When comes to food and wine, Orange is definitely not the new black.
Widely known as “Australia’s Food Basket”, Orange has always been a popular foodie destination in New South Wales where cool climate produce are abundance and the wines are exquisite. And what could be a better way to show off the region’s abundance and diversity other than by hosting the annual F.O.O.D Festival? An acronym for the Food of Orange District, F.O.O.D Week celebrates its 25th anniversary this year and it is recognised as Australia’s longest-running regional food festival. Running from 8th to 17th April, the festival is to promote the diverse and excellent regional produce from the district covering the three local government areas of Orange, Blayney and Cabonne. It showcases the farmers who grow it, as well as the local chefs, cooks, restaurateurs and caterers that create extraordinary dishes with it.
This ten day gourmet festival encompasses six signature events, as well as over 90 satellite events held at local restaurants, cafes and cellar doors. I joined a media group of journalists, writers and bloggers in Orange last week where we had a taste of what F.O.O.D festival has to offer. They obviously have no trouble promoting such iconic festival as we’ve been informed that a couple of the major events are actually already sold out months ago including the forever popular moveable feast – FORAGE. They have recreated the concept of Moveable Feast for our media group so that we got to experience some of the best food and wine in this region plus we also got to explore this charming little down called Millthorpe.
Millthorpe – Small town, Big heart
With a population of just over 1100, Millthorpe is a little quaint town tucked between Orange and Blayney. This picturesque town was once a major potato growing area and continues to have extensive agriculture activities until today. Classified by the National Trust, Millthorpe has a number of historic buildings that are well preserved, with many converted into art galleries, cellar doors, gift and antique shops, hotels, restaurants and cafes sprawled along two main streets.
You can’t come to Orange without tasting some local wines and there are a couple of cellar doors in Millthorpe worth visiting. The Angullong Wine planted the vineyards back in 1998, 1999 and 2000, and their first wine label was created in 2003. Visitors can now taste their delicious cool climate Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio and award-winning 2013 Shiraz at the cellar door which used to be the old Bluestone Stables.
Further down the street is Slow Wine Co, which has recently renamed from Bantry Grove. Many of the properties in Orange region were once sheep and cattle farms until they discovered the potential of winemaking in 1990s. The Bantry Grove is located on the rim of the Bathurst Valley where the land features rich volcanic soils and an elevation of 960 metres, perfect condition for vineyards. Their 2013 Pinot Noir is a delicious drop with light elegant fruit flavours of forest berries with long savoury finish. If you love dry European style Rosé then you will love theirs. Last but not least, their refreshing Chardonnay is a must try.
Not exactly in Millthorpe, but Philip Shaw Wines is a must-visit in Orange. They literally moved rocks by turning the old bluestone barn into a modern and sleek cellar door that offers wine tasting and also a small menu of antipasto and wood fired pizzas for those who are feeling peckish. Philip Shaw Wines are made only from the grapes grown on Koomooloo, a 47ha vineyard, most of which was planted in 1988/89. They produce cool climate wines of elegance, intensity and distinct varietal character. Their N.V. sparkling Chardonnay Pinot Noir was a hit from our media group. Pinot Noir is still a relatively new variety for the Orange region, but it is showing excellent promise in this cool, mountainous, continental climate and their ‘The Wire Walker Pinot Noir’ definitely delivers.
To all shopaholics and food/interior stylists, you will love this place. A visit to Millthorpe is not complete without dropping by at Tomolly. Recently moved to a bigger space, inside the iconic corrugated iron building is full to the brim with beautiful homewares, kitchenwares, gifts and all sorts. The bubbly Belinda Satterthwaite will welcome you to her shop like it is her home, her unique taste in interior design speaks for itself, I could easily spend a whole afternoon in that shop and sure I didn’t walk out that shop empty handed.
Millthorpe might be small, but it didn’t stop chef Tony and Nicole Worland to turn their dream into a reality and opened Tonic restaurant in 2003 which has been awarded a chef’s hat by the SMH Good Food Guide for the last 11 years! They are the pioneers that turned Millthorpe into a popular food and wine destination. But let’s talk about the food, from Mandagery Creek venison to Cowra Lamb, all sourced from the best producers locally. There is a strong sense of community here in Millthorpe where everyone supports each other and their businesses. Tony told us that locals will regularly drop big boxes of fresh produce like basil leaves or figs from their garden at the restaurant’s doorsteps and never expect anything in return. Tony will use the ingredients in the dishes for his restaurant but also make something up like fig jam for the neighbours to thank them. The kind spirit in this town sure deserves some recognition and truly reflected on the food itself.
For slumber, I was very lucky to be put up for the night at “For 2” studio accommodation hosted by Justine. The studio is very new with modern contemporary design. It is cosy with two bedrooms both tastefully decorated, a small kitchenette in the lounge area and a huge bathroom. If you think the interior design looks familiar, then you are probably right because Justine is Belinda’s sister and many of the decorations in the studio are from Tomolly. A real hidden gem in Millthorpe, make sure to book this accommodation if you are heading to Orange F.O.O.D festival in April.
