160km north of Sydney, Maitland is the gateway to the Lower Hunter Valley, an area renowned for its wine production, most notably its famed Semillons. To Roy and Amir’s delight there is plenty else on offer too.
First stop is Blackbird Artisan Bakery, the newly established eatery located in the former warden’s cafeteria at Maitland Gaol. Blackbird is the fruition of Carolyn Scott’s love of baking and her vision to work in a very traditional way, making everything from scratch. What results is a marvelous product selection with excellent specials on offer that change frequently — for example, on any given day you might get to sample cassonade or seeded rye and rosemary bread, perhaps with confit garlic or bombolones.
Roy and Amir commenced their fact-finding mission with Carolyn’s incredibly light, fluffy scones, accompanied by burnt peach jam and freshly whipped cream. Next, Carolyn presented a freshly-baked fruit and nut loaf, followed by a simple, wonderful sourdough paired with house-made dukkah and olive oil.
Carolyn is a busy and talented woman — she and her husband Charlie Scott also own and run Redgate Farm, where they rear free-range fowl and are renowned for their colossal ‘Jurassic Quail’. Charlie has experimented with all manner of domestic birds, including pheasant, guinea-fowl, squab, emu, partridge, ducks and geese. But he has found greatest success with quail: ideal because they reproduce in just 10 weeks. Charlie has 30 years’ experience with the selective breeding of quails, and believes that he produces the heaviest table quail sold on the market.
Roy and Amir’s tour of Redgate was a fascinating overview of the running of a 4th generation, chemical-free, free-range farm. Charlie produces around 1,200 quails for market every Friday. Each quail averages 350g in weight, while his partridges average 480g. The Owl House team wanted samples to test out recipe ideas. Here’s some snaps of the glorious produce they saw:
Charlie then took Roy and Amir to have a look at Albion Park, a sprawling estate owned by nature lovers Philip and Sandy Redman. The Redmans have worked this 15 acre property for the past fourteen years, with help from their children and one staff member.
Roy and Amir were released ‘free-range’ into the grounds of Albion Park, to frolic as they pleased in a veritable Garden of Eden. In this case though there were no limitations on what they might try, so they sampled all fruits, picked herbs and investigated seeds. In the abundant orchard Phil and Sandy grow quince, apricots, custard-apples, nectarines, persimmon, mangoes, avocados, plums and other stone fruit as well as vines of eleven different varieties of table-grapes and several species of berries. The vegetable patch is another bounteous wonder, bursting with artichokes, rainbow chard and gigantic asparagus.
As well as the edible cornucopia on offer, the farm has ornamental flower gardens, jacaranda trees, honeysuckle, nine species of aquatic lotus plants and over a hundred varieties of wisteria — enough to make any garden-lover swoon. A private property opened to the public at times during the year to raise funds for charity and community projects, Albion Park is inspirational and well worth a visit.
Parched after their investigations, Roy and Amir were in great mood to explore the local refreshment at the Commercial Hotel, where a microbrewery has been established by brewer Dave Allen. His brand is Morpeth Brewery and Beer Co. — a big name for a cupboard-sized space that manages to produce between three and five varieties of beer at any given time.
The Commercial Hotel is now presenting a food and beer degustation, which we recommend when you go to visit. Most of the Morpeth Brewery’s beers are not offered in bottled format. Instead, it is all served fresh on tap at the bar. After the first sip, it is easy to understand why — there are no additives, no preservatives. The barley is milled the same morning that it is brewed, and it is self-carbonating. This process results in a full and complex product, excellently suited to pairing with food. Roy and Amir’s thoughts on the beers sampled follow:
- Big Hitter: A London-style bitter that is smooth, malty and full bodied.
- Pilsner: A German-style pilsner blended using German malts and hops. Smooth, light and easy to drink.
- Close Call Pale Ale: A classic, U.S.-style pale ale with a distinctive hoppy flavor. Beautiful bouquet.
- IPA (India Pale Ale): Delicious — one of our favorites.
- Mullet Run Maple Porter: Another favorite, with a note of sweetness from Canadian maple Syrup.
Before their long trip back to the city Roy and Amir stopped in at Blackbird Artisan Bakery for a late lunch. Carolyn had teamed Blackbird’s sourdough rye with a selection of smoked and cured meats and a fabulous array of Redgate Farm products: soft cheese, sundried tomatoes and free-range chicken baked with limes. A great end to a packed day exploring Maitland’s regional delicacies.
Returning to Sydney with many regional goodies to prepare, the team is fired with ideas and energy. Watch this space for the Maitland-inspired menu.