The 8th-17th of April is Orange F.O.O.D (Food of Orange District) Week. The foodie festival coincides with the onset of crisp, golden autumnal foliage and the bountiful harvest season. This year also happens to be the 25th anniversary, making it the oldest regional food festival in Australia. I Ate My Way Through contributor Eddie Hart visited the region for a taster of what to expect this April.
After the gold rush boom of the 19th century, the once thriving mining town of Orange was known as little more than a stop between Dubbo and Bathurst. Dubbo had the zoo and Bathurst had the racetracks. For Orange, the golden era was over. The gold rush was in the distant past, and the town is to this day largely unknown as the birthplace of nationally treasured poet, Banjo Patterson. Orange was yet to have its own modern renaissance. It needed something special to put it’s name on the map. Some sort of ‘eureka’ moment. Little did the locals realise that the answer lay right under their feet.
The steep, undulating hills surrounding Mt Canobolas (a once active volcano) possess a fortuitous combination of geographical factors; volcanic materials produced fertile soil and high elevation (around 600+ m) resulted in a cool climate, reliable rainfall and ample sunshine. These particular agricultural advantages have yielded an abundance of handsome produce, and the unique terroir has shaped a distinctive wine region.Orange’s reputation as a regional food and wine destination has swiftly grown over the last fifteen years. Creative and resourceful locals have harnessed the natural bounty of the land. Due to the hard yakka of chefs, providores, restaurateurs and winemakers, Orange is now widely referred to as the ‘Food basket of NSW’. It’s not only on the map, but it’s scored itself a title.
A mere 3 ½ hour drive from Sydney, it’s an easy getaway, and there’s no better time to feast on the pastoral spoils than Orange F.O.O.D Week. The onset of the harvest is the busiest time on the calendar for farmers and one of the most scenic for the 15,000+ attendees. It’s a glorious occasion to experience the gastronomic and vinicultural offerings of the region. There’s the colourful autumn foliage and abundance of the natural produce such as apples, pears, table grapes, figs, hazelnuts, chestnuts and plums.
Meet hospitable regional farmers, indulge in the gourmet cuisine and swill away more cool-climate wines than you’ll be able to remember. Whilst you’re in town you might as well marvel at the quaint heritage setting and spectacular countryside.
Around the tiny gold rush era village of Millthorpe, the name Tony Worland can be heard on everybody’s lips. His one-hatted restaurant Tonic is frequently credited with putting the gastronomic spotlight on the region. Worland’s expert use of home-grown produce has won him culinary acclaim. He is a humble, laid-back bloke who grins broadly with boyish charm as he reminisces about opening Tonic along the sleepy main street of Millthorpe in 2003.
He recalls that when he was preparing to open his fancy restaurant, old-timer locals would yell out out “You’re bloody mad” as they ambled past the shiny new frontage. Yet, within the decade, artisanal cafes, restaurants, bakeries, providores and cellar doors followed suit.
Tim and Sophie Hansen from Mandagery Creek Venison Farm are another example of food and produce innovators in the district. The couple are passionate about farming free-ranged, pasture-fed venison. Although common in Europe, it’s a little left of field in the Australian meat market.
The ‘paddock to plate’ ethos is beautifully illustrated in the monthly farm lunches hosted at Mandagery Creek that feature dishes made using their tender venison.You may have come across Sophie’s blog Local is Lovely that documents the daily delights of their enviable country lifestyle.
The utterly idyllic homestead with red deer roaming freely over the rolling, orange-tinged countryside is the epitome of an Australian pastoral dream. Now, imagine sitting down to a feast along a rustic communal table, having a yarn with friendly farm folk whilst tucking into a homespun meal and lingering over top-notch wines. That’s country hospitality.
The Agrestic Grocer, Orange’s answer to the Grounds of Alexandria, opened in 2013. With produce sold straight from the farm and a rustic cafe set in a sprawling tin-roofed shed in rural New South Wales – it’s the real deal. The roaring trade is run by two enthusiastic couples; Lucas and Danielle Martin and Beau and Katie Hancock.