A taste of Orange F.O.O.D Week – a moveable feast
10 years ago, James Sweetapple, the president of F.O.O.D Week Inc, found himself in La Morra, a small town in Piemonte region in North Italy where he experienced his first moveable feast – Mangialonga, one of the biggest annual events in this part of the world. It is described as “Enogastronomic hike” where everyone will drink and feast along the 4km wine trail. James fell in love with the idea and brought it back to Australia. It took him four years to plan and map out a wine path to make it happen and in 2010, the moveable feast “FORAGE” was born. Started with 350 tickets six years ago, FORAGE is now the most popular event on the Orange F.O.O.D Week program and this year, the number of tickets has increased to 1,500 and all sold out within two and a half days.
So, what is a Moveable Feast? The idea is simple – it is a progressive lunch moving from one spot to another. The event takes you straight to the source, it allows you to meet the producers, winemakers and taste the fruits of their labour along the 3.6km trail starts from Balmoral Vineyard and finishes at North Face Vineyard.
The organisers of Orange F.O.O.D Week had kindly put together a different kind of Moveable Feast for us so that we got to explore some of the best foodie spots around Orange region.
The Agrestic Grocer
The Agrestic Grocer is your one-stop shop for everything local. This cafe/retail store focuses on local, real food with a rural-rustic approach where apples are unwaxed, pure honey harvested from shop owner Lucas and Danielle dad’s beehives, fresh produce pulled straight out from the ground and many artisan products ar all made locally. The Agrestic Grocer is also the official retail front for Badlands Brewery and the Second Mouse Cheese Company.
The moveable feast started with an impressive breakfast spread of local fruits and baked goods. Lucas told us that they try to use local ingredients whenever possibly can but they also have to be realistic as not everything is available in Orange region, chia seeds for instance. The fluffy croissant from Rise Artisan Bakery is everything, the massive buttery goodness was baked using wood fired oven set up inside a retrofitter Red Rattler train carriage in Orange.
Mandagery Creek Venison Farm
Farm visits has always been one of my favourite activities on any foodie trips. I am a strong believer that it is very important for everyone to know where the food comes from and learn more about sustainable and ethical farming. We visited Mandagery Creek Venison Farm and met up with farmer Tim Hansen who spoked passionately about his free-ranged and pasture-fed stock. They pride themselves with superior quality venison meat possessing wonderful flavour and extreme tenderness. To ensure the highest quality standards of animal welfare and food safety are met, Tim himself supervises both the slaughtering of all stock at a full export-accredited abattoir in Albury and the production and packaging of all version. He told us that they will perform pH test on all deer after the transportation to Albury to make sure they are stress free not only because it is inhumane and uneto slaughter a stressed deer, but it also changes the texture and flavour of the meat.
Tim also believes in nose-to-tail philosophy, so most parts of the deer are also put into good use and make beautiful products out of it. The hides are usually shipped to Germany and turned into Lederhosen. Tim’s sister Penny is the brainchild behind 1803 Artisan Deer Design, who collaborates with artisans in Sydney to produce exquisite handcrafted knives from the antlers and cushions to wallets from the hides.
Cargo Road Wines
James Sweetapple (winemaker and the president of F.O.O.D Week Inc) was meant to join us for dinner at Tonic the night earlier, but saving his grapes from a forecasted severe thunderstorm was far more important for small business owner than a scrumptious meal. We finally got to meet him the day after at his winery – Cargo Road Wines where he was already in the midst of making vincotto despite he only had 2.5 hours sleep and also ready to entertain a media group. If you ever get to meet James, you are in for a treat as he has so many stories to tell.
James is a forerunner of holistic farming with years of data to back this approach and he knows what he is talking about. Through holistic farming, everything works together and revolve in a full cycle. He let the weeds grow in the vineyard, and then let the sheep roam free and graze on the weeds. The sheep then poop and dropping pellets, so James introduced dung beetles to the vineyards where the little critters will bury the pellets underground and turn into fertilisers for the vines. And the end result of this approach speaks for itself through his delicious wines and he was awarded Orange region Vigneron of the Year 2015.
Our moveable feast continued here at Cargo Road Wines cellar door. The delightful lunch was a collaboration among all producers we’ve met, Danielle Martin from The Agrestic Grocer prepared a tasty pumpkin salad using fresh quark from The Second Mouse Cheese company, a wholesome venison sandwich where the beautiful red lean meat was from Mandagery Creek Venison Farm of course and finished our lunch with a crumbly-licious apple pie using fresh apples picked from their own orchard. Good food matched with fine wine, James himself had saved a few bottles of his signature 2009 Zinfandel (already sold out) for this special occasion. We were very lucky and spoilt indeed.
Date: 8th – 17th April 2016
What: ‘The Food Basket of NSW’ comes alive to showcase our finest fresh produce and cool climate wines.
Where: Orange in New South Wales, Australia is just a 3.5 hour drive from Sydney and a 3 hour drive from Canberra. It is well-serviced by rail and bus, and has a local airport for 1 hour direct daily flights from Sydney.
Held during harvest time in one of Australia’s most exciting emerging food and wine destinations – the distinctive cool climate wine and produce growing region of Orange in New South Wales – the Orange F.O.O.D Week festival celebrates the region’s abundance and diversity, as well as the clever and creative people who make it all happen. An acronym for the Food of Orange District, F.O.O.D Week celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2016 and as such is recognised as Australia’s longest-running regional food festival.
Check out the full list of events on the Orange F.O.O.D Week website.