Australian Traveller tracked down the best food and wine destinations in the country, from traditional favourites to up-and-coming foodie meccas, farmers’ markets and regional cooking schools. Bon appetit!
Tried-and-tested gourmet destination
If you’re a gourmet who is yet to visit the Yarra Valley, you haven’t lived. Wine is a huge part of this picturesque region’s attraction, but the home-grown produce on offer is so plentiful and diverse that even if you had a wine allergy (like our editor, poor thing) you could have a terrifically satisfying holiday here. Local blueberries, stone fruit, trout, salmon, dairy and game meats feature on most restaurant menus. For fresh produce you can take away with you, such as homemade pasta, buffalo sausages and free-range eggs, head to Yering Station Farmers’ Market, which is held on the third Sunday of every month.
The details: www.visityarravalley.com.au
Up-and-coming gourmet destinations
The pretty pastel-painted beach shacks on the Mornington Peninsula certainly contribute to the ambience of this gorgeous seaside region, but for us it’s all about the food. Country roads are dotted with vineyards, olive and apple groves, lavender and strawberry farms, cheese, chocolate and pasta makers, garlic cultivators, dairy and beef farmers.
If you want to sample simple dishes cooked with aplomb, set aside a couple of hours for lunch at Merrick’s General Wine Store (3460 Franskton-Flinders Rd). Chef Janine Richmond serves up vignerons’ platters in the casual-dining cellar room; they feature homemade kitchen charcuterie or cheese platters with fresh figs and quince paste. More substantial seasonal offerings in the Dining Room include mains such as cured duck breast with roasted pumpkin, faro, sour cherry, sage and local broccolini, and fresh-caught fish with quinoa and moghrabieh salad, preserved lemon, almonds, green olives, shellfish reduction, tomato and fine herb dressing. Yum! The cellar door features the work of local winemakers Ballieu Vineyard, Elgee Park and Quealy and Balnarring Vineyard.
The details: www.visitmorningtonpeninsula.org
The Prosecco Road wine route in King Valley is all about Mediterranean-styled wines such as prosecco (of course), pinot grigio, arneis and sangiovese. Six wineries have joined together to promote the region they love: Brown Brothers Milawa, Chrismount, Ciccone Estate, Dal Zotto Wines, Pizzini Wines and Sam Miranda.
Touring here isn’t just about wine, however. The valley and surrounding Victorian High Country are packed with regional produce such as fruit, berries, beer, mustard, olive oil, cheese, chocolate and honey. And Mediterranean cuisine constructed from local produce features in many restaurants en route. Be sure to stop for Oyster and Prosecco Hour between 6pm and 7pm Wednesday to Saturday at the Mountain View Hotel (4 King Valley Rd, Whitfield).
The details: kingvalleyproseccoroad.com.au
Pedal to Produce
If you want to take it easy (but not pile on the kilos) while indulging in a foodie break, the north-east wine regions of Victoria have a great initiative. Pedal to Produce ride maps feature various routes that take in scenic stops, cellar doors, farm gates and fab restaurants.
Example trails include:
*The Milawa Gourmet Ride, a flat, 28km
(2.5-hour) beginner trail taking in Milawa Cheese Factory, Milawa Chocolates, The Olive Shop, and wineries including Brown Brothers.
*The Beechworth Town Ride, a one-hour beginner ride stopping at Bridge Road Brewers, Snowline Fruits, Beechworth Bakery, the Stanley Pub, Beechworth Honey Experience and more.
*The slightly more taxing Dederang Ride, featuring a flat to undulating trail over 39km at the foot of Mount Bogong. You’d want to allow about four hours to enjoy this, stopping frequently in the Kiewa Valley, where you’ll find ice-cream, olives, provedores and wineries such as Annapurna and Bogong Estates.
The details: You can collect copies of the maps (and rent a basket) from Visitor Information Centres in Beechworth, Chiltern, Wangaratta, Bright and Yackandandah or download them from www.pedaltoproduce.com.au.
Alternatively, Lindewarrah Hotel has a Pedal to Produce package, which includes bike hire and overnight accommodation from $425 for two people (www.lancemore.com.au).
Country cooking schools
WIld Oak Cooking School
When a space became available next to Ben Higgs’ award-winning restaurant Wild Oak, he jumped at the chance to create a cooking school. Courses run regularly and there is a huge selection of topics to choose from. Beef & Beer is a men-only class that nudges the boys gently into the kitchen, teaching them how to cook the perfect steak over a cold beer. A Christmas Feast Master Class held in late November offers tips, tricks and recipes so the Christmas Day banquet will be drama-free.
Prices vary according to the class, and range from $45 to $250 per person.
The details: Corner Ridge Rd and Mt Dandenong Tourist Rd, Olinda; (03) 9751 2033; www.wildoak.com.au
Held on Phillip Island, Spice Island’s themed cooking classes are a great way to learn to prepare traditional dishes from around the world. The Provincial French lesson will have you melting butter, frying garlic and stirring cream through traditional fish soups and goat’s cheese tarts. Seafood paella, potato croquettes and meatballs are on the Spanish menu, while pork dumplings, Cantonese steamed fish and salt-and-pepper tofu with braised eggplant are on the contemporary Chinese menu.
Classes start at $70 per person for a two-hour class; four-hour tuition is $125. There’s also a chic, contemporary B&B on site.
The details: 1A Hill Street, Sunderland Bay; (03) 5956 7557; www.spiceisland.com.au
Farmers markets for city folk:
Capital Region Farmers’ Market
This farmers’ market is a national treasure, with apples from Batlow, eggs and speciality meats from Grenfell, vegetables from Leeton, berries from Borenore, salads and olives from Hall, bananas from the NSW/Qld border country, vegetables from Menangle, Richmond, Picton and Leeton, tomatoes from Murrumbateman, mushrooms from Yass Valley and much more.
The details: Saturday, 8am-11am.Exhibition Park, Canberra; capitalregionfarmersmarket.com.au
Farmers’ markets for city folk
Melbourne Showground Farmers’ Market
Stalls include Alloway Gourmet Buffalo, Alpine Cherries and Chestnuts, Ballendella Veal, Family Farmed Meats of Gippsland, Killara Rise Lamb, Meredith Dairy, Misty Springs Berries, Pure Peninsula Honey, Take Me Home pastas, Treehouse Artisan Sweets.
The details: Federation Hall, Melbourne Showgrounds. www.melbourneshowgroundsfarmersmarket.com.au
Slow Food Melbourne
Low-/no-chemical fruit and veg, seasonal and organic foods (including rare-breed meats) from all over Victoria. Stock up on seedlings to create your own kitchen garden.
The details: Fourth Saturday of the month. Abbotsford Convent, 1 St Helliers St, Abbotsford. (03) 9416 2099. The Collingwood Children’s Farm farmer’s markets are held in the same location every second Saturday of the month, and feature produce grown on the site of Melbourne’s first farmers’ market.