Saturday, 13 April 2013

A [gourmet] taste of the country

When former Sydney Morning Herald restaurant reviewer Matthew Evans quit the big city rat race and made the sea/tree/Brie change to Tasmania, he chose to base himself just outside the pretty hamlet of Cygnet in the Huon Valley.

Cygnet lies just 45 minutes south of Hobart in a region best known for its apple and cherry orchards. Its population of around a 1000 people includes a large proportion of foodies – many of whom, like Gourmet Farmer star Evans, have turned their hands to breeding, growing and cooking their own produce. It's also popular with media types and artists.

Sleepy during the week, Cygnet comes alive at weekends when visitors descend to enjoy its cafés, art galleries and waterfront walks. 

Steve Cumper, chef/patron of popular Cygnet eatery the Red Velvet Lounge (pictured) was named Australian country chef of the year by Country Style magazine a couple of years ago, and like Evans, Cumper opted for the country over the city, having previously worked as head chef for Maggie Beer at her Pheasant Farm restaurant in the Barossa Valley and at several Melbourne fine diners.

Cumper has his own small farm outside Cygnet at which he grows a wide range of vegetables and herbs, as well as fattening up cattle. He, like many of the local foodies, was attracted to Cygnet by the wide range of superb local produce.

Many local farmers sell direct from the farm gate, with apples, cherries and berries all available  from roadside stalls during the season.

At the rustic Lotus Eaters Café, just a few doors down from the Red Velvet Lounge, Giselle Benton and Alex Klimenko also use local produce wherever possible, including vegetables, herbs and eggs from their own kitchen garden, and highlight ingredients like Tongola Goat Cheese and  organic rhubarb.

The menu here changes daily but focuses on pies, curries, gourmet pizzas, fresh soups and vegetarian dishes – with everything is made from the ground up.

Marcus Boks began his Boks bacon business in Cygnet before moving to Glenorchy, but his premises have been taken over by Graham Victor, who styles himself as a “a 24-hour emergency butcher”. He’s one of two artisan butchers in town.

Other local gourmet food producers include Swiss couple Hans Stutz and Esther Hauesermann’s award-winning Tongola Goat Products, known for their cheeses and curds from their own herd, and another former Sydneysider in Gillian Ryan, who makes her hand-crafted Cygneture chocolates using Belgian couverture and “fresh fruit, vegetables, herbs, teas, local beers, wines, ports and liqueurs from the Huon”.
Her chocolate selection changes seasonally as she eschews preservatives. Like many local producers, Ryan sells her chocolates not only from her Cygnet shop but at local markets and festivals - and sometimes at the extremely popular fortnightly Cygnet Market (above), held every second Sunday throughout the year. Here you can taste everything from fresh mussels to home-made cakes and preserves. 

At Nicholls Rivulet Organic Farm, just a couple of kilometres out of town, Gerard Crochon sells organic beef from beasts raised in his own paddocks from his farmgate shop on Thursday and Friday afternoons, and all day Saturday.    

Wine lovers are catered for with Panorama Vineyards, Hartzview and Elsewhere, just outside the town, having cellar doors and Two Bud Spur due to have their weekend cellar door open in time for summer.  Leading Hunter Valley winemaker Jim Chatto and his wife Daisy have big plans for their Isle pinot noir vineyard just out of town. 

Cygnet also has three pubs (one currently closed after a fire) and two other good cafés, the School House and Devour (terrific for burgers), along with a bakery, Double Delight, and weekend pizza outlet. It's the perfect day trip from Hobart. 


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