The allure of from-the-farm produce is irresistible. More bakers are incorporating it, and more customers want it. We take a look at the artisanal rise of province-based food in Australia and visit a handful of suppliers making in-roads in the baking industry.
Sewing and reaping have always had its benefits: the food is fresh, sustainable and better for the local economy. It’s also got that something special, the ‘made with love’ factor that sells an enchanting story.
Australia has a long history of quality artisan producers. Celebrating the farm-to-plate ideology, however, is only a recent phenomenon, born out of consumer affluence and metropolitan living.
To fully appreciate Australia’s love affair with boutique food producers, let’s take a step back in time to a world before sushi trains, pizza joints, and supermarkets.
Australia’s first people were mainly hunter-gatherers, employing an array of light weight techniques depending on habitat, rather than farming crops and domesticating animals in the way the Europeans went on to do.
Stores of rum and beer, along with grapevine cuttings for wine, coffee plants, and ginger, were unloaded in 1788 with the First Fleet and, by the 1820s, grazing lands were producing meat and flour.
The influx of migrants from Europe and North America during the gold rushes of the 1850s spurred the popularity of coffee and street vendors who typically sold pies and Cornish pasties. The new arrivals also developed a taste for Chinese food with fresh green vegetables available in Chinese towns, especially those in port cities artisanal rise.
From the 1880s, grand ornate coffee palaces offered more alternative social venues to the alcohol-fuelled atmosphere of pubs. Coffee lounges became part of the modern jazz culture of the 1920s and 30s, and expanded with the influx of North American servicemen and European migrants in the ’40s.
At the time of Federation in 1901, a change in eating reflected new values. Outdoor picnics were enthusiastically adopted, and the barbecue was born. With it, came a demand for fresh meat: mutton, beef, and lamb.
Innovations based on new ingredients soon created new recipes. Desserts, cakes, and biscuits, including pavlovas, lamingtons, and ginger biscuits, were swished down with a cup of tea. Phrases like a ‘billy of tea’, and later additions such as Anzac biscuits and Vegemite, were added to the vocabulary.
At the end of the Second World War (1939-45), there was another influx of migrants, which brought yet another round of new flavors including spices, vegetables, and grains. A willingness to experiment and discover new tastes transformed Australian cooking, which quickly began to be defined by origin such as Mediterranean, Asian, Indian and African.
The commercial revolution of the 1950s brought wealth not before seen in Australia and, with it, a surge in processed foods marketed as quick and convenient ways to feed the family. Sliced, diced and neatly packaged food is still embraced to this day, however, health trends in the 1980s laid the foundations for a more nutritionally aware population.
After decades of eating refined foods, artisanal rise we now have more health- and environment-conscious populous that is increasingly demanding fresh food. Importantly, the masses now care where their food comes from, and it’s opening up huge possibilities for small artisan producers that would once have had a limited consumer base.
In short, artisans are back and they’re here to stay.
King Valley Dairy’s main product is small-batch, cultured butter made using age-old churning techniques. Specifically, they use a special blend of lactic acid-producing cultures to ferment the cream overnight, at a low temperature, using fresh cream from local dairy cows. Why go to the extra effort? Because this creates a unique flavor and a better quality product. The Victorian business is also incredibly focused on sustainable production. Working with neighboring dairy farmers who provide raw milk and manure for the gardens, it operates on a no-waste production system – impressive!
Beechworth Honey reinvests a great deal of its time and money into raising awareness about bees, an important element of Australian ecology that’s under threat. Operating for four generations, the Beechworth information center educates hundreds of thousands of visitors each year, spreading the word that honeybees pollinate two-thirds of Australia’s agricultural produce. They’ve also planted thousands of trees to improve biodiversity. While honey is the drawcard, it’s not all the business offers. Honey Nougat, lip balms, candles, beauty products, and even honey mead is on sale.
Byron Bay is a renowned fresh food hub where locals are passionate about ethically sourced and sustainable food. Nestled in the Northern New South Wales hinterland, the Kahawa Estate Coffee plantation operates on fertile, red volcanic soil, surrounded by sub-tropical rainforest. Kahawa’s coffee is grown free of pesticides using environmentally friendly practices that promote ecosystem health. The team tends to the beans year ’round, monitoring the maturing cherries, harvesting the crop, processing the crop on-farm and storing the product in climate-controlled facilities.
Kindred Organics is one of Australia’s few quinoa producers. Founders Lauran and Henriette say organic farming is not easy, but it’s a challenging and interesting way of farming. For a year and a half, they grow grass with clover on their paddocks, which puts fertility back into the soil – the same farming principle that has been used for centuries.
There aren’t a lot of vanilla producers in Australia; our climate simply doesn’t allow it. Not surprisingly, sustainability is paramount to Broken Nose Vanilla. The Tropical North Queensland plantation uses no sprays or artificial fertilizers and pollinates its crop by hand. Once the vanilla pods are ready, they are processed into a vanilla extract or paste, or added to other locally sourced ingredients.
Many artisan producers share the goal of creating a pure product, but few food groups lend themselves to as much purity as salt. The Lake Deborah Australian Lake Salt team harvests in the natural cycle of the lake. Rainfall in the winter months dissolves some of the crust of the lake, lifting the water table level and bringing old salt to the surface of the lake in the form of brine. The sun evaporates the brine leaving a crust of crystals on the surface. Once collected, it’s screened and kiln-dried. That’s it!
Jannei Goat Dairy was founded in 1995 when a couple started producing raw goats milk for sale to the Sydney market under the NSW Quality Goats Milk Scheme. Throughout the years, the business has grown to produce more than 11 artisan goat cheeses. Jannie cheeses are as natural as they can be, made from 100 percent goats milk with a vegetable-based rennet. If you’re headed out to Mudgee or staying in the Blue Mountains, artisanal rise, Janette and Neil welcome visitors with open arms and free cheese tasting.
Happy Fruit is aptly named. Using only the fresh Australian-grown produce, stone fruit, figs and grapes are dried using a traditional Turkish method, ensuring a 100 percent chemical-free process. The fruit often looks darker than commercial versions, but that’s because it retains its true natural flavor. Happy Fruit calls Red Cliffs home, a small rural town around 16km from Mildura wine country.
Five minutes with a dairy farmer
Ian Campbell, Barambah Organics
What’s barambah’s background?
Jane [Campbell, Ian’s wife and co-owner of Barambah Organics] and I began Barambah Organics in 2002. We took over the management of the family property in 1999, converting the farm to certified organic status and carrying on the tradition of dairy farming in the Campbell family since 1912. We have made many changes to the way the family have traditionally farmed. We went from dry land farming to irrigated country and that’s made a difference to our outlook.
What is your own background?
I studied rural science at university and also human nutrition afterwards in England. I worked as an animal nutritionist for a couple of large corporations in Australia and in the UK and South America. I could see the best farming practice was to do it organically and in a sustainable way and that soil science and animal welfare was key to high quality dairy products.
How educated are Australians about the dairy industry?
The recent media attention on the dairy industry was much needed. The industry is really tough work and unrelenting. artisanal rise to hear farmers who supply one of the large processors were being asked to make retrospective payments back to that processor was truly heart breaking. We do not want the small- and medium-sized dairy farmers to exit the industry and large corporations to buy up their farms.
What is the best thing about your job?
Seeing a project being artisanal rise, like a high yielding corn crop being harvested; all the planning and worrying that goes into preparing the soil and planting the seed at the right time of the year. There is a lot of science going on and when you get a near perfect result, that is like winning Champion Dairy Product of the Year.