jamie oliver + ministry of food perth launch

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In culinary terms, I pretty much grew up with Jamie Oliver. My first memories of Jamie and his ‘brand’ were as a child of sixteen, when his first television show (The Naked Chef, circa 1999) appeared on Australian television screens. On first impressions, I thought he was rather young and… well, incessantly energetic. Too young to be teaching me culinary skills, anyway (I was raised on Rick Stein and no-nonsense ‘Saint‘ Delia).

However, despite his use of the word ‘pukka’ (which apparently he even finds annoying) I eventually came to like the lad from country Essex. His shaggy hair and honest approach to cooking was both warm and approachable and over time, he won both my heart and a great portion of my bookshelf.

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It seems I wasn’t the only one. Fast-forward to 2016 and it would be fair to say that Jamie Oliver is a global household name. His ‘brand’ adorns everything from basil pesto to Tefal frypans but somehow he’s managed to maintain both his ‘cheeky’ demeanour and a strong sense of personal integrity.

One could argue that the latter is inextricably linked to his ‘social activism’ which began in 2002 with the establishment of Jamie’s Kitchen (a chef apprenticeship program for disadvantaged youths which later transformed into the Fifteen Apprentice Program). Soon afterwards, he established the Jamie Oliver Food Foundation which now oversees (non-profit community programs) Jamie’s Ministry of Food, a Kitchen Garden Project and the accompanying Food Revolution Campaign. He was most recently seen in the media doing a spontaneous ‘sugar tax dance‘ after the British Government declared its levy on the soft drinks industry this Wednesday.

Cheeky, but authentic. It works. It’s very Jamie.

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So let’s talk about Jamie’s Ministry of Food. Since it’s inception in 2008 (in Rotherham, South Yorkshire) these community-led kitchen centres have attracted thousands of participants per year, all of whom have signed up for 7-10 weeks of practical food education, budgeting tips and Jamie’s own home-cooking shortcuts. Over the past eight years, the program has expanded to four locations across the United Kingdom and, since 2011, three centres in suburban Australia (under Jamie’s Ministry of Food Australia).

That brings me to the point of today’s post: the establishment of Jamie’s cooking school in my home state of Western Australia. Since the first Australian centre was established in Ipswich, Queensland, the program has expanded to include three more fixed-location cooking centres alongside fully-equipped mobile kitchens in Queensland and, as of last week, Western Australia.

It’s an exciting progression for a state in which 66.6% of adults are overweight or obese with only one in every ten Western Australian residents eating their recommended daily serves of fruit and vegetables. There has been recent media emphasis on the prediction that this generation of Australian teenagers may be the first to die at a younger age than their parents (Dr Lyn Roberts, National Heart Foundation of Australia). A frightening thought, indeed.

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The Western Australian mobile kitchen program is a partnership between Jamie’s Ministry of Food Australia,  The Good Foundation and Edith Cowan University (ECU) with sponsorship through Woolworths Australia and The Good Guys. I was privileged to attend the media launch last Wednesday with a recorded message from ‘the big man himself’ (watch it below) alongside introductions from Elise Bennetts (Acting Chief Executive Officer, Jamie’s Ministry of Food Australia and The Good Foundation) and Professor Steve Chapman (CBE, Vice-Chancellor of ECU).

The event was held in and around the working mobile kitchen, with canapés and drinks provided by the Ministry of Food’s qualified Food Trainers. In typical Jamie style, presentation was fresh, healthy and rustic, served off simple wooden boards with warm enthusiasm.

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In contrast to previously established Ministry of Food centres, the Western Australian program will operate alongside ECU’s School of Health Science (nutrition and dietetics) with internship and research opportunities for students and staff. The kitchen classroom will initially be situated at ECU’s Joondalup campus (for the next fourteen weeks) before shifting to other ECU campuses in Mount Lawley and Western Australia’s South West (additional locations to be announced).

With adequate consultation, there also plans for specific work with rural Aboriginal communities, focusing on diet-related disease and improved health outcomes.

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From Tuesday 29th March 2016, the Western Australian Mobile Kitchen program is set to run two series of seven week cooking courses, comprising of one 90-minute cooking class per week. Each class can take up to 12 participants aged over 12 years (the oldest participant so far being a ’96 year old widower’ from Eastern Australia).

Program coordinator Marie Fitzpatrick states that each class will focus on using Jamie’s own recipes and techniques, with emphasis on ‘simplicity’ and ‘transferable skills to take back home’. As per other suburban centres, the Western Australian program will incorporate emphasis on specific community demographics, family budgets and entrenched ‘fears’ of cooking from scratch.  Basic principles will be covered (such as ‘how to boil an egg’) using everyday, cheap ingredients (eggs, chicken, rice and tinned beans) and common kitchen implements (domestic-sized pots, ovens and kitchen prep areas). All classes aim to incorporate simple skills and food knowledge that will ’empower’ individuals and local communities.

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According to comprehensive studies by Deakin University and the University of Melbourne, Jamie’s Ministry of Food Australia has already made a positive impact in Eastern Australia. Participant evaluations report strong evidence of increased confidence in key skill areas required for cooking and daily food preparation, with increased cooking confidence and daily vegetable consumption (increase by 0.52 serves).

