducing exceptional salami from Colin and Sally’s Organic Farm

Words by Richard Cornish 
Images Supplied

Out in the green rolling hills at Dollar, between Mirboo North in the Strzelecki Ranges and Foster in South Gippsland, is a farm where Sally Ruljancich and Colin Trudgen raise their Angus cattle and Wiltshire Horn / Poll Dorset cross sheep.

They have been instrumental in the direct-from-farm movement in that part of the world for over a decade and are known for the exceptionally flavoursome lamb and beef. Ethics are essential to their operation from caring for country, soil regeneration, flock and herd health, and community care.

“In some farming models breeding cows and ewes are bred into the ground,” says Sally.

They are not cared for. All our animals are looked after throughout their life. Traditionally, old breeders are in bad conditions and sent to the market where there is not much return.

But because Colin and Sally look after their ‘girls’ so well, they are in such good condition when they are no longer able to breed that they still have high-value meat. “And I had always wanted to make small goods,” says Sally.

This is where champion salume maker Robbie De Palma comes in. The 7th generation Sydney small goods maker is a perfectionist. “He made it clear he would not take any trim,” says Sally. “He told us that salami is not a dumping ground for old, cheap meat,” she says. Colin and Sally sent their best rump and topside to the Padstow-based De Palma. “Beef is quite lean, so we also sent up back fat from the pigs raised by our friends at Amber Creek Farm,” says Sally.

Robbie De Palma is a traditionalist and uses the bare minimum of ingredients to make the salami. The meat is ground, mixed with fermenting culture, salt and pepper, then stuffed into natural skins. The salami is allowed to ferment at a reasonably warm temperature until the lactic acid bacteria produce enough acid to stop the bad bugs from getting hold. The salami is then slowly air-dried for weeks, preserving the salami.

The result is a great-tasting salami where the beef does the talking with a lovely hit of salt, a rich mushroom note from the naturally occurring beneficial mould on the outside, and a clean lactic acid tang. Slice fine and enjoy with crusty bread and a glass of wine from Dirty Three or Waratah Hills in South Gippsland. The salami is joined by beef bresaola (sold out) and in three months’ time, lamb culatello – salted and air-dried muscles from the hind leg.


THE DETAILS
WHAT: Exceptionally good salami from South Gippsland
WHERE: Online from Prom Coast Food Collective, or instore at Stella’s Pantry and Leongatha Health Food
WHEN: Now and June 22 for the culatello
MORE INFO: colinandsallys.com.au

We wish to acknowledge the Gunaikurnai people as traditional owners of this land and to pay our respects to their Elders, past and present.

Empty Shelves: Farmers’ Markets Vs Super Markets

Words by Richard Cornish

Chris Hains stands in the middle of the Castlemaine Farmers Market. Around him are stalls stocked with fresh fruit and vegetables, lamb, pork, goat, cereals, cheese, nuts, oil and other fresh produce. ‘We have no supply issue here at the farmers market,’ he says.

Chris is the manager of the Castlemaine and Bendigo Farmers’ Markets and sits on the board of Victorian Farmers’ Markets Association. In the light of recent empty shelves in supermarkets he and his team posted images of trestle tables groaning with freshly picked bounty to highlight the fact that farmers’ markets and other small and diverse food distribution systems have not been affected by COVID. The spread of the highly contagious omicron COVID virus has meant staff in large food production facilities, distribution centres, transport businesses and supermarkets themselves have been home recovering or isolating as close contacts.

‘We have a food supply system that is organised around a small number of stakeholders, such as supermarkets and fast food businesses with labour hire companies sitting behind them,’ says Dr. Kelly Donati, Senior Lecturer Food Systems and Gastronomy William Angliss Institute.

‘It is an unjust and inflexible system based on a casualised workforce. When it is confronted with problems beyond its control – like a pandemic or natural disaster it cracks under pressure,’ she explains.

Dr. Kelly points to the Brisbane floods when food supply through supermarkets failed yet smaller suppliers could make it through the flooded melee to feed people. ‘We need to have a more diverse food distribution system that includes more local green grocers, community supported agriculture, veggie box schemes, and of course, farmers’ markets,’ says Kelly. ‘They are responsive to change and rejig their businesses rapidly and constantly. There has been a big shift to these during COVID and more people are using these diverse systems.’

‘We are making all our markets weekly,’ says Miranda Sharp from Melbourne Farmers’ Market. ‘It is important for food sovereignty (to have a) network of alternative food systems. So it was obvious that we had to open Abbottsford and Carlton farmers markets weekly,’ she says. ‘They have fallen in line with our Alphington and Coburg weekly markets. It brings certainty to the local community that there will be a market every week and farmers have the certainty of weekly distribution of their produce.’ Abbottsford and Carlton farmers’ markets will run weekly from February.

Back in Castlemaine Chris points out to one of the stallholders, Colin from Blackwood Orchards in Harcourt. ‘He picked those cherries early this morning, put them on the back of his ute and will sell out in a few hours,’ says Chris. ‘That is 10km of food miles and the cherries are picked for ripeness, and not so they can sit in a truck and be driven a 1000 km from Young in NSW, stored in a coolstore and then sit on a supermarket shelf.’

When asked about the idea that farmers’ markets are more costly than supermarkets, Chris Googles the price of cherries. ‘Six dollars and fifty cents for 300g at the supermarket,’ says Chris. ‘Our mate Colin sells them for $14 a kilogram in a paper bag. Fruit and veg in season is cheaper, tastier and will last longer if you buy from a farmers’ market over the supermarket.’

