There’s a technique in stress relief that says that we should take our shoes off and feel the dirt beneath our feet. Reconnect with Mother Earth. Feel grounded again.
That’s the feeling we get when we visit Tasmania, particularly the Huon Valley.
Shaped like a forked divining rod, its two sides split by the Huon River, the Huon Valley is Tasmania’s land of fresh – fresh air, fresh food, fresh philosophy and fresh ways of looking a time-honoured traditions.
And we are not alone. From all parts of Australia and the globe, there has been an influx of talented, skilled people who have come to the Huon to settle and work on ventures where their passion lies.
Travelling south-west from Hobart on the Huon Highway, Willie Smith’s Apple Shed was our first introduction to the rich produce of the area. A wall of apples displays the diversity of the fruit, making us wonder why we are only offered a few varieties in most supermarkets. From the maker of cider and apple juice, don’t leave Willie Smith’s without trying their excellent apple pie.
Like many other Tasmanian artisans, Kate Hill traversed other careers before deciding to be a winemaker. Following previous degrees in biochemistry and marketing/tourism, she graduated from wine making at Roseworthy, The University of Adelaide. Kate spent time as a winemaker in some of the world’s premier wine-making regions, including France, California, Chile and Australia, before starting her own label in 2008.
Converting an historic 19th century apple shed into a winery, Kate followed the example of others in buying local fruit to make the first wine under her label. Success was swift, Kate Hill Wine gaining the attention of James Halliday, and being awarded three trophies including Best in Show in 2009, the first of many awards.
We visited Kate at her second site in Huon, which now includes a four-hectare vineyard, heritage-listed house and cellar door. Having planted her vineyard in 2016, Kate says her vines are only now coming of age.
Kate states her philosophy of minimal intervention wine making as, “If it doesn’t have to be done, don’t do it.” She says that Tasmanian fruit likes time to reach the right ripeness, including long cool fermentation periods and time to achieve bottle age.
We travelled down the western bank of the Huon to Geeveston, a cute little town that flows down a gentle incline. Australia’s most southerly town, it was once a timber town, paper mills being a major employer in the town until the last one closed in 1982. Many people visit Geeveston on their way to the Tahune AirWalk, but the town has become a cultural centre in its own right as artisan makers settle there.
The Old Bank at Geeveston is one of the wildest restaurants we’ve ever laid eyes on! With décor reflecting its specialty, game meat, it is also licensed, serving handpicked Tasmanian wines, ciders and beers.
We settled on a handmade Squid ink pasta with prawns and wild greens as well as Spatchcock with house-made potato chips; an excellent lunch. Booking is essential.
Directly opposite, Harvest & Light Picklery is a photography gallery, picklery and licensed café. Unusual but stunning in its conception, it takes a special person to take the plunge into such a venture. where you can taste pickles and cheeses on a platter. The mastermind is Cassy Faux. With a degree in Fine Arts Photography, plus Clinical microbiology, Cassy chose to open this creative venture instead of a cafe.
Sales from the picklery fall into three categories. Firstly, there is no more atmospheric souvenir of your journey than Cassy’s photographs of Tasmania, brilliant as feature pieces or as cards.
Cassy’s pickles, made in small 2kg batches, are available by the jar. From well-known bread and butter pickles to pickled beans (surprisingly delicious), or roasted heritage tomato and jalapeno jam to pickled pears and cherries, all the produce is sourced from local growers. Listed by name and product on Cassy’s blackboard, these farmers bring in excess seasonal produce to be preserved by pickling and preserving to use during winter.
It’s enough to make us hungry, and there’s an answer to that problem too. “The product is the experience,” says Cassy, who pairs her pickles with cheese on tasting platters for customers, a great chance to taste her products in the manner they should be consumed, gaining trust in her products and facilitating the big decisions on which products to purchase.
A licensed venue, with all products apart from the beer being gluten-free, this venue shows amazing foresight and bravery on Cassy’s part.
Being a foodie, I had dreamed of meeting Masaaki Koyama. After three visits to Geeveston, my wish finally came true. We found him at his food truck, rather than surfing or, as he was on the last visit, away fishing for a year!
Masaaki’s sushi, presently only available at weekends from Masaaki’s food truck Masaaki’s Sushi, is up there with the best in Australia. Master sushi maker Masaaki followed his heart to Tasmania, and has been making sushi for 33 years. He gets phone calls from Europe, US and Scotland wanting his sushi. Rick Stein and Tetsuya have visited and eaten his sushi! And we had to go to a food truck in the tiny town of Geeveston, pop 2,000 to get it!
Masaaki has bought land in the town and in 2023 he will open his own restaurant seating 20 people, but still doing takeaway, thank goodness. Our box of sushi includes rolled sushi, inside out sushi rolls, omelette-rolled sushi, tofu-skin sushi, nigiri, sashimi and sea urchin roe with accompaniments of soy sauce and hand-grated wasabe. How beautiful and how delicious. This is what sushi dreams are made of!
We spent the night at Villa Talia Franklin. A welcome platter awaited us, together with a letter of welcome and a book of instructions. Elegant and expansive, the villa would be perfect for a birthday, wedding, or anything that demands a grand but private celebration.
The main area of the house opens onto the deck, overlooking the Huon River. All bedrooms and even the bath share the same stunning aspect. Fancy a dip with a view? The house looks across the heated infinity-edged pool to water.
Beautifully appointed, private and unique, we felt extremely spoiled at Villa Talia Franklin. There’s even a fire to ignite our romantic conversation! Gorgeous!