Behavioural changes were sustained for at least six months after conclusion of the cooking course, with flow-on benefits such as increased frequency of communal eating (families eating together) and reduction in takeaway meal consumption.

Pretty good for a ‘cheeky’ Chef and his team, methinks.

paperNow, I’ve read a fair amount of critique surrounding the Ministry of Food, most of which labels Jamie a ‘hypocrite‘ who doesn’t understand poverty. Whilst I’m the first to admit that Jamie Oliver’s cooking school can’t solve every nutritional or social problem (but heck, what can?) he’s started a practical community dialogue about cooking and general health, and that’s got to be a good thing.

Furthermore, even academics concede that Jamie’s ‘brand identity’ has in itself provided an ‘edge’ to his social projects that most other food and nutrition programs don’t have: corporate sponsorship, public accountability and actual community enthusiasm (the last point being of utmost importance). He seems genuinely committed (to the point of personal exhaustion), his manifesto rings true and his local team in Perth appear both impassioned and aware of local issues.

So that said, I’m excited to see the impact of Jamie’s Ministry of Food in Western Australian communities, families and suburban kitchens. It’ll be pukka, you’ll see.

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Jamie’s Ministry of Food Mobile Kitchen

The Western Australian Mobile Kitchen will be running two initial seven week courses which include one 90-minute class per week. Classes will run six days per week, including weeknights.

First release: Tuesday 29th March – Monday 16th May 2016

Second release: Tuesday 17th May –  Monday 4th July 2016.

Location: Edith Cowan University – Joondalup Campus
Car park 14, between building 21 & 22
Access from Deakin Rd via Lakeside Drive
Joondalup, WA 6027

Book here.

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old fashioned porridge in the country

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It’s been a long time since I last put metaphorical pen to paper in this food diary of sorts. Too long. I’d offer excuses, but I’m pretty sure you didn’t click on this post to read about my annus horribilis (if you did, well… I’ve written previously about my elevated work stress and injuries, blah blah. Ironically, I’ve also found myself unemployed this week – one week shy of Christmas. Life, huh? It keeps on giving).

On a more pleasant note, I began writing this post two weeks ago from the confines of Green Cottage, an original shearer’s cabin in country Western Australia. Located on an 80 acre farm property, it was rough logged and tin-clad, full of cracks, dust and rusted fixings.

It was perfect, in an imperfect kind of way. The kind of place you visit to escape from cell phones and schedules. We booked the farmstay as a creative family retreat: for Aaron to draw, me to write and for Loki to… well, connect with nature as only a city dog can. It was beautiful to watch him embrace paddocks, sheep and dry horse manure with bright eyes and tousled fur. He’s tucked in beside me as I write, his little body heavy with sleep and wild forest dreams.

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One of the main reasons why Aaron and I booked this particular cabin was the presence of an old cast-iron stove. A ‘Homesteader’, I think they’re called, with compartments for hot coals and kindling.

After booking our accommodation, I began planning meals of hot smoked potatoes, herbed damper and roasted vegetables with saffron aioli (in fact, I packed ingredients for most of these things into our vehicle, excitedly unpacking them into a mini-fridge upon our arrival). On night two, I was determined to make it work.

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Fast forward to night four: I had set off the smoke detector three times, blackening my fingers and a depleting pile of kindling. Despite multiple attempts, the only by-product of my efforts were ash and disappointment.

I eventually abandoned the ‘Homesteader project’ for the hooded gas barbecue on the front porch, occasionally relieved by an ageing microwave. Both were effective in feeding us over the course of five nights, with reduced chances of carbon monoxide poisoning.

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By the end of the week, we created barbecued homemade pizzas with goats cheese, artichokes and pesto, various smoked barbecued root vegetables and a barbecued garlic ciabatta loaf. I also steamed beets and potatoes in the microwave, serving both with herbs and butter.

There were no further kitchen incidents, unless you count the unauthorised consumption of two pears, one banana and Aaron’s jam donut in the dead of night. We assume the culprit was a wily rodent, though any beady eyes escaped investigation (some sad evidence towards the end of this post).

My favourite cooking experience by far was also the simplest of our five nights in the south west. We collected kindling from the surrounding karri forest, stoked a fire in the front garden and drank wine whilst the larger logs caught aflame. As the sun descended in the sky, we prepared the most beautiful, basic dinner of barbecued local Italian sausages, rosemary fried onions and warmed, buttered Manjimup bread with mandatory condiments. Oh, and a little crumbled Cheddar because, cheese.

After eating our fill, we snuggled in plaid blankets with Loki at our feet. We sat, talked and laughed until our candle died and embers flickered in quiet, inky blackness. The best kind of country evening.

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Whilst the original intention of this post was to laud the greatness of a cast-iron stove, I now admit that I’m rather inept at keeping the home fires burning… or even lighting them to start with. Despite retaining my fascination for ‘old-school cookery’, I’m more comfortable with modern heat sources which can nevertheless yield some rather old school results. I’ve produced many smoky dishes, slow cooked meals and charred crusts with the aid of a ceramic stone, gas oven, modern cooktop and good quality cookware, so rather than focusing on Homesteader cookery in this blog post, I’m praising something very old-school that can be made in any modern home: traditional porridge.

