Australia's favourite food blogger, Not Quite Nigella, aka Lorraine Elliott, is wined and dined in Victoria's picturesque north east.
Today we’re off on our last stop of the picturesque Beechworth and Milawa region in Victoria. After a restful sleep, my friend Gina and I head off early and take the 50 minute drive from Beechworth to neighbouring town of Milawa, which is known for its gourmet foods and producers. Items such as Milawa Mustards travel as far as Bells at Killcare on the Central Coast of NSW. At Milawa they came up with a very cute idea – the Pedal to Produce bike system where people can hire bikes to visit the various producers in the area. We see plenty of people making use of the cute bikes (and hopefully there might be a tandem bike in the future!).
But first things first, we need to check into our hotel room. We are booking into Lindenwarrah, a family run series of hotels. There are forty rooms here and some rooms have a view of the vineyard. There is a large shared verandah and a pool and the rooms are large and spacious with white plantation style touches.
There are also two huge lounges on each floor and the bottom floor lounge is the pick with three enormous floor to window views of the merlot vineyard but what really sets this place apart is the service. They’re friendly, deferential and keen to help out with everyone. When we ask about the corn cob bread at the Milawa Bakery that we enjoyed at 1860 they offered to get us some loaves to take home with us which we gratefully accept. "They’ll sell out if you don’t get there before noon,” our host Tim says to us, displaying country hospitality to a tee. With our bread sorted, we set off for a spot of lunch and shopping!
Milawa Cheese Factory
Ceridwen, of the Milawa Cheese Factory family, greets us with the magical words, "Would you try to try some cheeses?” Gina is a big cheese fan so this is particularly exciting for her. The most popular cheese here at the Milawa Cheese Factory is the mild but gorgeous King River Gold which has a very accessible, mild taste to it. The other one that I particularly like the Milawa Gold which is stronger and more pungent with an oozy, runny centre. We try a camembert, a cajun pepper rolle fresh goat cheese as well as a cheese named after Cerwiden herself. When her father was developing it it in 1991, it was simply called "Project X” but Ceridwen suggested a better name might be hers!
There are two blue cheeses, starting with a Milawa blue mild and an aged blue which is stunning – it has been aged for one-and-a-half or two months longer using milk obtained from local farmers. And then there’s Tomme. Underneath the cheese tasting tray there is a display of striking molded cheeses. These weren’t quite right for sale upon tasting but they thought that they’d make a striking display and they certainly do. This lot of Tomme has blue mold running through it but normally it doesn’t, which Ceridwen explains is the beauty of cheese. She is set to take over the family business after doing time working at famed London cheese retailer Neal’s Yard. Her family moved to Milawa and purchased a derelict butter factory when she was eight, choosing this location as the famous Brown Brothers winery was down the road. We only wish we could bring back some cheese!
Speaking of Brown Brothers, a visit to Milawa just cannot be had without a visit to the winemaker, one of the most widely distributed brands in Australia. Their moscato is a crowd pleasing bottle that Mr NQN’s sister used to drink every night. Here at their Milawa location they have their cellar door along with a restaurant headed by chef Danny Neate.
Food on the menu here has a recommended glass of matching wine and the menu is devised with the wines first then matching the food to the wine. And cleverly, all food prices include a glass of the wine – but if you want to change your wine, they will also do this for you. We start with a glass of the 2010 Limited Release Prosecco which is lovely and peachy.
Having sampled quite a bit this morning, Gina and I share an entree and have a main each (plus the desserts sound fabulous so we must leave room). We share the soft, creamy wagyu beef tartare with the raw egg yolk broken and stirred through. It is paired with lacy, holey croutons. The condiments are finely diced and the kick is made via horseradish and it is well seasoned and moreish.
The smoked berkshire pork rib has been exclusively smoked for them by the butcher for a period of eight hours and it is then cooked sous vide for an additional eight hours at 60 degrees celsius. It is very smoky and is paired with boudin noir (black pudding) and roughly pureed beetroot as well as Jerusalem artichokes and pickled glove artichokes. On top is a layer of more boudin noir and thin slices of Jerusalem artichoke. I prefer sweeter flavours with pork and the boudin noir is a very omnipresent and dominant but rich addition to the already very richly smoked pork.
