Tasmania, the isle of food.
I seriously can’t believe how many people that I’ve talked to have actually never been to Tasmania. I think most people have the wrong perception about the southernmost state of Australia.
If you think…
1. the flight is expensive to go to Tasmania
2. too far, takes like hours to get there
3. Tasmania is boring
Then, you are absolutely wrong. I say it again, WRONG!
Because I bet you don’t know…
1. the cheapest flight to Launceston, Tasmania is only $79 one way from Sydney.
2. and the flight takes only 90 minutes
3. Tasmania is definitely not boring, especially from the food point of view. It is food heaven for food lovers!
When I say Tasmanians love their food, I am not joking. And you wonder why the contestants from Tassie always do so well on cooking shows like My Kitchen Rules or Masterchef, because they genuinely love their food. My last trip to Tassie in 2012 had me introduced to many local farmers and producers who are very passionate and proud of what they are doing. And this time, I will be visiting a few more but on the other side of the woods.
A short 90 minutes flight later, I find myself landed in Launceston, or as the locals refer to it – “Launnie”.
Launceston is the second largest city in Tasmania, after Hobart. Settled by Europeans in March 1806, Launceston is one of Australia’s oldest cities and you will see many historic buildings sprawled out all over the city. One of the most iconic and photographed buildings is the Chalmers Church built in 1859 with its flakey white walls. Right next to it is the French gothic style Baptist Church (first pic above). A trip to Launnie is not complete without a trip to Cataract Gorge where you can admire the tranquil landscape while having a bite at the restaurant.
TwoFourTwo boutique apartments
Boutique accommodations in Launceston a plenty, this time I will be staying closer to the city hub at TwoFourTwo. Tucked right behind Cafe M0ndello, there are three self-catering apartments built right behind the back of the historic building, offering a little quiet oasis from the bustling Charles Street which seems to be the place to be for food. The whole street is dotted with cafes, restaurants, pubs and anything food really. And for making it easier for you to explore the city, TwoFourTwo also offers two complimentary bicycles which you can take them out for a ride.
I checked myself in quickly but it’s time for some breakfast to fuel up the body for a big day ahead.
Outdoor seating seems to be the popular option here at Cafe Mondello as it can get quite cosy inside the cafe. But no matter where you sit, owner and barista, Daniel Rosilli will greet you by your name and have a cup of coffee for you in no time. I rarely order a vegetarian breakfast, but have no regret whatsoever with my choice of poached egg dusted with dukkah, sitting on top of smashed avocado served with house made spice relish.
TwoFourTwo boutique apartments & Cafe Mondello 242 charles st. launceston
tasmania, 7250 P: 03 6331 9242 Cafe opens 7am – 4.30pm, Tues – Sun
Harvest Market – Launceston
My first stop of the day is at the Harvest Market. Running every Saturday morning, this two-year-young Farmers’ Market is a not-for-profit organisation providing a platform for Tasmanian growers and producers to sell directly to customers. Locals and visitors alike are flocking to Cimitiere Street car park to taste some of the best local produce Tasmania has to offer. The market sells only food and beverages grown and produced in Tasmania and is run within Australian Farmers’ Market Association Guidelines.
It also happens to be the market’s second birthday and the organisers have also invited Italian chef Guy Grossi from Melbourne to help celebrating the milestone. I caught a glimpse of Guy entertaining the crowd at his live cooking demonstration before moving on to check out some of the stalls.
Totally not something I was expecting, it is my first taste of possum.
It is almost like a dare to see whether I will eat it as Mic Guilaini of Sirocco South hands me over a piece of cracker smeared with possum rillette over the top. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t hesitant for a second regarding whether I should really put it in my mouth, but I did it anyway purely out of curiosity. The flavour is rather subtle, initially all I could taste was duck fat and spiced with Tasmanian pepperberry, but gradually a hint of game flavour builds in my mouth as I am about to finish it.
Mic is based in Frederick Henry Bay in Carlton, south of Hobart. He tells me that the possums are sourced from Bruny Island Game Meats, who also supply wallaby and any other game meat you can think of. With his Italian background, Mic has adopted the family tradition as he still cooks, preserves, making pasta and gnocchi, and share his creations with everyone at the market.
Tasmanian Natural Garlic
Next stop, garlic.
I am a strong believer in supporting Australian growers and use Australian garlics whenever possibly can. It is very difficult for local growers to compete with the garlics imported from other countries which could be contaminated with chemicals but cost a lot less at the supermarket.