Despite being consumed for hundreds (or perhaps thousands) of years by varying methodology, porridge (or oatmeal, if you’re American) can be easily recreated on a gas or electric cooktop, or even in the modern microwave. I’ve been eating it since I was tiny and despite experimenting with various commercial evolutions (such as packaged quick oats and flavoured concoctions) my traditional childhood bowl reigns supreme over all imitations: full cream, slow cooked, simply topped with honey (my mother) or blackberry jam (yep, that’s dad).

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We prepared porridge frequently during our few days in Green Cottage. Despite being summer, the weather was unpredictably cold and wet which provided perfect opportunities for warm breakfasts, scalding cups of Builder’s tea and evenings by the traditional pot belly wood burner.

The first porridge morning was Aaron’s idea, after he discovered a jar of oats in the cottage pantry. I was already crumbling some Weet-bix biscuits into my cereal bowl, so I left him to his own devices until waterlogged oats overflowed from the boiling pan. Being Aaron, he ate the oats anyway with a glug of milk and some banana. I spent a few minutes scrubbing dried oats off the cottage cooktop. The next morning dawned with a cool breeze and a request for some tips on perfect porridge. He’s been using these ever since.

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Despite being more of a ‘guideline’ than a recipe, I’ve included my default method for porridge below with suggested quantities. I’ve also listed a few porridge toppings that rock in our household, my favourite being nut butter (pure peanut or tahini) and sliced banana.

I’m quite aware that my method contradicts that of Scottish purists (who advocate for only salt, oats and water whilst cooking). Despite my Scottish surname, I’m going to come straight out and say that I use milk for the entirety of the cooking process which creates extra creamy, delicious oats. Do as you will, I say.

horses apple2Wishing you and yours a beautiful, peaceful Christmas and a blessed start to 2016. May there be plenty of porridge.

– Aaron, Loki and Laura x

My kind of Porridge

Serves 2

  • 1 cup wholegrain rolled or steel-cut oats
  • 1 1/2 cups full fat milk (either dairy or plant based, I like coconut or almond milk but Aaron prefers creamy cows milk)
  • 2/3 cup water
  • a pinch of sea salt

to serve: dairy/plant milk or cream, honey, coconut sugar or maple syrup to drizzle, ground cinnamon, fruit (sliced banana, blueberries, grated apple, sultanas, sliced figs, mango and toasted coconut), toasted nuts or seeds (I like toasted, crumbled walnuts or pumpkin seeds), nut butter (peanut butter with sliced banana is divine), cacao nibs, chia jam or French conserve

If you’re organised, add your oats to the milk and soak overnight in the refrigerator (in a covered bowl or airtight container). Transfer to a small, heavy based saucepan in the morning with a splash of water to loosen. If you’re pressed for time, place the oats directly in the saucepan and soak for 20-30 minutes to produce creamier porridge.

Crank your burner to medium heat until the mixture starts to bubble. Reduce heat to low, add a little more water to loosen and stir regularly, watching your porridge thicken and ensuring that no oats stick to the bottom of the pot. Keep adding water until the oats are soft, smooth and creamy (around 20 minutes).

Spoon your porridge into two bowls, top with a splash of plant or dairy milk and any other toppings you desire. For more inspiration, I’d suggest that you head over to my dreamy, super-mum friend Heidi’s porridge archive on Apples Under my Bed (second to my parents, she is my porridge heroine).

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last days of summer + pet-friendly holidays in WA

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Summer died on Saturday. Well, in a metaphorical sense, if you live in the Southern Hemisphere like I do. This Sunday marked the first day of autumn; generally characterized by falling leaves (hence ‘fall’ in North America), cooler temperatures and truckloads of pumpkin spice markedly shorter days.

At the moment, though, we’re still in the transitional stage. This morning dawned with both sunshine and heat. I’m still sipping ice water from my favourite glass as the kettle gathers dust on the kitchen counter. Unless, of course, my mum comes over. She would drink tea during summer in Death Valley*.

*since I was a wee bairn, she’s been telling me that drinking hot drinks on a hot day can cool you down. Well mum, apparently the Smithsonian agrees!

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Aaron and I were determined to make the most of summer this year. We had grand plans for many a beach volleyball night alongside road trips, seaside picnics and barbecues by the pool. Although we failed on the volleyball front, we did manage to squeeze in a few blissful picnics (evidence found here and here).

We also took two summer road trips down to the south of Western Australia, initially in Cowaramup (with an excited Loki) and more recently, with some amazing friends at the seaside village of Gracetown. We laughed, talked, swam, explored the Margaret River heritage trail, ate local cheese and sipped Cabernet Sauvignon from a local vineyard.

You can see pictures from both trips via my much-better-attended Instagram account (@laurasmess). For simplicity’s sake, the majority of images included in this post are from our first summer road trip which sprawled over an idyllic, sunbathed week in January.

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Being our first trip ‘down south’ with Loki, we spent a little bit of time planning a dog-friendly itinerary for the week. First up was the job of finding suitable pet-friendly accommodation within reasonable distance of the beach, shops and wineries. After a bit of research, we found a perfect cottage through airbnb owned by a lovely local couple in Cowaramup (12km North of Margaret River). Their own dog, Karri, was both gentle and playful, providing bonus companionship for Loki throughout the week.