They emphasise wholesome fare and celebrate the produce grown and made on their own doorstep. It’s worth ordering something from the trendy menu and savouring the goodness of that true ‘farm to table’ fare.
Wandering around the premises and filling your basket with goodies is the next best thing to plucking them off the tree yourself.Premium goods from the local community are lovingly showcased in one place – serving fresh bread and pastry from Rise Artisan Bakery, cheese sourced from Second Mouse Cheese Company, coffee beans from Orange Roasting Co, Badlands Brewery ale, and honey, organic fruit and veggies from The Farm Gate, friends and neighbours. It’s not surprising The Agrestic Grocer is serving as the HQ for Orange F.O.O.D Week.
This collaborative spirit, cooperative approach and experimental attitude to produce shines through in the region and is also evident in the tight-knit community of winemakers. Many of the vineyards are family owned, so a lot of love goes into the winemaking process.Grapes have been grown in the region since the 19th Century, with early German settlers and then Italian Immigrants in the 1940s making wine for their families. This small-scale wine operation (little more than three vineyards) markedly expanded in the 1990s as more winemakers and viticulturists took notice of the unique district.
Orange has officially been a wine region for twenty years, and now there are over eighty vineyards making some of Australia’s best wine. The region is famous for it’s whites– think fruity chardonnay, French style Sauvignon Blanc, and take note, the classic Riesling is having its moment. The red varieties tend to be quite light, with a focus on the celebrated Shiraz and complex Cabaret Sauvignon. As the wine community continues to grow, so does experimentation in both the winemaking process and expanding variety of grapes. Orange winemakers are surprising us with exquisite Zinfandel, Sangiovese, Tempranillo and Gewürztraminer.
International award-winning Philip Shaw is one of the most recognised winemakers in the region. Twenty years ago, when he was looking for the perfect plot of land to set up a vineyard he accidentally happened upon Orange whilst flying over the region.
The 47 km2 of land was soon to become his immaculate Koomooloo vineyard, one of the highest altitude vineyards in the country.Philip Shaw Wines are one of Australia’s leading winemakers and Shaw’s elegant wines are exclusively sourced from Koomooloo.
It’s certainly worth dropping in to their newly opened bluestone cellar door to taste their quality wines and enjoy the stellar views.
On a smaller scale, the grape grower from Slow Wine Co., Terrey Johnson, has a boutique approach to crafting fine wines. It’s about handpicking pristine grapes, gentle pressing, using wild yeast and a slow approach to winemaking in order to nurture the flavours.
They use minimal additives and preservatives in the wine. Once you’ve tried these boutique drops, you’ll think twice about knocking back sulphur-laden wines to blame for those brutal next-day hangovers.
Orange F.O.O.D Week wouldn’t quite be the same without James Sweetapple – winemaker at Cargo Road Wines and F.O.O.D Week President. His enthusiastic adoption of a holistic farming philosophy has informed his nineteen years of wine-growing experience.
Just ask him and he’ll happily explain the intricacies of how sheep and dung beetles can increase the quality of the soil, how to grow grapes without the use of pesticides and make wine sustainably. If Cargo Road’s signature red – the rare Zinfandel – is anything to go by, he is doing something very right.
Sweetapple is also founding ‘father of FORAGE’, one of food weeks most anticipated events. FORAGE is a whimsical walking degustation with a ‘slow food’ ethos, inspired by an authentic Northern Italian food festival ‘Mangialonga’ (‘slow food’) that he and his wife stumbled upon on their travels through Piedmont.
Starting at the beautiful Balmoral Vineyard, punters will wander 3.6 kilometres across Koomooloo vineyard and relish commanding views from Mt Canobolas. All the while meandering through vineyards, picking sweet grapes straight from the vine and crisp apples from the orchard. The group will be stopping every 500m or so for wine tastings and gourmet plates made lovingly by local producers. Sorry folks – the signature event sold out in less than one hour this year. You’ll simply have to put it in the dairy for 2017.
