There is something magical about the journey from mainland Australia to Tasmania. The dusty plains of the mainland give way to the dusky grey Bass Straight, and before you know it, the rocky shores of
Tasmania come into view and give way to lush green fields.
Tasmania has a reputation for amazing scenery, with small towns and fishing villages dotting the island and within easy reach of its major cosmopolitan cities. Its natural beauty is hard to surpass, with the mighty Franklin River and Cradle Mountain National park among its many natural wonders.
Tasmania has a reputation for incredible produce and amazing wine due in no small part to its rich fertile soils, pleasant climate and having the cleanest air in the world. There are legions of artisan producers in Tasmania whose products are making waves on the national and international stage. I had the privilege of visiting some of these amazing people in Tasmania earlier in the year. Over the coming series of articles, I’m going to highlight some of Tasmania’s best.
I start my journey in the northern Tasmanian city of Launceston. The city was settled in 1806 and like the Cornish town it was named for, it sits near the river Tamar. Launceston is Northern Tasmania’s commercial hub and is something of a foodie’s paradise with its restaurants, stores and producers attracting increasing numbers of tourists each year. There are many farms within easy reach of the city which is why many of the artisan producers I met during my visit call the city home.
Tasmanian Honey Company produces Leatherwood honey, a high quality and unique tasting honey with a distinct spicy aroma that is native to Tasmania and prized the world over. I was met by General Manager and founder of Tasmanian Honey Company Julian Wolfhagen who is as close to Tasmanian honey royalty as you can get. He explained that unlike most honey, Leatherwood is processed at low temperatures, which allows it to maintain beautiful floral aromatics.
The leatherwood trees themselves are predominantly found in the pristine forests of the West Coast, and the beautiful white flowers produce a honey characterised by its extra light amber colour, and smooth grain which makes it easily spreadable. A tour of the small factory showed that the production process from hive to jar is very hands on which befits a product of this quality.
Also taking the hands on approach to production of quality products are Bill & Caroline Dowling from Tasmanian Gourmet Kitchen. Based in Longford, Tasmania they produce an award winning range of savoury marmalades and chutneys using fresh seasonal produce purchased directly from local growers. “This ensures that our products taste the best that they can” explains Bill.
The conserves are made in small batches to ensure quality control, with only 10 twenty litre pots on the go at one time. Many of the flavours were influenced by self-taught chef Caroline’s upbringing Sally in military family, where postings across the globe introduced her to a world of unique flavours, many of which Caroline has reproduced from memory. A highlight of the range was Bill’s gorgeous organic beetroot marmalade which pairs beautifully with Tasmanian salmon or goat’s cheese and was nominated as a finalist in the Artisan Product category in the 2011 Delicious Awards. Another favourite of mine is the spiced pear chutney, a winner with barbequed meat.
German Master Cheesemaker Hajo Tanck has 27 years’ experience in the industry and knows a good opportunity when he sees one which is why a fortuitous meeting with a Tasmanian buffalo farmer during a trip to Queensland led to the formation of Southern Sky Dairy. Along with his wife and partner in Southern Sky Dairy Petra Tanck, they launched their first buffalo products at the Tasmanian Craft Fair in 2011 to instant acclaim, winning the Provedores Award. Amongst its award winning range of products is a Tasmanian Buffalo Mozzarella, a Buffalo Halloumi and their best selling Beer Cheese, matured in dark beer from Seven Sheds Brewery in Railton.
A visit to Launceston would not be complete without a visit to Alps & Amici Foodstore & Kitchen, an independent store that focuses on supplying carefully sourced local produce. What sets this store apart is the cooking school, led by the store’s resident chefs Daniel & Sally Alps. The chefs also produce a range of cakes and meals in store, so if you’re travelling from interstate, don’t forget to pack a cooler bag. You’ll also find a great range of locally baked breads and Tasmanian wine, beer & cider in store.
Where to dine
Launceston is full of great restaurants, but there are two that should definitely be on your dining agenda.
Stillwater Restaurant is situated in the historic Ritchie’s Mill at the mouth of the Cataract Gorge on the banks of the Tamar River. The 1830s timber building is also home to a gallery featuring a regular rotation of local artists as well as a craft shop and deli featuring local artisan products. The dining room is lined with Kauri Pine floors while exposed Oregon timber beams maintain the original character of the mill. The menu is heavily focused on seasonal Tasmanian produce, and while breakfast and lunch at the restaurant is a great way to enjoy the amazing food and views during the day, Chef Craig Will and his team really kick it up a gear in the evening with a 6 course degustation or a la carte menu which sommelier James Welsh can match with some rare Tasmanian treasures.
Terrace Restaurant at the Country Club Launceston is home to one of the most attractive wine rooms I’ve seen, which makes it no surprise that it’s also home to Tasmania’s most awarded wine list. The list is impressive in its breadth and depth, heaving with exquisite Australian and Tasmanian wines. While there are plenty of opportunities to splash out, for the most part the wine list is incredibly accessible. The menu is a mix of modern and classic dishes, with Chef Sean Keating offering a unique ‘Freefall’ menu where like a fine jazz musician he riffs on the best produce of the day when creating the menu. You’ll never quite know what you’re getting, but it’s going to be good.
In Part two I’ll take a closer look at the produce of Northern Tasmania and take in the wonders of the West Coast, including the beautiful coastal village of Strachan.
Jeremy Bowell travelled to Tasmania as a guest of Brand Tasmania.