Our host, Maria, was more than generous with tips for local dog-friendly dining and activities, even offering to mind Loki if we wanted to visit a venue that didn’t accommodate him. Both Aaron and I wholeheartedly recommend Maria and Dan’s place to general travelers and pet owners alike (though I will stress that we brought Loki after prior negotiation with Maria – if you’re thinking of bringing your pet, please do the same).

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Australia’s south west is pretty much heaven in terms of natural beauty. Our little apartment dog had the most incredible week of rambling through the Australian bush, barking at cows and digging in snow white sand. I’ve included a few pictures of his ‘new experiences’ below (alongside a few more on Instagram including this video).

Scroll down to ‘dog friendly options in the south west’ if you’d prefer!

1. Bushwalking 

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2. Introduction to the Beach

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3. Meeting a cow (from the safety of the car!)

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Dog Friendly Options in the South West 

There’s a wealth of scatty information on pet-friendly south west facilities on the internet. This list was slightly useful but… well, you can’t really group pets and children into the same category (many facilities allow children but not dogs. Fair enough too).

Aaron and I spent most of our time meandering about the Cowaramup, Gracetown, Dunsborough and Margaret River areas, so naturally the suggestions below reflect that.

Eating Out:

White Elephant Beach Cafe – Gnarabup. This little kiosk serves amazing cafe fare and great coffee right on the beach. Their cafe space consists of concrete and durable plastic, so despite losing a few points on style, it’s fantastically user-friendly. Perfect for sandy feet, wet dogs, enthusiastic children and beach walkers alike.

Sea Gardens – Prevelly. This well-loved local cafe specializes in big breakfasts, wood-fired pizzas and French-inspired evening fare (reflecting the heritage of owner/chef Gilles England-Brassy). We only visited for a Thursday sundowner with beer and pizza (below), but would wholeheartedly recommend the space for both style and dog-friendliness.

 

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Yallingup Coffee Company – Dunsborough. This sprawling coffee shop provides only limited dining options (mainly cakes, muffins and slices) but the coffee alone is worth a visit.

Blue Ginger – Margaret River. An amazing continental delicatessen and cafe housed in what used to be a local cheese factory. Pick up some homewares, bulk goods, house-ground peanut butter and a creamy organic coffee. There’s a reasonable sized outdoor verandah to house both you and your fur-kid (get there early!).

The Bakery – Margaret River. One of my absolute favourite places to visit each time we travel down south. Fantastic baked goods, great coffee and a rambling verandah to explore. We sat with Loki out the front of the cafe, nestled into a pre-loved couch (sorry, someone’s grandma). I recommend the avocado with marinated goats cheese.

Samudra – Dunsborough. A gorgeous, holistic cafe in the heart of Dunsborough town offering both yoga classes and raw, organic, paleo, vegan-friendly and gluten free options for diners. Visit and explore their own biodynamic garden for yourself.

3 Oceans Cafe (formerly Palandri) – Cowaramup. This lovely cafe has a lot of outdoor shade, soccer goals and a green expanse of grass to use as part of your winery experience. The cellar door itself isn’t particularly dog-friendly but you can always buy a cheese platter and enjoy a glass of Sauvignon Blanc in the garden.

Clancy’s Fish Pub – Dunsborough. For delicious local beers, premium fish and chips, the occasional woodfired pizza and local seafood. There’s an awesome outside play area and a meandering bush trail for children and dogs alike.

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Wineries and Breweries:

Despite the presence of many ‘wine dogs’ in the south west region, not all wineries allow the general public to bring dogs onto their premises. We had a little bit of trouble initially but managed to find some firm favourites.

Stella Bella – Margaret River. Hands-down the friendliest, loveliest cellar door we visited. Loki was treated like an old friend. The wines are absolutely brilliant also, make sure you try the 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon and delicious 2010 Suckfizzle Sauvignon Blanc Semillion.

Bush Shack Brewery – Yallingup. The most dog friendly brewery in the region (in my opinion). Awesome chilli pilsener, generous share plates and a well-equipped play area for the children. As long as your dog has a lead, he/she is welcome.

Cowaramup Brewing Company – Cowaramup. Great pilsener and a pretty tasty Hefeweizen. There are some great outdoor benches to sit at and while away the afternoon.

*Don’t bother attempting to take your dog to Eagle Bay Brewing, Colonial Brewing, Bootleg or the Duckstein. You’ll be heading for disappointment (they’re amazing venues though – go local craft beer!).

beach3 beachIf you’re a fellow dog owner who has journeyed in the south west, feel free to add any other suggestions that I’ve missed below. The more information, the better!

Happy autumn, friends.

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the mess guide to: margaret river

bottleThe regular readers among you would be aware that it’s been a very, very long time since my last Mess Guide was published (the Mess Guide to: Melbourne). Nine months ago, to be exact. Nine months. That’s the gestation period for a human.

So, why the long hiatus between travel posts? Well, to be honest, we haven’t really traveled anywhere. Other than work, school, the library, the organic food market… that kind of thing. Despite its awesomeness, I figured a whole Mess Guide post on Perth City Farm would be slightly pushing the ‘travel category’, so… I waited. Holidays were discussed. Nothing was booked.

