Tuesday, January 6, 2009

A very Victorian Christmas

(Note: article written before Christmas- 10.12.08)

Christmas is coming. So what’s a good locavore to do?
Eating locally produced food is not always an easy thing to do, and with a Christmas menu it gets tricker again. There is a sense of tradition that must be upheld, certain dishes that are expected to feature. So with good intentions (to reduce the travel distance of major ingredients), and with good will (to support local industry), is it possible to have a ‘very local Christmas’ and find everything you need for that perfect Christmas dinner right here in Victoria?

“You bet,” Says Miranda Sharp, President of the Victorian Farmers Market association.
“you can get everything you need, from the turkey to the pork. You can even get your pudding fully made- and feel good that the money is going to Victorian producers.”
For Sharp, the trick to achieving a ‘locavore Christmas dinner’ is to recognize that all of Victoria is local, not just those producers who are within 100kms of Melbourne.
“I buy Victorian- in a small state we would be doing a disservice to those who are struggling if we only stuck within a particular range of distance.”
Regular farmers markets turn up a huge variety of locally produced items, from heirloom tomatoes for crisp cool Christmas salads, to plump and juicy naturally dried Victorian muscatels for your Christmas pudding or cheese platter.

“Victoria is proud of our food industry,” says Sharp, “our restaurants and our bars. Well, if we don’t buy locally to support our farmers, we won’t have an industry.”
So where do you start? Here are four Christmas essentials produced right here in Victoria.

1.) Ham it up:
Fernleigh Free-Range takes orders for Christmas hams, with a range from full leg, to boneless ham. All their hams come from their free-range ‘Wessex saddleback’ herds grown locally in Bullarto.
The farm itself has a strong focus on limiting its environmental impact.
“Consumers are becoming far more aware of where their food comes from and how their buying decisions are making a difference.” Says Fiona Chambers, owner/manager of Fernleigh Free-Range.
“I think that more people are realising that they are ‘Co-producers’ rather than just ‘consumers’. How they buy and eat every day impacts on farming, farmers and the environment...”
And the other benefit to buying local, free-range ham?
“Well, speaking for my hams I would certainly have to say flavour” enthuses Chambers. “Saddlebacks do grow more slowly, and have deliciously marbled meat.”

2.) Lets talk Turkey:
Russell Mickle of Milawa Free Range has been supplying Victoria with local free-range poultry (including Christmas Turkey’s) through farmers markets for over 6 years. His poultry are raised free range in Milawa and the farm is moving towards organic certification.
Customers’ pre-order turkeys, which are brought in from the farm and processed for the farmers markets at the ‘farm gate’ in South Yarra. None of his turkeys are frozen for transport, as the final product itself never has to travel more than 10kms from processing to customer.
“They’re alive when they leave the farm, we process them and then they’re at the market.”
He agrees with Sharp that as long as you buy fresh produce from within Victoria you’re doing ok. The less it travels after processing, the better. “That 100mile thing is tricky, it should be a Victoria wide thing rather than just 100 miles.”

3.) Say cheese:
Every Christmas dinner needs a cheese platter. And Jan and Trevor Brandon’s Red Hill Cheeses are award winners. At this year’s Melbourne Specialist Cheese Show they scooped up two gold medals (one for the Mountain Goat Blue and one for the ashed ‘Paradigm Log’). All the milk that goes into the artisan cheeses from Red Hill comes from within Victoria.
“Our cows milk is from friends in Gippsland whose 90 cow dairy now has bio-dynamic certification” Says Jan Brandon.
“The goat dairy is just around the corner, where a young couple milk goats for us. It’s a large property where the goats range freely to browse.”

When it comes to the quality and environmental sustainability of choosing to eat locally, Brandon believes that “Artisan products are made with passion, & therefore the producer will want to use the best ingredients. It's re-assuring when you know the creditability of a local person. You don't have to be a genius to understand that something un-natural has been done to an imported cheese (usually industrially made) for it to be able to travel half way around the world & still be "fit" for consumption.”

4.) Bottoms up:
A hot Christmas day wouldn’t be complete without a cold beer. For the guys at Mountain Goat brewery in Richmond, keeping their product local has the classic two-fold effect of the locavore ideal.
“Obviously we are conscious of the environmental impact that we have.” says Dave Bonighton, co-founder and chief brewer of Mountain Goat Brewery.
“But hand in hand with cutting down our impact on the environment, and key for us, is that beer is a volatile substance. Like milk, it’s best drunk fresh and as close to the source as possible.”
So the team keep as much of their locally brewed product within Victoria for distribution as they can- up to 90% of it.
“If there are two beers that people can choose from and one's less environmentally aggressive than the other I think more and more people will choose the one with the lower impact - its the way we all have to go really. But it's got to be good beer first and foremost, that's the key.”
So what do our local producers recommend with Christmas dinner?
With the turkey and ham all sorted, “It'd have to be the Hightail Ale - its delicate maltiness is perfect with a roast.” says Bonighton.
For Brandon? “The ‘Granny’s Blue’ cosies up nicely with fruit and nuts.”
Locally sourced of course. So this year, what better way to toast your friends and family than with a ‘very local Christmas’.

* Victorian Farmers Markets: www.vicfarmersmarkets.org.au
* Melbourne Community Farmers Markets: www.mfm.com.au

For details on product outlets and which markets the producers attend:

* Fernleigh Free-Range: www.fernleighfarms.com or (03) 5348 5566
* Milawa Free Range: Russell- 0428570 492 (Farm Gate by appointment, Davison Place, Rear 519 Chapel Street, South Yarra)
* Red Hill Cheese: www.redhillcheese.com.au or (03) 5989 2035. The Cellar Door Cheese Shop: 81 William Road, Red Hill Victoria.
* Mountain Goat Brewery: www.goatbeer.com.au or (03) 9428 1180. Corner North and Clarks Streets, Richmond, Melbourne.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for reinforcing the 'locavore'idea which describes vey nicely a connectedness with the cycle of seasons & necessary changes in the routine of living to revitalise us all.