I had a great chat with Rosie Mackinnon, the owner of Tasmanian Natural Garlic, a former kindergarten teacher who now cultivates organic garlics from her farm at Hagley for the last seven years. The good soil and fresh air in Tasmania does do great wonders; this garlic is strong and pungent but with a sweet after note.
Rosie also has some crow garlic on display, which is the first time I’ve seen it. Crow Garlic is declared a weed under the Tasmanian Weed Management Act 1999 as it can be serious competitor of crops and pasture, and taint the milk and meat of animals grazing on the infested pastures. The importation, sale and distribution of crow garlic is strictly prohibited in Tasmania.
It is also nice to see a few familiar faces at the market who I’ve met on my previous trip. Guy Robertson from Mount Gnomon Farm is busy selling his sausages, and Ben from 41 South Tasmania always has some fresh pink salmon ready for you to take home.
Then, there is cheese. The Elgaar cheese stall is possibly one of the busiest at the market as everyone can’t wait to take a slice of the creamy cheese home. Big wheels of cheddar of different ages are being cut to order by the Elgaar Farm’s owner, Josef Gretschmann. Born into a family of dairy farmers in a Bavarian village, Josef and his wife Antonia are now recognised as one of Australia’s foremost organic dairy companies, producing high quality organic dairy products, from milk, quark and yoghurt to cheese.
As much as I would like to loiter a bit longer at the market to chat to everyone, but it’s time for me to move on to the next event, Festivale.
Festivale has been running for 22 years in Launceston. Beginning as a small carnival with a few street performers, it is now a three day event designed to showcase the very best of Tasmanian food, wine, beer, arts and entertainment. This annual event attracts around 35,000 patrons from around Tasmania and abroad and turns the whole City Park into a massive playground.
There are people everywhere, as far as the eye can see, the whole park is surrounded by food and wine stalls ready to feed the masses. Then, there are also international buskers entertaining the crowd with high energy acts, and a main stage with live performances by renowned musicians like Ian Moss and Mahalia Barnes.
Oh, did I mention food?
There are over 70 local stalls of Tasmanian food, wine, beer, cider and whiskey to tantalise our tastebuds. It is a little overwhelming at first, but soon enough I find myself with a big plate of deep fried mushroom and a cup of Lost Pippin cider.
A tasting plate of tempura mushroom consists of button, portabello and swiss brown, with the choice of wasabi mayo and plum chilli dipping sauce. And the cider is also extra tasty in the sweltering 36C heat on that particular day in Launceston. Lost Pippin’s dry cider is possibly the driest style I’ve ever tasted, but the wild one is just to my liking, a hint of sweetness but still crisp and sharp.
But the food doesn’t stop there, I was intrigued by the abalone on the menu at the Game Meat stall. I was hoping to see some thin slices of soft tender abalone on the plate, but it sadly turned out to be grilled pattie of minced abalone.
Dessert is to be found at Cheesecake Baculo, which also won the best Dessert Stall award. It is not your normal cheesecake, it is cheesecake on a stick, ice cream style. All cheesecake ice creams are made using ingredients sourced within Tasmania whenever possible.
And when you are in The Apple Isle, drink all the apple cider! I spent the rest of the afternoon trying as many of the Tasmanian apple ciders as I possibly could.
The Good Apple, a little on the sweet side, this non-alcoholic sparkling apple juice is made by using only organic apples from Huon Valley region.
Big Bite Cider is a sideline product of Velo wines. Velo Wines is located in Tamar Valley, one of Australia’s booming wine regions. Velo has taken home an award with their delicious Shiraz Cabernet at this year’s Festivale Wine Awards, but the cider is just as tasty. It is crisp and not too sweet with a hint of tart, just how I like it.
Dickens cider is popular in Tasmania with real cider and perry all made from 100% apples and pears sourced from two local orchards in Tamar Valley. What makes it different is that all their cider is unfiltered and unpasteurised, so their ciders are cloudy with all the real apple goodness inside. Now they have even opened the Ciderhouse in Launceston, where you can enjoy a glass of cider or perry poured straight from the taps, sounds almost too good to be true.
When you have had enough of apple cider, why not try the ginger beer? Gillespie’s ginger beer is made in the backyard at Bream Creek, using a recipe handed down four generations and originating in Durham, Northern England – the home of ginger beer. The ginger beer comes in three varieties – traditional, extra zing and the alcoholic. I had the alcoholic ginger beer which is not as sweet, with 4% alcohol in each bottle.