It’s now three-quarters-of-a-year later and we’ve finally taken another holiday, albeit in our home state. Three weeks ago, Aaron and I enjoyed a blissful long weekend ‘down south’ with family in Western Australia’s south west wine and food region, Margaret River.

mapglassFor the uninitiated, Margaret River is a Western Australian town around 277km south of Perth, the state capital. Set among majestic forests, pristine beaches and horticultural plantations, it’s become a favourite winter holiday destination for many sandgroper foodies who want to escape to the country for the weekend.

Winters in the south west are indescribably beautiful. Lush green landscapes give way to roaring wood fires, locally produced mead (more information below) and hot bread from wood fire ovens. As the seasons change, fields become speckled with fledgling shrubs, newborn lambs, bow-legged calves and wildflowers. It’s beautiful. Art in its most organic, breathtaking state.

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albest2In summer, Margaret River moves into its second phase of sunshine, salt spray and wetsuits. Surfer’s Point starts heaving with amateurs and pros alike, eagerly chasing some of the 12-foot main breaks along the coastline. Hot chips, beer and picnic blankets float with abandon around the local park areas before sunset cues the lighting of barbecues, charring of meat and consumption of boutique local wine.

Aaron and I have spent many days in Margaret River since we were small; as children, single young adults, a dating couple then husband and wife. In fact, our first official ‘road trip’ together as a couple was to a beach shack in the tiny town of Walpole in the state’s south west. Walpole lies about 250km south of Margaret River, so one sunny morning, we packed a bag and drove three hours to buy a memorable bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon from a boutique vineyard. We drank it slowly, savoring each drop as the sun dipped below the horizon. That was the beginning of our combined love affair with local Western Australian wine.

rainy3Our most recent trip was at the end of a cold, wet and blustery July. The sky spattered a little during our trip down the coast, but we enjoyed blissfully good weather for the remainder of our stay: cool but sunny days followed by light rains and frosty nights by the fire. The majority of our days were spent driving from attraction to vineyard, providore to boutique producer, all the while yelling ‘Hey Cow!‘ out of the window (there are lots of cows in the south west. And sheep. But mostly lots of cows).

cowsI intended to take comprehensive food and wine tasting notes during our trip down south, but instead… well, I just had a holiday. As a result, this post is a bit of a mish-mash of notes from this trip and previous south west experiences (at all times of the year). So, settle down and have a read… then book a trip to my part of the world. You’ll be glad you did.

arlewoodmontWine:

Margaret River is the the largest wine region in the south west of Western Australia, with over 5,000 hectares under vine and around 140 established wineries. If you’re interested in a south west wine tour, I’d encourage you to start at the Margaret River Regional Wine Centre located at 9 Bussell Highway, Cowaramup WA 6284.

The Centre holds samples from every winery in the south west region (for both sale and tasting) so if you’re in a hurry, you can swill, spit and buy all of the region’s wines in one convenient location. If you’d prefer a drive, the Centre’s friendly staff can also provide maps and tips on some of the region’s best cellar doors.

wineprobMargaret River tends to enjoy a very Mediterranean climate in terms of temperature variance, humidity and rainfall. Overall, the climate is similar to that of Bordeaux (France) during a dry vintage. Although the region produces just three percent of total Australian grape production, it produces over 20 percent of Australia’s premium wine market. The principal grape varieties are fairly evenly split between red and white, with vineyards producing single origin and blends of Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz (Syrah), Merlot, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, Chenin Blanc and Verdelho.

Over the years, we’ve been to a fair few vineyards in Margaret River and surrounds. Here are a few of our favourites, in no particular order:

Coward & Black Vineyards: Childhood friends Patrick Coward and Martin Black began establishing their namesake vineyard in 1998, but took over five years to slowly coax their dry-grown vines into a state fit for wine production. As a boutique vineyard, Coward & Black now produce Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Chardonnay, Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc for sale. Their first vintage won five medals at the Perth Royal Show before going on to earn national recognition. The Coward & Black cellar door is integrated with another of their businesses, the Margaret River Providore (see below) so it’s easy to stop in for a taste whilst also sampling the finest of Margaret River’s produce.

leafbarrelMcLeod Creek Wines: McLeod Creek is a family owned and run vineyard overseen by Erminio (Mario) Iannarelli, one of the most down-to-earth, generous winemakers you’ll ever meet. On the day we visited, he was out tending to his vines and vegetable patches in the midday sun. After sounding our car horn (as requested on the winery’s signage!) he emerged from the garden sporting a huge smile and a blue fisherman’s cap. Mario ushered us inside, then we drank and chatted like old friends before Aaron and I left with a dozen 2009 Cabernet Merlot cleanskins. We also bought a 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon after sharing a glass before Mario left for lunch (good man, Mario. We’ll be back).