When it comes to meat and chicken Chris says that small farmers can’t compete on the economy of scale, but he argues that meat from an ethically raised flock or herd is better for the animals, the land and for the taste and texture of the final product. ‘That said, COVID has ripped through the abattoirs and really affected their capacity. The smaller beef and lamb farmers are the first to get bumped so some of our stallholders have been affected to a degree. But there is still plenty of fresh food to fill the fridge not just in Bendigo or Castlemaine but all the other farmers markets around the state.’


View a list of upcoming regional markets here.

Deep in the Weeds network expands with The Producers food podcast

Words by Amanda Kennedy
Images Supplied

The Covid crisis has forced some to pull back while others have been inspired to take a risk. Co-founders at Deep in the Weeds network, Anthony Huckstep and Rob Locke fall into the latter camp, adding a fifth podcast to their growing stable. Along with hosts Dani Valent and John Susman, they bring experience and a unique perspective to food and drink journalism.

Podcasting, with its ability to connect to niche audiences in a very direct and intimate manner, makes a natural pairing to the fertile ground that is the Australian food industry. The team started with the eponymous Deep in the Weeds podcast in March 2020, giving voice to hospo workers during the Covid pandemic.

In July 2020 came: Dirty Linen with host Dani Valent bringing her journalist’s eye to hard-to-talk issues such as mental health, racism and misogyny and more; and The Crackling, a food podcast featuring conversations with chefs, producers and butchers primarily focusing on pork. July 2021 saw Fishtales, a seafood podcast showcase ‘below the surface’ stories from all parts of the seafood industry around the world.

The fifth and newest is food podcast The Producers which shares stories from the heart of our food system: the producers, farmers, growers and makers.  While only two episodes have currently been released, the guest list is surely endless.

It’s a fundamental given that we all eat but it is only recently that we’ve begun to realise the essential role food, and food industry workers, play in our lives. Whether they be a person who grows our food or a person who stacks supermarket shelves, we’ve all become a lot more cognisant of their vital part in the system.

As food systems were put under a lot more stress in the last two years, a number of newsletters, social media accounts and podcasts have stepped up to highlight the inequalities in the existing system. The more conversation there is around how food gets from the ground (or water) to our plate, the greater the chance that we will start to appreciate the actual cost and effort involved.

If nothing else, the lockdown sourdough craze taught us that a $7 sourdough loaf was actually a pretty good deal.


THE DETAILS

WHAT: The Producers podcast
WHERE: Wherever you listen to good podcasts
MORE INFO: Deep in the Weeds Network

We wish to acknowledge the traditional owners of this land and to pay our respects to their Elders, past and present.

Furu Ushi – dry aged Wagyu and Nebbiolo delivered to your door

Words by Richard Cornish
Images supplied

It’s not often an offer like this comes along. A kilo of dry-aged Furu Ushi (old cow) wagyu and a bottle of Moondarra Nebbiolo delivered to your door in metro Melbourne, Drouin, and Warragul for just $90.

To make the deal even sweeter, the pack is hand-delivered by one of Victoria’s food and wine greats – Neil Prentice from Moondarra Wines and Wagyu. A former punk, he poured chardonnay in a St Kilda footy vest at the Dog’s Bar in St Kilda when it first opened in 1989. He opened a sexy, funky bar/restaurant/club in The George, St Kilda building called the Birdcage specialising in sushi and textural white wines. Over the past 20 years, he has concentrated on developing his wagyu herd and vineyard on his farm at Moondarra in the foothills of Mount Baw Baw.

The Furu Ushi range of dry-aged beef from older cows has been a long time in the making. When Prentice’s breeding cows reached a point where they were too old to have calves, at around 10 years of age, they used to be sold off for pet food.

A crying shame in Neil’s eyes, he wanted to follow the Spanish Basque country tradition of nurturing older breeding cattle, turning them into prime steak. Although incredibly well cared for throughout their lives, the animals are fed on prime pastures and a little extra grain in their last weeks. Their meat is then dry-aged for 30 to 90 days, an essential step to tenderise the meat of older animals.

The beef is beautifully full-flavoured with the marbling you’d expect from wagyu, with intramuscular fat interlacing lovely ruby-red flesh. You will need a sharp steak knife, but it’s also juicy and deeply, earthily flavoursome. The cuts will vary from flatiron steak to ribeye to rump, depending on the aging process.

The Nebbiolo Neil has chosen to go with your steak is macerated on skins before fermentation retaining about a third as whole bunches. Neil ‘dances’ in the wine three or four times a day through ferment (more traditional winemakers call this pigeage) to extract colour and flavour. It is a delicious dry but aromatic medium-bodied wine that pairs beautifully with the beef grown on the same soil as the wine.


THE DETAILS

WHAT: Moondarra Furu Ushi old cow wagyu and Nebbiolo delivered to your door
WHEN: Until December 2021
MORE INFO: Email neil@moondarra.com.au

We wish to acknowledge the Gunaikurnai people as traditional owners of this land and to pay our respects to their Elders, past and present.

Your Guide to the Goulburn River and Ranges

The Goulburn River might not have the PR team of the mighty Murray but as Victoria’s longest river it has long been a part of peoples’ daily lives. It is the region’s lifeline of agriculture, a cultural and historic touchstone as well as a magnet for outdoor activities.

Your road trip offers so many waterways to choose from, including one of Victoria’s largest man-made lakes, enchanting waterfalls and secluded fishing spots. No matter the season, you’ll be greeted with breathtaking scenery, pretty little towns and down to earth hospitality as you wind your way through this special part of central Victoria – all within a short, easy drive out of Melbourne.

Here’s an itinerary to get you started.

Movida tour of the High-Country

The Victorian High-country is full of a diverse range of small-scale farms supplying a regular supply of quality produce to Melbourne.

We invited key chefs and sommeliers from Movida group to tour the region with the aim of sourcing new ingredients for their restaurants.