Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

October 19, 2017

© George Apostolidis / Tourism Tasmania

Tasmania’s vineyards, like Piper’s Brook near Launceston, are known to produce Australia’s best sparking wines.

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Top food, Down Under

Tasmania’s food and wine culture is still a well-kept secret — even to most Australians

Bags of chubby Tasmanian Black Devil cherries were stacked at the tiny terminal as we exited the ferry on Bruny Island, a short cruise off Tasmania’s “mainland”. Like everyone else, we grabbed one, which went straight into the “Eskimo” cooler on the back seat. Five minutes later we were slurping freshly cracked oysters in dappled sunshine under eucalyptus trees, listening to ocean waves at the roadside shack, Get Shucked (1600 Bruny Island Main Road; getshucked.com.au).

By day’s end, when we arrived at our cabin on the beach at Adventure Bay, the “Esky” was stuffed with goat and cow cheeses, possum sausages and Tasmanian salmon, tuna and quail from the Bruny Island Smokehouse. The car smelled like crusty brick-oven bread. As my buddy Jim flipped a sizzling fillet of wallaby on the “bar-b”, I popped open a Pinot Noir from Australia’s southernmost vineyard. Bruny Island Winery owner Bernice Woolley laughed when we marvelled at Tasmania’s diverse and sophisticated local offerings. “You’re not alone,” she had said, splashing unoaked chardonnay into tasting glasses, “even Australians are only now beginning to discover what we’ve got going on down here.”

While most people think of Tasmania as either a wild mountain destination for intrepid trekkers or a 19th-century British convict dumping ground that’s home to short-tempered marsupial devils, what’s been “going on” in Tasmania in recent years is a low-key foodie revolution. Gradually the word is getting out about Tassie’s unique fresh produce, farm gate tasting routes, trophy-grabbing cool climate wines and innovative chefs.Farm-sourced cooking schools, like the Agrarian Kitchen in a 19th century schoolhouse outside Hobart, are offering everything from Pastry 101 to a two-day Whole Hog course. A whole generation of “Tassievores” has sprouted way Down Under.

Hobart’s foodie hub

Arriving at Hobart’s International Airportit was clear something foodie was afoot when a beagle on a leash sniffed his way around our luggage after a short flight from Melbourne. “We’re isolated and have strict quarantine laws, so many of the mainland’s plant and animal diseases don’t exist here,” explained the agricultural agent at the other end of the leash. “Because we use fewer pesticides, much of our produce is organic.”

As Australia’s poorest state, it’s also a region that never completely moved on to costly prepared foods. Folks we chatted with on the Huon Trail (huontrail.org.au), a rural driving route south of Hobart that includes Bruny Island, talked about trading fresh eggs for veggies, or fishermen swapping salmon for a side of pork. “It’s how we grew up, and now people are coming from all over the world to experience what we’ve all been doing since we were kids,” said Rob Pennicott, a former fisherman who runs Bruny Island Cruises.

First settled in 1804 by a motley crew of whalers, sailors and released convicts, Hobart is now an unpretentious, hilly city of just over 200,000, with historic sandstone cottages, Victorian and art deco homes and shops lining a convoluted shoreline. Hugging the harbour are outdoor cafés, pier-side bistros and seafood take-outs selling a dozen varieties of fish and chips and local specialties like scallop pie. This is where a quarter of a million people gather every December for the week-long Taste Festival to celebrate both food and the arrival of yachts after the challenging Sydney Hobart Yacht Race.

But even without a festival in town, Hobart is all about food. Salamanca Place, a gathering hub since the 19th century, is a plaza crammed with bistros and gourmet shops like the Wursthaus Kitchen (1 Montpelier Retreat; wursthauskitchen.com.au), an Aladdin’s cave of all things Tasmanian from charcuterie to local truffles; Gourmet Traveller magazine rated it one of Australia’s top five food stores. On Saturday mornings the entire neighbourhood morphs into a food, arts, crafts and music free-for-all with stalls selling everything from didgeridoos to Lark’s single malt whisky. “We needed a mining permit to extract peat for the whiskey,” said the kilted gentleman at Lark’s booth. “And before founder Bill Lark could start in the 1990s, he had to lobby against an 1838 distilling ban ordered by Sir John Franklin, governor of the penal colony.”