Arlewood Estate: This single origin boutique vineyard was established in 2009 by an Italian migrant named Garry Gosatti. It’s predominantly run by Stuart Pym, a seasoned winemaker, alongside Russell Oates (who oversees the vineyard) and Terry Chellappah (who works in operations and marketing). On the day we visited Arlewood, the cellar door was being overseen by Natalie, a warm and knowledgeable host who was happy to tell us all about the winery, its wines, the resident horse (Al, photo below) and the owner’s new range of farm-pressed olive oil. A beautiful experience. We left with three bottles of Arlewood red.

albestFiretail Wines: This beautiful winery is nestled amongst the lush vines of Rosa Glen. On the day of our visit, Silkie hens scuttled across the footpaths, fluffy plumage waving in the wind as they pecked seeds from the grass. Once in the cellar door, our host was Jessica, one half of the winery’s ownership. Despite a rather busy afternoon, Jessica’s enthusiasm, passion and love for her product was obvious throughout the entire tasting. This winery makes rather delicious ‘Cane Cut’ Semillion and a fruit driven oak-matured 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon.

Sandalford Wines: I’ve mentioned Sandalford a few times on this blog before (such as in this post) with consistently positive praise. To reiterate, I’m a big fan of this Western Australian vineyard, which was established in the Margaret River in 1970 as a close runner up to Vasse Felix (1967). Sandalford is now owned and run by the Prendiville family, who make some of the most beautiful examples of south west Cabernet Sauvignon you can buy. Try their Prendiville Reserve series, Estate Reserve series (2009 in particular), the fresh, fruit-driven Element series and the delicious fortifieds. Fantastic value for some of the region’s best.

Wise Wines: Wise vineyard is a 60 hectare property situated near the picturesque coastline of Eagle Bay. Under the tutelage of Larry Cherubino, winemaker Jeremy Hodgson has created a wonderful catalogue of distinctive, fresh and vibrant wines such as the Sea Urchin series (bargain fresh, fruity whites), Eagle Bay varieties and one of my favourite value-for-money drops, Lot 80 Cabernet Sauvignon (2010 is currently on sale and will cellar well for the next 5-7 years). Definitely worth visiting.

leeuwintasting leeuwinmontLeeuwin Estate: Leeuwin Estate is a beautiful vineyard. It was established as one of the first wineries in Margaret River during the early 1970’s (third runner up to Vasse Felix and Sandalford). It’s now one of the most recognizable Australian producers of ‘Bordeaux blend’ Cabernet (moderately astringent during youth, with notes of blackcurrant, blackberry and plum. It mellows well with cellaring but can challenge the palate, for those more used to Californian or South Australian Cabernet). Both the cellar door and restaurant are jam-packed full of wine enthusiasts for most days of the year. For an introduction to Leeuwin wines, try the Art Series 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon (my absolute favourite Leeuwin wine) and the Siblings Shiraz (a fresher, early drinking type of Shiraz that is fantastic value for money).

leeuwincorkBrown Hill Estate: This family owned and run vineyard is situated about 12km from Margaret River town centre, in the picturesque village of Rosa Brook. Winemaker Nathan Bailey creates mellow, fruit-driven reds and fresh, vibrant whites in partnership with his father, Jim Bailey, who runs the cellar door. Brown Hill Estate ‘dry harvest’ their crop. This basically means that the vineyard isn’t irrigated, resulting in smaller, intensely flavoured fruit. Try their mellow, softly oaked 2008/2009 Bill Bailey Shiraz Cabernet and the 2009 Fimiston Reserve Shiraz. Aaron and I also liked the 2008 Perseverance Cabernet Merlot; partly due to Jim Bailey’s tasting comment: “What does a great marriage need after five years? Perseverance. This wine is a tribute to that”. Ah, I love winemakers.

brownhillVasse Felix: The beautiful Vasse Felix vineyard has the honour of being the first established in the Margaret River region, planted by Dr Tom Cullity and his team in 1967. The vineyard is now owned by the Holmes à Court family, most notably Janet Holmes à Court, who manages a notable art gallery on site. The winery restaurant is headed by Executive Chef Aaron Carr and has received rave reviews for its innovative seasonal menus. Winemaking is led by chief winemaker Virginia Willcock, and some of my favourites include the 2010 Heytesbury (a Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Petit Verdot blend) and the dry harvested 2010 Shiraz. Deliciously fruit driven and spicy, with hints of oak.

The Berry Farm: It was a pleasant surprise to discover that The Berry Farm produces sticky fortifieds, small batch ports and fruit driven sparkling wines. Everything we sampled at the friendly cellar door was delicious, in particular the (ridiculously good) syrupy Muscat, the No.1 Dark Plum Port, No.6 Apple Vanilla Port and the Strawberry Sparkling. As expected, most of the fortified wines from The Berry Farm are rather sweet, however the oak barrel maturation process has delivered a beautiful, full flavoured complexity that surpasses many other sticky fortified wines. We left with a bottle of No.6 and some sticky hazelnut (noisette) liqueur… the latter of which knocks Frangelico for six.

carriagesmontBlackwood Meadery: This unique establishment is based in Karridale, around 40 minutes from the Margaret River town centre. As a family run business, Horst and Alex Bernhagen (apiarists and meadmakers) combine the latest wine making techniques with historical recipes to create unique mead, or wine made from fermented honey rather than fruit. Horst’s wife Martha runs the cellar door in a warm and friendly manner, conveying an honest passion for her family’s products. We sampled Honey Mead Wine 2002 (dry, medium and sweet), the Traditional Honey Mead Liqueur 2003, the syrupy Blackberry Nip and a Honey Boysenberry Liqueur. All of the Meadery’s products are beautifully unique, but rather on the sweet side (if you love syrupy caramel and fruit flavours you’d be in heaven). The Meadery also produces a beer-style Honey Mead Brew that tastes intriguingly similar to sweet bubbly champagne. Blackwood’s products have recently been uploaded for online sales via Margaret River 1st (also check out their facebook page for cellar door information). Worth the trip.

