Happy farm-gate trails

Travelling Well | Words: Wendy Hargreaves | Posted on 08 April 2019

Find prime produce at farm gates throughout country Victoria.

Taking a drive in the country never tasted so good.

Regional Victoria is dotted with some of the best produce in the world, with farm gates selling everything from just-picked apples to free-range pork.

In a world where everyone’s in a hurry to get somewhere, farm gates offer a taste of life in the slow lane, where seasons set the speed. Stop for a chat with the award-winning cheesemaker who milks his own goats, or the beef farmer making swoon-worthy smallgoods.

Drive at your own pace. There’s no designated route. But these farm gates are worth the trip, stretching through south Gippsland and the Goldfields region in the central highlands.

Rohan McCullagh, executive chef at RACV Inverloch Resort, holds a box of local vegetables at a Gippsland beach.

Rohan McCullagh, executive chef at RACV Inverloch Resort, is “spoilt for choice” with excellent produce on his doorstep.


SOUTHERN COMFORT

Born and bred in Gippsland, chef Dave Stewart knows the windy back roads of Gippsland like back of his hand.

The owner and chef of Ascot Food Store in Moonee Ponds can’t drive past a farm gate and, as the weather cools, cravings start for a particular potato from his old stomping ground. But this isn’t just any spud. He has to get the Dutch creams from Thorpdale Organics, where Tony and Wendy Robins grow organic vegies in some of Victoria’s richest red soil.

“Those Dutch creams are amazing,” says Dave, who stops for supplies at the Robins’ bright green farm-gate shed whenever he’s passing through Thorpdale (1308 Mirboo North-Trafalgar Road – open daily from 8am to dusk and selling those Dutch creams for a bargain $3/kilo). “Mashed or roasted, it doesn’t matter. They’re always bang on.”

It’s been a slow burn, but foodies are heading east in increasing numbers to taste their way through Gippsland's fertile hills. Dairy, beef, pork, lamb and all manner of fruit and vegetables are grown in this vast region, stretching from Melbourne’s outer fringe to the New South Wales border in the far east.

At the southern tip, chef Rohan McCullagh says he is spoilt for choice with so much excellent local produce just a short distance from his kitchen at the RACV Inverloch Resort.

The menu at Rohan’s restaurant Radius in the resort is a love letter to South Gippsland produce, from Amber Creek Farm’s exceptional chorizo, kabana and kranski sausage to the famously tender grass-fed beef from Annie’s Angus. And let’s not forget the local Oak and Swan’s sourdough, baked in a wood-fired oven with hand-milled local wheat and Mirboo North rainwater.

“I also make sure we have cheese from Prom Country Cheese, which is made about 30 minutes’ drive from the resort,” Rohan says. “The whole range is beautiful, but the most popular would be the Woolamai Mist. It’s just delicious. I take whatever they’ve got, including the sheep’s milk yoghurt.”

A range of different-sized red, purple and yellow tomatoes.

Tomatoes in infinite variety.


Bronwyn and Burke Brandon from Prom Country Cheese with a lamb and a

Bronwyn and Burke Brandon from Prom Country Cheese.


A bunch of purple carrots.

Carrots straight from the soil.


SAY CHEESE

Prom Country cheesemakers Burke and Bronwyn Brandon milk 130 dairy sheep to make soft curd, washed rind, soft brie-like cheeses and harder aged varieties. But they are most famous for their Venus Blue, a blue vein cheese named after the nearby coastal town of Venus Bay, and winner of a swag of national awards.

The Brandons also harvest their own honey, pale gold with hints of clover and sold at the farm gate (275 Andersons Inlet Road, Moyarra).

Inverloch winemaker Marcus Satchell is another fan of Prom Country’s cheese, featuring the range on his cellar door’s generous produce platters, along with cheeses from nearby Tarago River and Bassine.

Marcus says his Dirty Three Wines cellar door (64 Cashin Street, Inverloch) also serves “ridiculously good kabana” and smallgoods from the Isola Chianina beef farm on Cape Liptrap.

An excellent produce platter can also be also found at Macca’s Farm (2185 Daylston-Glen Forbes Road, Glen Forbes – open daily from 9am to 5pm), a free-range pork, beef and hydroponic vegie farm. Visitors can also pick their own strawberries at Macca’s (from September through to April) before heading to the produce store to stock up on all the local goodies.

Peruvian chef Alejandro Saravia cuts lemons with cuts of meat hanging in the background.

Peruvian chef Alejandro Saravia (pictured at left) is set to open a Melbourne restaurant celebrating Gippsland produce.


GIPPSLAND ON A PLATE

Thorpdale’s potatoes have also won over Peruvian chef Alejandro Saravia, who loves Gippsland’s produce so much he’s opening a new Melbourne restaurant celebrating the region’s produce. Set to open in Collins Street next February it will be called Farmer’s Daughters

“The best thing about the farm-gate experience in Gippsland is that you won’t see masses of tourists, "Alejandro says. “The focus is always on the food and the beautiful environment… appreciating the basic things in life.”

South of Thorpdale, the Blue Tree Honey Farm at Dumbalk is another must-visit farm gate, nestled in the hills overlooking the Tarwin River (120 Sweeneys Road, Dumbalk – open weekends from 10am to 4pm).

“Blue Tree harvest their honey in hives near native eucalypts and flowers, so it gives the honey a beautiful flavour with herbal notes,” Alejandro says.

“When you visit Blue Tree, it’s not like going to a shop. You’re welcomed by Rob and Sharon Fisher to their family farm. It’s their home. They just want to share what they do and their passion for honey.”

Belinda Hagan of McIvor Farm Foods talks with Bendigo chef and restaurateur Sonia Anthony as she buys cuts of meat.

Bendigo restaurateur Sonia Anthony with Belinda Hagan from McIvor Farm Foods.


Boot filled with flowers hanging on a fence at McIvor Farm Foods

The farm gate at McIvor Farm Foods.


GOURMET GOLD

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.”