Franklin is a picturesque town on the westerly side of the Huon. It is home to the fascinating Wooden Boat Centre where generations old techniques are taught to students, including lauded restaurateur Tetsuya.
We dined at Osteria at Petty Sessions, housed in an historical building which was once a court of petty sessions, or minor crimes. Owned by husband and wife team Martino Crippa and Sofia Panfili, Osteria gives tribute to the traditional handmade food of their former homeland, adapted to the great fresh seasonal produce of their new homeland, the Huon Valley.
“We put a lot of effort into sourcing,” Martino tells us. “We have a small garden, but we source everything else from the local area. We don’t buy anything processed except for flour.”
The couple’s support of local producers is hand-written on a huge sheet of butcher’s paper hanging on the dining room wall: the farm, produce, first names of growers, and the location of where it has been produced.
‘It’s the only way for us,” says Martino. “The farmers and producers are our connection.”
Using a nose-to-tail approach, the couple make everything by hand, including sausages, salumi, pastas and sauces. They make the most of the seasons by storing, drying and preserving excess produce for use during winter. You can also buy their fresh pasta and sauces at the Farmgate Markets, held every Sunday in Hobart.
Founded at the same time as Willie Smith’s and Franks ciders, Pagan Cider is a boutique operation which began as a home brew. We visited Pagan Cider’s cellar door at Cradoc, on the eastern side of the Huon, where we were met by co-owner Mick Dubois. Leaving professional careers as editors, Mike and his wife Katri began their cider journey making apple and pear cider. A year later, talks with Fruit Growers Australia alerted them to the problem of wastage in the cherry growing industry. Only perfect fruit could be sold, so Mick decided to experiment with the use of second-grade cherries, basket pressed, then added to an apple cider base. It was to be one of their most popular products.
Using only local Tasmanian fruit, such as apples, pears, cherries, berries, apricots, peaches and quince with no added sugar, Pagan Cider is fermented by Vintners Tasmania. Pagan’s premium artisanal cider is as clear and fresh as the juice it’s made from, complexity added by the controlled fermentation process. It is simply delicious. Pagan makes a range of at least eight ciders, available at good cellars and online.
Not far from Cradoc, Cygnet also has its own Old Bank, which operates as a bed and breakfast. It’s beautifully appointed, right in the middle of town, and the cooked breakfast is delicious.
Cygnet Old Bank is a great place to spend the night after a long lunch at nearby Fat Pig Farm, run by Matthew Evans and his wife Sadie. Read more about our visit to Fat Pig Farm and The Agrarian Kitchen. Try to arrange a visit to Chatto Wines while you are in the area.
We set off from there to The Farmhouse Kitchen, where Giuliana White demonstrates traditional Italian cooking for us. The class is as much about the philosophy and culinary traditions of food in Puglia, Italy, as it is about cooking.
“Less is more,” Giuliana tells us. “Don’t add anything to the main ingredient that will overcome it in flavour.”
Giuliana tells us which Italian herbs should be used in which dishes, as well as tips and techniques she learned from her mother, Nonna Francesca.
We were honoured to spend time with Nonna when we visited, both in the class and at the lunch we all ate together afterwards.
It’s simple Italian food, made the same for generations, using top-quality produce, much of it grown in Giuliana’s own garden. She bottles tomatoes as passata, dries herbs and grinds chillies for use throughout the year.
Passed on by an oral tradition, just as Giuliana and Nonna are doing for us, it’s Giuliana’s goal to publish a book of traditional Umbrian recipes along with accompanying stories and photographs. That would really be special!
On the southern edge of Cygnet, the Port Cygnet Cannery was a complete surprise. Owned by ex-Greenpeace director, environmental consultant and entrepreneur Paul Gilding and his family, the refurbished former fruit cannery is one of the projects that excites us the most.
Overall, the site is large enough to host local festivals, such as the Cygnet Fork Festival and the Spring Festival, often working with not-for-profit organisations. It envelops area that could easily host events, weddings, workshops, restaurant meals and soon a market.
From the outside, there’s little indication of the venue’s scope, but inside the building a picture begins to unfold. The four-year renovation of the expansive 1920s venue is almost complete, its developing magnificence evident.
On one side of the central walkway is a restaurant bar area large enough to cater for several hundred people. With an industrial steampunk theme, two old boilers have been repurposed as furnaces, tied in theme to the metal-constructed central bar which dominates the space. Farm to table lunches are held every weekend, with plans to host visiting chefs for bespoke dining events.
Affiliated with The Cannery is the Gilding family’s 140-acre Gardner’s Bay Farm, 15 minutes drive away, which farms pigs, cattle, sheep as well as several acres under market garden. The farm uses sustainable practices, such as intercropping and crop rotation, with waste from the restaurant returned to the farm, broken down by natural bioreactors to use as fertiliser.
There’s interchange about cropping and menus between farm staff and The Cannery’s chef, Greg Dyson, with seasonal market garden crops informing restaurant menus, excess produce bottled and preserved for later use.
The other space at The Cannery is a developing workshop and providore marketplace where artisan makers will be able to sell their wares. A bakery, coffee shop and meat curing area will also take part of this space.
Driving the development of The Cannery is the owner’s vision for ecological and community sustainability, best summarised in his own words:
“If you want to change the world, change it through the market.” – Paul Gilding
This is what the Huon Valley showed us, a world of ‘fresh’, drawing us into its community, its culture, its land of plenty.
NOTE: Good Food Gold Coast made this visit as guests of the Huon Valley.