*Note: As you’re probably aware by now, both Aaron and I are both red wine, port and liqueur drinkers; in particular, spicy, woody Shiraz, aged port and mellow, fruit-driven Cabernet Sauvignon. Consequently, these tasting notes are definitely written for red wine drinkers. For a more objective overview of Australian wines including summer whites and blends, I’d recommend that you visit the wonderful James Halliday’s Australian Wine Companion. He knows his stuff. 

coffeegood

mecoffeeCoffee:

Aaron and I are very, very selective when it comes to coffee. In fact, I’d rather abstain altogether than drink a bad, bitter cup (Aaron is a little more tolerant but drinks with a grimace). Bear this information in mind when I say that the beanie-clad baristas at the Margaret River Bakery are pretty darn amazing. The house-ground, medium bodied, soft and aromatic coffee was consistent throughout the weekend… we drank about six huge mugs over three days and none required sugar (perfect, right down to the antique collectable spoons).

The Bakery food is also fresh and generous in terms of both quality and flavour. This is their vegetarian breakfast, piled high with balsamic field mushrooms, plenty of spinach and soft scrambled eggs atop organic seeded toast.

mushybrekkyAmazing, as was their home baked organic fruit bread: dense, chewy and flavoursome, encrusted with crunchy sesame seeds and speckled with plump vine fruit. Slathered with butter and The Berry Farm jam, it was my version of fruit toast heaven.

fruittoast

seatsEats:

Aaron and I often eat at ‘home’ during cottage holidays, and this trip wasn’t much different. We ate local bread, tender Angus beef steaks, Margaret River Dairy cheese and salad for two nights in (with some local boutique wines, of course) before splashing out on a single night at the Muster Bar & Grill (the sister restaurant to Must Wine Bar in the metropolitan suburb of Highgate, Western Australia).

Both Must and Muster are owned by Russell Blaikie, a Margaret River raised, award-winning chef who has worked under London-based Anton Mosimann and at the two-Michelin-starred Terrace Restaurant at the Dorchester Hotel. Muster has a fantastic wine list and a hearty, satisfying menu of revamped grill favourites such as pork ribs, steaks and hamburgers.

I happily grazed on sticky pork ribs with hand-cut potatoes, sour cream and a fresh rocket salad. Aaron had an Arkady lamb shank, fall-off-the-bone tender, with Moroccan pearl cous cous, preserved lemon and fresh greens. So, so good. Definitely recommended (they even have vegan options, which is rare in an Australian grill restaurant).

Back to the Bakery. Everything at this quirky little cafe is fresh, homemade and beautiful. My first breakfast at this establishment included home-baked granola packed with macadamia nuts, seeds and oats, topped off with thick organic yoghurt and a raspberry compote.

bakerymontStrangely, Aaron the carnivore actually went for a vegetarian breakfast on both of our visits to the Bakery. On the second occasion, he chose a fresh tomato salsa with free-range fried eggs, chunks of salty herbed feta, fresh avocado and sourdough bread. It was delicious (yes, I stole some); ripe, soft tomatoes dressed in red wine vinegar with sea salt, herbs, Spanish onion and a slick of extra virgin olive oil. Simple, honest goodness atop the Bakery’s divine sourdough bread.

tomsalsaeggWhilst visiting caves along the spine of the Leeuwin Naturaliste Ridge, we also stopped at the Lake Cave Tea Rooms, 20 minutes drive from Margaret River town centre. This place was promising in its location and external facade, but the internal ambience was sadly empty, characterless and awkward.

As for the food, it was expensive, limited and average. Think hot dogs with manufactured red frankfurts, toasted cheese sandwiches, fried fish and chips and packet potato wedges. Now, don’t get me wrong… I enjoy hot chips and tomato sauce on occasion. However, in consideration of price ($8 for a frankfurt in a bun) and time (25+ minutes to arrive, with only five hungry people in the cafe) I was more than a little dissatisfied.

I’m awarding extra points for the friendly, warm and genuine service. But despite the lovely people, this cafe gets a thumbs down from me.

lakecavetuckerNow for the fun part: let’s move on to the amazing array of farm cafes, organic food stores, providores and markets in the Margaret River region. With homemade pickles, chutneys, jams, wood fired organic bread, cheeses, chocolates, organic meats and olive oils on hand, it’s a food lover’s paradise (particularly if you’re into locally grown, sustainable, pesticide-free organic produce. Locavores unite!).

tasteShops and Markets:

Margaret River Gourmet Meats: This butcher shop is staffed by some of the friendliest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting (I think there’s something in the country air; everyone seems nicer 200+km out of the city). Every time we’ve visited the south west, we’ve visited this shop to stock up on fresh, local hormone-free meat, organic free-range chicken, Arkady lamb and locally caught fish. The butchers have always been happy to cut steaks to our exact specifications, which is great if you’re traveling with a group of insatiable carnivores like I usually do. This place dispenses traditional quality with a smile.