Every Sunday a farm bell rings at 9am to open the Farm Gate Market (farmgatemarket.com.au; corner Elizabeth and Melville Street) in a downtown parking lot, where some vendors sell free-range Berkshire pork, goat meat, Aussie flowers and unique Tasmanian Leatherwood honey out of their pick-ups. There’s even a weekly farmer’s market at the world-class, private Museum of New and Old Art (655 Main Road Berriedale; mona.net.au; adults $20, kids under 18 free), or MONA, which opened in 2011 and hosts controversial exhibitions like Belgian artist Wim Delvoye’s Cloaca, a machine that is fed and defecates daily, and the mangled remains of a suicide bomber rendered in chocolate. The state-of-the-art complex also houses the Moorilla Winery, Moo Brew craft brewery and a five-star hotel and restaurant.

Tasmanian Terroir

Leaving Hobart, our plan was to drive about 450 kilometres north to Launceston along the dry, sunny east coast that lies in the rain shadow of the west coast mountains. En route to the Tasman Sea were historic little towns like Richmond, their brick and stone buildings and arched bridges built by convicts. We tasted a range of award-winning offerings from Wicked Cheese (1238 Richmond Road, Richmond; wickedcheese.com.au) before settling into lunch at Meadowbank Estate, whose vineyard restaurant pairs their Frogmore Creek wines with local rabbit, venison and grilled freshwater eel.

The next morning we kayaked the crystal waters alongside Freycinet National Park (parks.tas.gov.au/?base=3363) to an oyster farm, where owner Andrea Cole shucked so we could taste. Aquaculture is huge along Tasmania’s 5000 kilometres of coastline the state has 300 islands — where everything from scallops, mussels and ocean trout to abalone and crayfish are farmed in the cold waters. We hiked to a viewpoint in the park overlooking turquoise Wineglass Bay, then continued driving north up the holiday-shack-on-the-beach coast to Binalong Bay, pounded that late afternoon by wild breakers sending up a mist tinted magenta by the setting sun.

“This is from just down the road,” said Jo Lisson, aiming her thumb south as she poured a frosty Spring Vale Reserve Chardonnay, “made in an 1842 convict-built stable.” A gutsy single mum, Jo and her chef son run the Binalong Bay Café overlooking the crescent of white sand. The casual eatery was packed with folks crazy for their local prawn and blue lip mussel laksa and 12-hour roasted short-ribs of free-range cattle from Cape Grim, which boasts the world’s freshest air according to the Australian government.

From nearby St Helens, we turned inland on a winding route through dense rainforest. Parrot-like rosellas and lorikeets flitted among giant tree ferns and eucalypts that made the route smell like an outdoor spa. En route to Launceston, the Pyengana Dairy Company (St Columba Falls Road, Pyengana; pyenganadairy.com.au) served farm-fresh milkshakes at their Holy Cow Café, but we opted for a pint of local Boag brew at the nearby circa-1880 Pub in the Paddock (St Columba Falls Road, Pyengana). Then it was a good old-fashioned Devonshire tea with fresh clotted cream in the funky historic tin mining town of Derby. Just before Launceston, we stopped at Pipers Brook for bubbly because Tasmania makes some of Oz’s best, and it’s sipped everywhere, even at roadside picnics.

Our last night was in an 1842 stagecoach inn — now known as the Red Feather Inn Cooking School — in the village of Hadspen, west of Launceston. Even out here, in a sleepy rural enclave, we could immerse ourselves in the food scene by signing up to forage and fish, creating a Tasmanian game feast, learning to make wallaby sausages, or smoking and curing. We poked around nearby villages, tasting from more than 50 samples at The Honey Farm (39 Sorell Street, Chudleigh; thehoneyfarm.com.au) and settling into a fresh salmon burger and ginseng tea for lunch at the 41° South salmon and ginseng farm in Deloraine. As we left, we tucked a package of melt-in-your-mouth smoked baby salmon into our bag, feeling like we were well on the path to becoming true Tassievores.

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