This year at Festivale, they have also organised a special event of Tamar Valley Wine Route Experiences, where you learn about Tasmanian wine and also get to try some of the best that won awards this year. Tasmania is famous for its cool climate wines such as pinot noir, sparkling wines, riesling, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, cabernet sauvignon and pinot gris.
Tamar Valley Wine Route is the oldest wine region in Tasmania, with over 30 wineries within driving distance of each other. Some of the awarded best wines we’ve tried at the masterclass were:
Sparkling – Clover Hill Rose 2008
Riesling – Moores Hill 2013
Other White– Barringwood Pinot Gris 2013
Chardonnay – Bream Creek 2010
Pinot Noir – Bay of Fires 2012
Other Red – Velo Shiraz Cabernet 2012
Judges Award – Goaty Hill Pinot Noir 2012
Unfortunately most of the wineries in Tasmania are small operators, the wines produced are exceptionally small in volume. They usually just have enough to distribute around Tasmania to liquor stores and restaurants, so if you really want to taste them, the only way is to find yourselves lost in the Tamar Valley.
Festivale is such a great event for such a small island like Tasmania where everyone is so supportive, happy to come out and have a good time. A big applause goes out to Louise Clark, the Festivale Chairman who has been running the show for 12 years. As we are having a quick chat at the park, she shows me a text message on her mobile phone from a friend. It reads:
“Great event, we had a great time. But my kids say you should add a jumping castle next year.”
She laughs jokingly, “As if I wasn’t busy enough already, another thing to put in my to-do list for next year – a jumping castle!”
Burger Got Soul
It has been a long day and the heat finally got to me, so I decided to have a rest in my room and then come out for dinner later. I don’t have to go far as it’s been recommended I check out Burger Got Soul, which is just across the street from my apartment. This local burger joint seems to be doing all right as it is always busy every time I walk past. It also has expanded to two shops, one here in Launnie and another one in Hobart.
The menu is long, very long; with 35 burgers to choose from. But I do find the burgers are a little on the pricey side from $10.50 up to $15.90. On top of that, you also have to pay an extra $4.50 if you want thick cut chips. The vegan Mind Body and Soul burger is to die for, but sorry, I do like meat on my burger, so instead go for the Tassie Tempter, another recommendation from the local.
The burger is stacked with a 100% leaf beef pattie, a bacon strip, tasty cheese, a fried free range egg, slices of beetroot, salad, relish and mayo. I believe it is called “the works” on the mainland. The thick cut chips are exactly how they should be, fluffy inside and crispy on the outside and I do have a share of onion rings, and these hit all the right spots. For the two of us, including drinks, our bill comes close to $50.
I spend the next day exploring a neighbouring town called Evandale. It is only 15 minutes drive north of Launceston. Evandale is a picturesque historic town, famous for its annual National Penny Farthing Championship.
On the way in to Evandale from Launceston, the first thing you will notice on the left side of the road is this historic water tower. Built in 1896, it can hold 40,000 gallons of water to supply the whole town until 1968. The tower is kept full of water to preserve the structure.
But one of the must-visits in Evandale is definitely the Tasmanian Gourmet Sauce Company.
Tasmanian Gourmet Sauce Company – Evandale
The Tasmanian Gourmet Sauce Company is just a short drive outside of Evandale. Tim and Julie Barbour started the company over 20 years ago and offer a wide range of gourmet sauces made with fresh produce grown in Tasmania. This place is small but you feel right at home as soon as you step through the door with the inviting aroma of jam brewing in the kitchen right behind the tasting room. But the first thing I noticed was all the signs are written in bilingual of English and Chinese, because they do get large numbers of visitors from mainland China. I can totally understand why because their jams are seriously delicious.
The summer berry and apricot jams are some of the most popular sellers. And then there are a couple that are just a little bit different – strawberry chilli sauce for instance. I’ve been told this particular sauce works well with white meat like chicken or pork.
My stay in Launceston and Evandale has been short but sweet. It was a great kick start to my gastronomy journey around Tasmania and I can’t wait to head north to a whole new region that I’ve never been before – the Tamar Valley.
[to be continued][A Table For Two visited Tasmania as a guest of Tourism Tasmania. All meal at Festivale and Burger Got Soul were paid for independently]