Margaret River Bakery: Now, I think I’ve said enough about this little bakery already but if you’re in the mood for baked delights, this is your one-stop shop. Just think pastries, cakes, muffins, croissants, macarons, organic seeded loaves… pretty much anything your stomach or heart could dream up. Eat in or take away, this place is baked and kneaded bliss.

The Berry Farm: Nestled in the beautiful Rosa Glen Valley, this wonderful farm is a treasure trove of locally made preserves, jams, dressings, vinegars, ciders, fruit wines, sparkling wines, liqueurs and fortifieds. One visit and I was in love with… well, everything. The preserves and sticky fortified wines in particular.  As abovestated, we squirreled home a bottle of smooth, luscious Apple and Vanilla Port (No.6), hazelnut liqueur and various chutneys. The Farm also has a fantastic cottage cafe on site, check out reviews here.

provmontMargaret River Providore: The Providore is hands-down my favourite food store in Margaret River. Incorporating Coward & Black vineyards, an organic olive grove, a fruit orchard and vegetable gardens, the dedicated team at Providore create a spectacular array of home made jams, preserves, olive oils sauces, dressings, spice mixes, wines, liqueurs and desserts on a daily basis. Those of you who admire Maggie Beer will be aware of the benefits of verjuice. The team at Margaret River make both verjuice and vino cotto on-site alongside tapenade and preserved mustard fruits. The team harvest and press their own estate grown olive oil and make fresh egg pasta, cheese condiments and aged vinegars. Complimentary tastings are offered on site. Heaven.

beetsauceMargaret River Dairy Company: Aaron and I have been big fans of this locally established, locally run (but sadly, no longer locally owned as Manassen Foods was acquired by a Chinese company in 2011) cheese company for many years. They make some of the most delicious, premium quality cheeses and yoghurts I’ve ever tasted. Honest. And I am a big consumer of cheese. From silky smooth soft cheeses such as Camembert and Brie to distinctive port-infused or smoked Cheddar, smooth style feta, baked ricotta and creamy pot set yoghurt, this company is a dairy-lover’s paradise.

mrcheeseThe Candy Cow: This wonderful candy store specialises in handmade gourmet fudge in what seems like a hundred different flavours, ranging from sweet lime to chilli chocolate, rum and raisin, coconut and (the most popular) bubblegum. If you take a look at the website, you’ll see a photo of the store’s owner… one of the loveliest, most generous men you’ll ever meet. Pop in and say hello.

Margaret River Chocolate Company: This south west chocolate company was established in 1999 and has since grown to incorporate two factories (in Margaret River and the Swan Valley) and a Perth city ‘concept store’. Alongside chocolate bars, chocolate coated delights (including dried plums and apricots), hand made truffles, novelty chocolates and chocolate sauces, each site also incorporates a ‘chocolate cafe’ (with cakes, sundaes, fondues and more) and the all-important free tasting.

goats

margsoftchocThe Farm House: David Hohnen has farmed Wiltshire sheep and Tamworth pigs in Margaret River since 2004. He opened The Farm House in 2010 as a business dedicated to traditional farming and butchery techniques. General Manager Matt Gilray has a background in both cooking and butchery. He’s readily contactable to ensure that chefs and cooks alike can purchase perfect Arkady lamb, natural grass-fed pork, smallgoods and free-range chicken, cut or smoked to specifications. The Farm House sells products cellar door at the premises of McHenry Hohnen Vitners, a wine producing business co-owned and run by David and his brother-in-law, Murray McHenry (review their online wine catalogue here) in partnership with winemaker Ryan Walsh.

Margaret River Farmers Market: If you don’t have time to drive around to many of Margaret River’s independent producers, just take a Saturday morning stroll around the Margaret River Farmers Market on the Old Hospital site (corner of Tunbridge and Farrelly streets, town centre). This fantastic market hosts vendors from all around the region, selling everything from Leeuwin grass fed beef to Merri Bee organic honey, Mika muesli, Tapalinga homestead, Bahen & Co chocolate, Forest Grove olive farm and many, many more. Take a look at the market website for a full list of vendors. Definitely worth a look when you’re in the region.

rearviewSo, that’s it. We’ve reached the end of my personal foodie tour of Western Australia’s beautiful Margaret River region.

I can’t speak highly enough of this beautiful town, both as a holiday destination and a weekend escape. Whatever time of year you visit, there will always be plenty to discover in terms of food, wine, entertainment, activities, nature and scenery.

This shortlist contains most of my favourite food and wine destinations in Margaret River, however I’m aware that it’s just the beginning of what’s available for visitors to experience in the south west area. If you’re a local Western Australian, please let me know if I’ve missed anything you recommend from the list above. I’d love this to be a collaborative, evolving post as time passes; both as a personal reference guide and as a resource for visitors heading to Western Australia’s south west coast. Thanks, as always, for reading.

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azniVideo Links:

Margaret River Gourmet Escape 2012

Surfaid Margaret River 2013

Leeuwin Estate, Margaret River

Bahen & Co, Margaret River

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