Victoria’s Goldfields region has a long history of keeping people well fed, boasting one of Australia’s highest concentrations of small-scale food and wine producers. For Bendigo chef and restaurateur Sonia Anthony, local growers and makers are a constant source of inspiration at Masons of Bendigo (25 Queen Street), which she runs with her husband Nick.
Exploring back roads and farm gates is such a big part of Sonia’s life that she now runs a tour of her favourite farm haunts, with a focus on women in food.
So where are some of her favourites?
South of Bendigo in Harcourt, a fledgling fruit and vegetable co-operative is growing into a hub for organic food. Look out for the roadside honey, apple and seedling stalls, with plans for more.
Sonia also loves visiting Bridgeward Grove Olives and Farm Gate (170 Englishs Road, Goornong), where visitors can pick and pickle their own olives and take them home to enjoy. “The farm gate is a true country bush experience every urban dweller needs to experience,” Sonia says.
When she’s in the market for pork, Sonia heads straight to Belinda and Jason Hagan’s McIvor Farm Foods (2920 Lancefield-Tooborac Road, Tooborac). She promises “the most delicious and flavourful pork” and “the most amazing crackle”.
“They’ve restored Jason’s grandfather’s original butcher shop, keeping some of the original items such as the butcher’s block and records of sales,” Sonia says. “I love the way the flywire door creaks when you open it – maybe that’s a childhood country memory that comes back to me.”
The butcher shop is open only by appointment (call 0419 422 238).
FROM THE EARTH
For vegetables, Sonia heads south to Spring Creek Organics (27 Kielys Road, Navigators), south-west of Ballarat. “You know their produce is organic when you arrive home with a head of lettuce and find a ladybird has hitched a ride,” she says. “Appreciate the colours of the soils while you’re there and watch David (Tatman) and his team busy at work producing the deliciously fresh produce which grows so well in the Ballarat region.”
For tomatoes, Sonia heads to the drier north-western corner of the Goldfields region to Simply Tomatoes at Boort. Marilyn and Ian Lanyon welcome travellers any day of the week. They even invite people with caravans to stay overnight by Girty’s dam at no charge.
“So fire up the camp billy and make yourself some scones – a perfect accompaniment to their pickled green tomatoes,” Sonia says. “These tomatoes are the only pickled green tomatoes commercially available outside of Italy and fit for the royals – it was on the menu for Princess Mary and Prince Frederik’s wedding banquet.
“There’s also space within the homestead to sit by the fire in winter and enjoy some delicious homemade frittata or pizza, with a hot pot of tea or coffee always at the ready.”