We both adored this dish, the petite piece of sticky lacquered duck breast, black peppered pear and thin pastry wrapped duck meat dumpling and sauce bigarade which is an demi glace based orange sauce. It really hits the spot and balances well with the sweet flavour but never getting overly sweet.
The cabbage salad uses pieces of regular cabbage which is slightly butter and it has a very lemony salad cream sauce which is a bit too lemony for my liking (and I do love lemons).
A friend joins us for dessert so we decide to try three. As we don’t see durif wine much we order their durif ice cream which is stunning. It sits in a streak of chocolate ganache set slightly more firm against the ice cream and there are fine dices of apple on top and a dehydrated raspberry and chocolate powder (perhaps not strictly necessary but pretty indeed). This isn’t served with a wine as the wine is in the dessert.
The vanilla panna cotta is unlike any other panna cotta that we’ve tried. It comes out on a shallow large circular plate and on the bottom layer is stewed apples, on top of this is a wobbly vanilla panna cotta and on top of this is a buttery brown sugar toffee that is so thin that it resembles a toffee filo pastry. It is decorated with candied fennel and candied violets. It’s lovely, particularly the top two layers with the buttery brown sugar toffee and I keep going back for more of this.
Our last dessert is a light, spongy rum baba soaked in an orange marmaladey syrup, with slices of orange. It has pieces of vanilla roasted pineapple which are delicious (although they use the core which is harder than the other parts of the pineapple). Instead of the gingerbread ice cream which it was supposed to come with, it comes with unsweetened cream but we feel that it would have benefited from the gingerbread ice cream which would bring it all together.
We take a little tour of the cellar door and ask our Brown Brothers tour guide to show us the room where Danny cures his salami, prosciutto and peppered wagyu beef, which takes about six weeks to make. We try some of the duck prosciutto which has the aroma of a duck pate and a tingly peppery flavour.
After lunch we take a little trip down the road and pop into Milawa Mustards. Here the range of mustards is dazzling. There is ginger and orange, bourbon, balsamic, garlic, dill and lemon and flaming hot mustard. The favourite is the three seed mustard which contains all three of the mustard seeds that they grow: yellow (the hottest), brown and white (the mildest). The other stand out product is the tomato chilli jam which, it has to be said, is fantastic. The shop is a mustard lovers dream!
A bit later that day we get dressed for dinner and head downstairs. They have a table of canapes waiting for us and they pour us a glass of Pimms and lemonade with strawberries and citrus zest. It’s sparkling and refreshing and I’m convinced that everyone loves Pimms – especially Gina and I at this point. The noise? Well there is none, it’s tranquil and quiet and the view is miles and miles of merlot vines and Mount Buffalo in the distance.
The small free range Milawa chicken pieces (as opposed to the large chunks that you can sometimes get) are gingery and flavoursome with hoi sin, soy and mirin – and they're addictive. I pop about four or five pieces in my mouth before realising that we are to eat dinner.
The cucumber and trout spoons are light and refreshing with a nice amount of creaminess to them. The lightly toasted rounds of bread are topped with a soft lamb and a sweet honey mustard. There’s a part of me that just wants to sit outside and stare off into space and pop a morsel into my mouth or raise the glass every now and then.
But inside we go as despite the large amount of food that we’ve eaten, the country air does things to you and you end up being quite hungry come dinner time! I adore char siu barbecue pork and this salad has thin slices on a crunchy vermicelli and pickled daikon and carrot salad which is sweet and gingery. It is slightly sour and crunchy from the pickles and the barbecue pork is sliced quite thinly which is ideal for the salad but I’d like a touch more (what’s new?)
The kangaroo is cooked very well with a nice char on it but never tough. It has mountain pepper and bush tomato sprinkled over it and it comes with some lovely crunchy besan beer batter made with Beechworth brewery beer. There is a spicy bush chutney that is very tangy but I prefer this sparingly as it is very strong. We both enjoy this dish.
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