Food tripping in Tasmania

Food tripping in Tasmania
By admin


In a disused petrol station on the road between Hobart and the Huon Valley the blinds are closed, the door locked and the plastic-aproned man who stands before me is offering me a chopstick that has been dipped in a bucket of hazelnut praline. This is a lock in, Willy Wonka style.

A hand painted sign leaning against a ute is the only advertisement for Nutpatch chocolates, opened less than a year ago. There’s no need for expensive marketing or signage; this shop has a huge word of mouth following. The crestfallen faces of children with fistfuls of coins on seeing the closed sign is enough to indicate that this is no ordinary chocolate shop.

This chocolatier is the perfect way to round off a taste expedition around Tasmania. Over the course of a week I put my palette through all manner of sweet, savoury, bitter and salty fl avours in the name of research and
enjoy the intense and concentrated taste that comes from food that is grown in a pristine environment. So let’s start with the most indulgent – dessert, followed by wine, lavender and the ultimate nightcap, whiskey.

CHOCOLATE

The name Nutpatch comes from the hazelnut trees that owner John Zitto grows on his farm. He harvests these fresh hazelnuts to make a gluggy praline that was described as better than an orgasm by one amorous American customer.

The generous Italian treats me to a taste test of 20 chocolates and not in half or quarter measures – I scoff the full assortment. A chocolate filled with champagne and popping candy bubbles fizzes in my mouth while a limoncello ball leaks so much liquor that I am in danger of drooling.

With each chocolate, I am urged to guess the flavour so I experience the taste independently, not by instruction. Authentic ingredients make the flavour obvious and they are as diverse as crème caramel, lemon lime and bitters and chestnut. Nutpatch nougat is renowned and is light and aerated enough to chomp through Рand it passes
the crucial non-stick tooth test. The breakdown is 60% nut, 30% honey and 10% secret. And you will be in for the same treat, as testers are given to all Nutpatch visitors. “In Italy they say you sell it once, and that is what I believe
everyone tries something,” he says.

Zitto is just as generous with his time and conversation as he is sharing chocolates. “In here we work at Italian time, which is half as slow as Bruny Island time,” he says. Adding to the Willy Wonka aura, the confectionary recipes are all in Zitto’s head. Only 27 of an available 150 chocolate varieties are on display, which prompts Zitto to go to the kitchen to retrieve a pizza box that is layered with glossy red heart-shaped chocolates; special treats for local birthdays. “We want to have this shop open for the locals,” he says. And of course, the odd tourist who knows the wonders that wait beside a defunct petrol pump.

CHEESE

On a family farm in Elizabeth Town, I learn some cheesy facts from Ashgrove’s head cheese maker Richard Bennett. You know the Permeate Free label you see plastered all over milk bottles these days? Well, permeate is the watery waste product of cheese. Also, if you’ve ever had your cheddar grow mould, I have it on good authority that you can cut the offending section off and munch away on the rest of the block.

Facts aside, the real fun is happening at the cheese tasting counter. The crowd help themselves to toothpicks that they spike into cheese cubes open for all to try. The general consensus favours the cheese with wasabi sourced from a local Tasmanian farm. The collaboration between producers doesn’t end there as they also make a cheese with native or bush pepper from the only farm of its type in the world. For a different cheese experience, head to Grandvewe just outside Hobart. The ewe at the end of the name gives you and idea of what you’re in for.
Like me, you’ve probably tried sheep’s milk cheese before and not realised it. Sheep’s milk is used to make silky and strong cheeses such as feta, pecorino and manchego.

It is cheering to see how Grandvewe spoils their sheep. In spring the lambs here are not destined for dinner tables and they even operate a Sheep Hilton for the newborns. And it seems to be working – this year the Sapphire Blue cheese won first place for the best cheese in Australia at the Sydney Royal Show, beating the usual contenders such as cheddar and camembert to take the gold.

WINE

The cellar doors in Tasmania are refreshingly unpretentious. The quirky Leaning Church Vineyard has tasting notes that you can make friends with. Take the summary of the 2010 chardonnay, compared to Dolly Parton:
“Perfectly curved, bold melons, soft and creamy in the mouth, powerful undertones, a little nutty and guaranteed to age gracefully.”

The male version is the 2011 Chardonnay Reserve: “The Fabio of chardonnays – full-bodied, flavoursome and ending in a fabulous woody.” There is no room for wine snobbery at Hartzview Vineyard either as I settle down to 12 nips of wine and liquor at 10 in the morning. Not to worry, time is a fluid concept, after all.

LAVENDER

You may well wonder why a bush used predominately for toiletries is featuring in a foodie guide. Well, the folks at Bridestowe Lavender Farm have been creative with the purple flower and it makes an appearance across a spectrum of food products.

Ashgrove makes a cheese with lavender, Nutpatch makes lavender chocolate and the Bridestowe farm itself has a kitchen stocked with infused foods. Ranging from lavender sausage rolls to lavender shortbread, most will love the chance to eat something that smells of potpourri. The lavender ice cream is the best introduction to the surprising taste and is creamy enough to avoid tasting like a cake of soap.

WHISKY

Not enthralled by the prospect of downing whisky at 11am, I am pleased to find that the Hellyers Road single malt is manageable for a non-whisky drinker. Managing director Mark Littler tells me that this is often the case with on the fence or irregular whiskey drinkers. “We find that a lot of young women like our whisky on first try,” he says.

Littler teaches me how to “nose” the whisky and notes of coconut and caramel come through – albeit not enough to take me from rainy Tasmania to tropical Tahiti. From an initial shock at the knock out punch of the first sip, the flavour changes with each swig,from honey to jasmine to toast. It’s either my taste buds adjusting accordingly or the alcohol doing its work.

Half of Australia’s whisky distilleries are in Tasmania and the pure environment is crucial to the quality of the product. “We are starting to emerge as the whisky isle of Australia,” Littler says.

Email the Travel Weekly team at traveldesk@travelweekly.com.au

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