Jane Adams shares the inside track on some of her favorite regional food and wine trails in NSW.
It’s a curious food fact but the regional New South Wales city of Orange is actually famous for its apples – and a vibrant food and wine culture that culminates every year in F.O.O.D Week (aka Food of Orange District). So bounteous is the Orange regional harvest that F.O.O.D the annual gastronomic festival actually runs for nine days, up till the highlight final event – Forage. Unlike F.O.O.D it’s not an acronym but Forage does spell one of life’s great food experiences – and it is definitely worth a detour.
Modelled on the Italian event ‘Mangialonga’ held every year in the Barolo hill town of La Morra, Forage is one food search that won’t disappoint. We fellow foragers, in fact 750 eager foodies, all met on a chilly bright autumn morning to catch buses at 15-minute intervals to our mystery destination, the highest point of a vineyard called Balmoral near Borenore outside Orange.
There to greet us, the event’s creator James Sweetapple, of Cargo Road Wines, and winemaker Ed Swift, creator of the district’s latest humdinger pale gold sparkling non-vintage Swift Cuvée, from the prominent local winery, Printhe. ‘We were inspired by La Morra’s four-kilometre long ‘eat walk’ through the famous hilly vineyards of Barolo,’ explains James. And our local chefs put up food that would impress the Italian nonnas. We even have gas-fired pie warmers in the sheep paddock, so the chicken pies are served piping hot. ‘But we do need to work on our singing. The Italian men were all in good voice, and gave an engaging impromptu operatic performance as they walked.’
For the record, all Orange gastro-orienteers pre-purchase hotly sought tickets and are routinely equipped with a map marking the seven-station vineyard cross-country trail, complete with porta-loo icons. Other aids included a satchel for any edible finds like mushrooms and apples, and a bottle of water. Sun cream dispensers were located thoughtfully at each station along the recently mown pilgrimage track, marked by discreet black arrows tacked to vine-row end posts.
Motivated by a chill breeze we tucked into Station 1’s caramelised onion, olive and feta tarts, then set off across the ridge before plunging into rolling rows of autumn tinted vines. Chatter blew across the vineyards as fellow foragers shared food tales, and cheeks coloured.
Next stop the neighbouring Koomooloo Vineyard, home of Philip Shaw wines and time to taste regional food hero-chef Michael Manners’ deconstructed venison sausage smeared on Racine sourdough bread topped with spiced apricot relish. It was every bit a match for the mellow Cumulus Merlot. Further along the ridge was Bistro Ceello’s al fresco ‘soup kitchen’ ladling out slow-braised pork, pesto and cannellini bean soup. Hands down the dish of the day, paired with a golden rich, barrel fermented Canobolas Smith Chardonnay.
By now the 750-throng had stretched out, the stragglers making the most of this unique paddock-to-paddock progressive meal. Like a mob of intuitive sheep they camped further down the hill under gum trees where Tonic restaurant dished up hot chicken and wild mushroom pies matched with pinot noir, and a less predictable Hedberg Hill Riesling.
The wind dropped and sun warmed the smiles of new friendships formed on the way to Helen’s Dam, a grassy meadow that offered three more quenching wines, notably Brangayne’s Bordeaux-style red blend Tristan poured with catering doyenne Edwina Mitchell’s gutsy lamb tagine. Only when the sun began to slip behind the hill did the merry band of foragers drift off up the final rise to Stations 6 and 7, the former serving blood plum and star anise sorbet (or as one slightly disoriented walker predicted ‘Star and Elise’) paired with Cargo Road Moscato.
The last stop of the walk’n’talk degustation was one-hatted Lolli Redini’s delish spiced pear and hazelnut praline tiramisu – the penultimate gesture to Forage’s Italian origins. Sensibly, the organisers also installed a coffee cart at journey’s end – the short black a match for any in La Morra.
F.O.O.D WEEK 2014 runs from 4 – 13 April. FORAGE will be held again on Saturday 12 April, 2014.
TRAVEL JUICE FOR ORANGE
Named after a one-time King of Holland (William of Orange) by a renowned Australian explorer, Major Thomas Mitchell, Orange first won fame in the 1850’s Gold Rush. It is also the birthplace of famous Australian bush poet Banjo Paterson of Waltzing Matilda fame, who may not have been a foodie but he did write about tuckerbags. A 3.5 hour drive over the Blue Mountains from Sydney, Orange has become a go-to regional food hub, brimming with good restaurants where skilful chefs celebrate local produce, apple packs houses are rejuvenated into farm shops and old banks into wine bars featuring the local cool climate wines. Once a year the city’s gastronomic appetite culminates in F.O.O.D Week, with a program destined sate all gluttons. Fly from Sydney to Orange on Rex Airlines.
WHERE TO STAY
Black Sheep Inn: An all-comfort converted 100-year-old shearing shed with five suites.
Dalton Cottage: Restored country cosy 3-bedroom cottage in Orange, operated by Mayfield Vineyard.
De Russie Suites: Elegant centrally located contemporary suite hotel, studios through to 3-bedrooms.
The Old Convent: Restored rustic farm cottage sleeping up to four. Hostess Josie Chapman is one of the region’s most respected cooks.
Other country comfort accommodation options can be found at www.tasteorange.com.au
Bill’s Beans Factory Espresso: Fuels all caffeine fiends with its in-town roaster and hip café. Open breakfast and lunch 7 days.
Bistro Ceello: Chef Scott Want is a passionate forager of local produce and alumni of Orange masterchef Michael Manners.
Lolli Redini: A local institution that became a destination diner. Simonn Hawke’s integrity shines from the regional produce inspired plates. Orange cool climate wines a feature.
Racine: Chef Shaun Arantz takes ‘local’ literally – his menu highlights dishes with 75% ingredients sourced from within 100km. So expect seared Mandagery Creek venison with Tempranillo.
Tonic: Classic historic country store transformed to one of the district’s top restaurants when chef Tony Worland works his kitchen magic.
Union Bank Wine Bar: Drop in for a glass of local vino, then buy your favourite bottle at the adjacent wine shop.
Local-is-lovely: Local fresh food farmer and blogger Sophie Hansen and her husband host cozy farm kitchen lunches the 2nd Saturday of every month for a real taste of home cooking at their family table.
Relish the fresh-picked farm produce at the Orange Farmers’ Market every 2nd Saturday at the Orange Showground.
Jane Adams is an award-winning food and travel writer based in Sydney, and chair of the Australian Farmers’ Markets Association. Her perambulations of plate and place have appeared for over 20 years in publications including Gourmet Traveller, Cuisine, Qantas magazine and Selector. She has a passion for farmers’ markets, local food and old Asian teapots. Contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org. (Photos courtesy Sam Shepherd.)