New England is a rural, inland area of northern New South Wales covering approximately 98,600 square kilometers, and incorporates the major towns of Tamworth and Tenterfield, Moree and Armidale. A large diverse region, New England economy relies heavily on the industries of mining and agriculture - predominantly cattle and sheep, cotton and wheat. While Armidale is noted for the University of New England, Tamworth is Australia’s undisputed home of country music.
We like two kinds of music: Country & Western
After setting out from Sydney at an ungodly hour early one Sunday morning in April, Roy and Amir find themselves at the golden guitar in Tamworth, rendezvous point for the New England discovery tour. Here, they are greeted by the affable Kim Trieste-Hastings, who works tirelessly to promote New England on several levels, including (but not limited to) food and wine via a collective of local producers. Kim is instantly switched-on to the needs of Roy and Amir, and takes them first to a coffee shop for a much needed hit of caffeine. Then its off to the first producer for the day. Kitty Crawford Estate at Ironbark Creek is located just outside Tamworth. The farm, run by Marlene and Graeme, stocks a remarkably diverse collection of beasts including Baby Doll, Dorper and Damara sheep, Dexter miniature Irish Cattle as well as 30 head of Black Water Buffalo. Along with the livestock, there is an olive grove and vineyard, which produces chemical-free grapes for three wine labels; Kitty Crawford Estate, Lazy Poet and Ironbark Creek.
Ironbark Creek stocks Graeme and Marlene’s chain of steakhouses - sSs BBQ Barns, their primary concern being the ability to have complete control over their product ‘from the ground up’. The property itself is also open for cellar door tastings, and is equipped to host functions, as well as concerts of local and visiting music artists.
While at the property, Roy and Amir sampled some of Marlene and Graeme’s produce, including their fantastic olives, preserved using only salt, a salami made using meat solely from the Dexter Irish miniature breed of cattle, and a variety of wines including a Semillon Sauvignon Blanc, Verdello, Semillon, Cabernet Sauvignon and a Shiraz Viognier. Marlene and Graeme’s hospitality and passion were a wonderful introduction to the New England region, and Kim had some difficulty in shepherding the Owl House boys away and on to the next destination for the day.
The best milk ever
Peel River Milk is a small dairy of Jersey Cows run by Malcolm Rose at Woolomin, south east of Tamworth. Malcolm is dedicated to his cows, and to extracting only the finest milk from them. To this end, they are fed primarily on the rich pasture of the Peel Valley, and the final product is treated with the utmost respect - free from permeates, stabilisers and other non-milk additives. Peel River Milk is available non-homogenised under the ‘gold-top’ label.
Malcom enthuses about the milk from his gentle Jersey Cows - it is high in butterfat and protein, with a higher casein value. He currently milks 106 cows twice a day, and along with his milk products, he also supplies milk to Hunter Belle Cheese in the Upper Hunter Valley. Peel Valley Milk is available in Sydney at a number of Farmer’s Markets, including Frenchs Forest Markets.
A rainbow on the mountain
After a brief hamburger stop at the Woolomin General Store, Kim leads the way to Arc-En-Ciel Trout Farm at Hanging Rock. The origins of the farm extend back 30 years to the 1980’s, when the Bishop family owned the property and decided to diversify away from cattle and sheep, which at the time were not proving profitable. Their highly creative solution involved working with the strengths of their particular location - the farm itself is nestled in a mountainous area of the Great Dividing Range, at an elevation of 1200m, and features a spring-fed catchment that extends up to the top of the ridge. After a period of experimentation with 2000 hatchlings from the L P Dutton Trout Hatchery which proved successful, the Bishops decided to set up the farm to cater for commercial production. Russell and Meg Sydenham purchased the farm 7 years ago in 2006, and together with their son Roger now manage Arc-En-Ciel. Distribution is mostly within NSW, with 45% to Sydney, and the remainder supplied locally and to the Hunter Valley. Russell takes Roy and Amir on a tour of the tanks to show them the stages of growth. While the Sydnenhams do not breed the trout, they do hatch them. Russell explains that trout only hatch once a year in July. It takes 12-18 months to bring them to table size. The fish are fed on commercially produced feed from Queensland, which is high in protein and fish oils. Much of the work deals with tweaking the water conditions - specifically the oxygen levels - so that it is just right for the fish in the tanks. Fish are harvested using humane methods, which makes for firm-fleshed, fine-textured fish.
Arc-En-Ciel supplies 10% of NSW trout, producing around 15-16 tonnes per year. It is available in Sydney from the Norton St Grocer group and Parisi's of Dover Rd Rose Bay. The pristine environment of the 500 acre farm - particularly the spring-fed, gravity-operated water source, which makes for very low energy costs - ensures that Arc-En-Ciel is a great example of low-impact food production. The tour of the trout farm concluded, the temperature high up on the Divide has dropped dramatically, foretelling the chilly nights at this altitude.
Last stop on a long day
Kim then leads the way through miles of plantation pine forests to Nowendoc, and the final destination for today’s food adventure - New England Cheese. Arriving just on dusk, Leah and John Christiansen’s heard of goats are reduced to bleats in the darkness. Inside the farm-gate Roy and Amir are treated to an astonishing array of products that the former food technologists produce on what was intended to be their ‘retirement’ farm. Along with many kinds of dairy products from Jersey cows and goats, including milk, buttermilk, butter, yoghurt, chevre and cream, goats milk ice-cream and pecorino, the farm gate also sells goat meat as well as goat meat pies, not to mention Leah’s genuinely delicious gluten-free bread. Says Leah; ‘for our retirement, we intended to milk 12 goats’. Instead, they have a contract with Harris Farm to supply for their private label product range. With the boot of the car full of the day’s discoveries, Roy and Amir bid farewell to Kim and depart New England Cheese down Thunderbolt’s Way heading for Sydney, with plans for great dishes in their heads, and Slim Dusty on the radio.