Australia's Quality Fresh Produce
Producers across Australia are taking advantage of the country’s different climate zones to grow and produce fresh, quality food that is in increasing demand
Adelaide Central Market, Adelaide, SA
Traditionally Australia has been known for its ability to produce a prodigious amount of grain, high-quality wheat and barley, and for its sheep and cattle exports. But that’s changing, as producers learn to take advantage of a number of comparative advantages that set Australia apart from much of the world. Firstly, with so many different climate zones from tropical to desert, from temperate to downright artic, there’s nothing Australia can’t grow or produce.
And then there are the Ingredients you can’t find anywhere else in the world, the “bush tucker” produce of indigenous Australia, where the foods of a 60,000-year-old culture are being rediscovered and used by committed and innovative chefs. That’s also led to a new wave of foragers combing the coasts and deserts of Australia for ingredients such as samphire and sea parsley, wattleseed and wild rosella.
Australian chefs, almost across the board, now seek out produce that’s organic, locally grown – even in their own kitchen gardens - with a strong awareness of sustainable food supply.
There are world-class cheeses from places like Tasmania’s Bruny Island Cheese Company, again taking advantage of a unique cool, coastal environment. Award-winning cheesemaker Nick Haddow, who spent 10 years working with specialist cheese makers in many different countries around the world, now produces some of the finest artisan cheeses made in Australia.
Nick is a traditionalist, who recognises that great cheese was made for centuries before modern technology played a role and believes passionately in the old way of making and maturing cheese. For him, cheese making is a pursuit of integrity and flavour. He uses both cow's and goat's milk to make his range of cheeses, with the animals farmed in an environmentally sustainable way.
Back on mainland Australia, the same traditional approach is taken by the Myrtleford Butter Factory. When it says it “takes its butter pretty seriously” you can consider that a serious understatement, because when it comes to making a European style cultured butter, it’s an obsession.
Australian butters are usually a rich yellow colour, because Australian milk is rich in beta-carotene (vitamin A) as cows are mostly pasture fed. By comparison, European butters are pale in colour as the cows are commonly grain-fed and often housed in barns for much of the year. The breed of cow and the time of year can also make a difference and adding salt tends to make butter more yellow.
Here the specialty is light and creamy Europeanstyle butter, churned in small batches, individually hand wrapped and containing just two simple ingredients; cow’s cream and cultures. The end result is a scrumptious 82 per cent-plus butterfat butter. Another specialty is their black truffle butter, using Australian truffles.
Truffle - the diamond of the kitchen
It may come as a surprise to many, but Australia’s burgeoning black truffle industry now produces 4.5 tonnes of black truffles annually, mostly from cool-climate regions in Western Australia and Tasmania.
Around 3 tonnes of that total comes from The Wine & Truffle Co at Manjimup in Western Australia, which has developed an orchard of 13,000 hazel and oak trees where soil conditions and the climate mirrors that of Périgord, France. The result is high-quality Australian Périgord truffles of similar variety to the coveted French “black diamonds”.
Because they fill the seasonal gap in Europe, some of the best-known chefs, from New York to Paris, Tokyo to Berlin, Sydney to Vancouver, now use Australian truffles and what impresses them the most is the consistency in quality from the start to the end of the season. The Wine & Truffle Co, which in just over 25 years has become the largest producer of black truffles in the Southern Hemisphere, now exports its truffles to around 25 countries.
At the other end of the scale, deep in Victoria’s pristine Otway Forest, shiitake mushrooms are exclusively grown by Otway Forest Shiitake on eucalypt logs supplied by local farmers who are returning trees to the landscape for income and environmental sustainability – while foragers scour secret hideaways in the Adelaide Hills in South Australia, seeking out elusive wild porcini mushrooms.
The sweetest produce of all is the rare honey from unpolluted havens like Kangaroo Island in South Australia, where the island’s Ligurian bee colony is believed to be the last remaining pure stock of this bee found anywhere in the world. Kangaroo Island’s 40-plus beekeepers, such as Clifford’s Honey Farm with its 300 hives, have become custodians of this docile, hardworking bee, and since it was declared a bee sanctuary in 1885 no other bees have been allowed on the island, while its geographic isolation of the South Australian coast has kept it protected.
But for the consumer, the real joy has been the quality of the honey derived from the vast range of native flora in this pristine natural environment. While the most characteristic is the delicate but distinctively flavoured sugar gum honey, the bees collect nectar also from cup gum, peppermint box, blue gum and river red gum, to scarlet bottlebrush and native fuschsia.
The indigenous ingredient, gubinge, is a superfood that has 100 times more Vitamin C than oranges.
Which brings us to those unique Indigenous ingredients that are exciting chefs and their customers alike… muntries, quandongs, native rice, wattle seeds, lemon aspen, wallaby, green ants, Angasi oysters, saltbush and riberries.
“My menus have most recently included water lilies, gubinge (a superfood with 100 times more vitamin C than oranges), parrot peas, bush ginger, bush lemongrass, green ants, honey ants, bush honey, tree saps and jilunjin,” says chef Jock Zonfrillo, whose Adelaide restaurant Orana features dishes such as Coorong mulloway with native cherries and sea parsley, or lozenges of wagyu intercostal topped with a slurry of bittergrass.
At a Great Australian Dinner held in Sydney in 2013, some of the world’s top chefs explored Australia’s Indigenous larder for the first time, with Rene Redzepi, from Noma in Copenhagen, choosing green ants, rosella buds and samphire to accompany his famed onions and garlic: “Indigenous ingredients…belong on, and distinguish, the Australian plate,” he said.
Markets and food trails
Sydney Fish Market, Sydney, NSW
Not surprisingly, this wealth of produce spread so generously around the Australian continent has bred a swathe of farmers’ markets and food trails that make the best of this extraordinary bounty available to all.
There are world-renowned city markets such as the Adelaide Central Market, where visiting chefs are knocked out by the freshness, quality and variety on show, the Prahran Market in Melbourne, or the Sydney Fish Market, while the Noosa Farmers Market and the Parap Market in Darwin show it’s become a national movement.
Food and wine trails can be found across Australia that explore the nation’s best regional food and wine offerings. In Western Australia the Swan Valley Food and Wine Trail and Gascoyne Food Trail feature an array of wineries, breweries, fine restaurants, cafes, and fresh produce.
South Australia has the Barossa Valley’s Butcher, Baker, Winemaker Trail, the Adelaide Hills Cherry Trail or the Kangaroo Island Farm Gate and Cellar Door Trail, while travellers on Victoria’s Yarra Valley Food Trail can criss-cross the region as they call in at orchards, farm gates and roadside stalls to buy local produce. Or they can choose to stock up on the Murray region's renowned food and wine along the Farm Gate Trail and be tempted by everything from farm-fresh fruit and vegetables, cheeses and olives to artisan chocolates, wines and craft beers.
In fact, almost every food-producing region in Australia, and there are scores of them, shows off their produce in this way to provide a gastronomic feast.
Five City markets to visit for fresh, quality food
1. Adelaide Central Market, SA
2. Prahran Market, VIC
3. Sydney Fish Market, NSW
4. Noosa Farmers Market, QLD
5. Parap Market, NT