Never mind though, there are plenty of other tantalising activities on offer; from cider-making classes, a sourdough workshop, truffle hunting and how to make desserts like a domestic goddess. Here are our list of the top picks for Orange F.O.O.D Week 2016. You can find the festival program at http://orangefoodweek.com.au/
IAMWT PICKS FOR F.O.O.D WEEK
A series of speciality talks and demonstrations from creative, local producers hosted at The Agrestic Grocer. Learn about holistic farming, the current harvest, brewing beer, beekeeping, artisanal chocolate making, how to whip-up an Italian tiramisu and the art of preserving fruit with a retro twist.
When: Open daily (except Saturdays) 8-15th April
Where: The Agrestic Grocer. 426 Mitchell Hwy (Molong Road), Orange
With over 50 stalls you can sample the food of the Orange Region, sip away at stellar cold-climate wines, socialise at communal dining tables and dance to live music on a beautiful autumnal evening – it’s no surprise this is a firm festival favourite.
When: 5.3Opm – 8.30pm 8th April
Where: McNamara St, Orange
Cost: Gold coin donation
Pop up in the Paddock
‘Paddock to plate’ event with five courses of local produce and, highlighting venison from Mandagery Creek as a tender, red-meat alternative. A gorgeous pastoral setting with one long table out in the farm. With Sophie Hansen from Local is Lovely, it’s sure to be a memorable, homespun event.
When: 12.30pm 10th April
Where: Mandagery Creek Venison. Greening Lane, Lidster via Orange
The 100 Mile Dinner
This iconic event set on the village green celebrates food and wine from Bathurst, Cowra, Molong, Mudgee and Orange. Bring your appetite to this communal dining experience that celebrates agrarian delights and viticulture under the sparkling canopy of the starry night sky. City slickers will be in awe sitting under those stars that you just don’t get to see in the big smoke.
When: 11th April
Where: Meet Orange Civic Theatre, 135 Byng St @6pm for 6.30pm start
Cost: $105pp (Extra $20 for bus)
Just the Tonic
A three-course meal with local wine at one of the regions most renowned restaurants. Chef Tony Worland behind the one-hatted Tonic, masterfully creates contemporary dishes inspired by locally grown and seasonal produce.
When: 7pm 11th April
Where: Tonic Restaurant. 30 Victoria Street, Millthorpe
The Moveable Feast
Have you ever wanted to have canapés at one location, then move along to a new setting for mains and finish off with dessert in completely different surrounds? Then The Moveable Feast is the event for you – begin with gorgeous canapés from The Agrestic Grocer, enjoy hearty main course at the homely Mandagery Creek Venison Farm Kitchen and end the evening with a scrumptious dessert at The Farm Gate Orchard. Expect generous servings of local wine and time to tour each farm between courses.
When: 11am-4.30pm 13th April
Where: The Agrestic Grocer. 426 Mitchell Hwy (Molong Rd), Orange
Sunset Tour and Tastes @ CARGO ROAD
Tour the beautiful vineyard, taste the grapes, ferments and wines whilst viewing the golden sunset.
When: 5.30-7pm 14th April
Where: Cargo Road Winery. 1064 Cargo Road, Orange
The Powder Keg at Agrestic
Cocktail guru Grant Collins is teaming up with chef foraging expert Elijah Holland (Noma, Aria, Jonah’s) for a foraged degustation and next-level cocktails.
When: 7pm 15th April
Where: The Agrestic Grocer. 426 Mitchell Hwy (Molong Rd), Orange
Sunday Producers Brunch and Market
Under the shade of the trees along Summer Street, browse the market stalls brimming with fresh food, chat with friendly producers and watch cooking demonstrations by local chefs. Celebrate the end of the festival by picking up some edible goodies to bring the spoils of Orange home with you.
When: 8.30-11am 17th April
Where: Summer Street, Orange
Cost: Free entry
I Ate My Way Through visited Orange as guests of Destination NSW and Taste Orange.