Saturday, June 15, 2013

Tasmanian Travelbug

Greetings from the gorgeous southern island state of Tasmania! I thought I would give you all a brief progress report on what we have been up to food wise, in this place that seems to have stunning produce and food experiences at every turn. It has been wonderful returning to Tasmania in the winter - the last time we were here the landscape and the seasonal food for sale was very much in Spring mode. Now at the beginning of the cold season, the landscape and the weather looks very different from when we were here in November. Still beautiful and wild, but harsher and less forgiving. Everyone is rugged up for the new conditions, and as you drive around you see tendrils of smoke drifting from farmhouse (and urban house) chimneys as everyone lights their fire to create a cosy respite from the winter cold.

The morning we arrived we dumped our bags at the hotel and headed straight down to Salamanca Market (my favourite market in the country) to explore and grab some lunch. The market is bursting with fresh local produce, hand made items of wood and metal and wool, sweet treats, fresh flowers, vintage goods and all kinds of treasures. As we wandered around we couldn't resist the delicious aroma of wood fired pizza cooking. A portable wood fired oven was cranking out hand made pizza made from all local ingredients - including scallops, Huon Valley mushrooms, organic beetroot and local goat's cheese. We grabbed a couple of slices to munch on as we strolled around the market - the delicious roasted pumpkin and feta was a standout.

Wood Fired Pizza
- with great local produce on the menu.

Those of you who have been watching Gourmet Farmer on SBS would be familiar with their small gourmet shop under the stairs at Salamanca Arts Centre - A Common Ground. We dropped in to see if their eagerly awaited raw milk saffron cheese had arrived yet - but alas there is still a few weeks before it will be available. This means we will have to purchase it by mail order and have it shipped to Sydney when the time comes! We did however buy some beautiful free range ham, raw milk cheese and pickled cherries to take home with us. The biggest score though was managing to procure a rare bottle of their small batch sloe gin. Although technically sold out, (I had already tried to buy it online) we got chatting to the delightful Common Ground lady and in the process ended up with the very last sneaky bottle from under the counter as the result of an order mix up. Score!! I'm thinking that I may use the sloe gin as a component in a dish when I get home.

Just down the hill from our accommodation, we found a brilliant European old style bakery - Daci & Daci - that is choc full of the most delectable breads, pies and pastries to suit every taste. We have ended up there for breakfast a few times so far. This place pretty much sets the standard for baked goods, and to be honest I thought it was even better than a lot of the bakeries we have visited overseas - even France where they have such a big reputation for patisseries. As well as breakfast, we have been getting treats to take away when we have been road tripping around. They have a huge variety to choose from, and so far everything we have tasted has been exceptional.

Freshly Baked
-Treats from Daci & Daci

 Daci & Daci
Just one of the counters full of delicious things

A few days ago we took a drive to Port Arthur, site of one of the most notorious prison colonies in Australia. The day was suitably sombre and grey for such a sombre place. A lot of the buildings are now ruins, but the Commandant's convict built house is still complete. They have turned this into a museum, showing a bit of how the ruling classes lived there - including the original kitchen. I thought it was rather lovely to look at, but you can imagine it would have been less than lovely for the servants who had to work with this very basic arrangement - carting water and keeping fires going and managing on supplies brought in by ship. I'm always intrigued by historical kitchens - they tell you so much about how people lived.

The Commandant's Kitchen
Port Arthur

We could not visit Tasmania without crossing the water to one of our favourite places - the wild and lovely Bruny Island. This island is the source of a whole lot of amazing produce and there are lots of folks making really exceptional products there. If you love oysters, then you are in for a treat. They have what are easily the best oysters I have ever eaten. The day we went, we actually ate them for breakfast - shucked while we waited, sitting under a tree at the oyster farm. They taste so clean and fresh, with that gorgeous salty brine of the sea. I love the taste of oysters and seafood from very cold waters - they have a pristine character about them that warm water varieties just don't have for me.

We checked out some of the beautiful smoked trout and salmon from the Bruny Island Smokehouse, as well as smoked wallaby (you will commonly find wallaby on the menu in Tasmania) and free range smoked ham. We came away with some of the ham, their award winning trout pate and the delicious buttery tasting salmon pate too. Next stop was the Bruny Island Cheese Company for second breakfast - a simple wood fired pizza topped simply with tomato and their stunning cheeses. They also bake excellent rustic wood fired bread, so we came away with a loaf which ended up being dinner that night, along with their excellent cheese - particularly the delicious C2 raw milk cheese which is a favourite in our house.

Bruny Island Smokehouse, Get Shucked Oyster Farm,
Bruny Island Cheese Company.

Yesterday we drove out to Cygnet, an area we really love and where we hope to live eventually. As well as exploring, we had lunch at The Red Velvet Lounge, a local cafe/meeting place that I had read about recently. I was surprised to find a quite large, but very cosy and welcoming place that seems to be a hub for locals as well as visitors. We had a delicious comfort food style lunch in front of the fire there, and was really impressed by the very simple, but beautifully prepared food. I chose a slow cooked lamb shoulder with roasted potatoes and salad. This was served with a little jug of lamb jus and a great punchy salsa verde - all local ingredients and just delicious.

Lamb Shoulder
- served with Lamb Jus and Salsa verde

As you all know, I'm not a big dessert fan - but my very favourite sweet treat in the world is a simple sponge cake with cream. The Red Velvet Lounge version of this looked so beautiful, we had to share a slice. Old school, just like your Nanna would make sponge was sandwiched between whipped cream and fresh local berries. Just perfect. And proof that simplicity and excellent ingredients rule!

The Red Velvet Lounge Sponge Cake
- with cream and local berries

All of the food we have been enjoying so far has been rustic and quite simple, but tonight we will change gear somewhat for a fine dining degustation menu at The Source. Located at the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), Michelin star winning chef Phillipe Leban creates dishes with all Tasmanian ingredients, but with a French influence. We are really looking forward to seeing what he comes up with for us this evening. I will report back, so watch this space.


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