Epicurean indulgence in the Adelaide Hills

An award-winning tour through Adelaide's scenic hills takes in a smokehouse made famous by Coles and Woolworths, and a vineyard that teaches how to pair wine and chocolate.

Australia's most-popular food blogger Not Quite Nigella, aka Lorraine Elliott, is guided through South Australia's food and wine country.

I love tour guides that do bespoke tours. There’s nothing like seeing an area with a person that is local enough to know all of the "real” places and being shown just what you want to see, and not what other tourists want to see or worse still, what your guide thinks you want to see but don’t. And there’s nothing like going on a driving holidays. Except, erm, of course I don’t drive so having a guide drive you is the next best thing. This morning, after a not long enough sleep, I meet my guide John Baldwin from Barossa Daimler Tours for a four day chauffeured tour to the Adelaide Hills and the Barossa Valley. Voted #2 in "Australia’s Top 20 Tours” by Australian Traveller Magazine it was only pipped by an Arnhem Land tour.

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The good thing about Adelaide is that the scenic and green hills area is only a mere 15-20 minutes away by car so within the space of a very short ride, you’re suddenly in greenery. Our first stop today is the town of Hahndorf! It was originally settled by Dirk Hahn who was wealthy and wanted to give the Prussian Lutheran community village (dorf means village).

And did you know that Australia, as a convict land, only had one non convict state? That is South Australia and they were the first to have a female high court judge, to give women and Aboriginals the right to vote, legalise homosexuality and the first to decriminalise marijuana!

Harris Smokehouse

Our first stop is food related (well of course, you didn’t think I’d start going on about anything else did you?). We stop at one of the most famous businesses in the area, Harris Smokehouse. The business is a fourth generation owned family business that originated in England. Richard Harris’ grandfather started a business smoking fish and his father, he and now his son Adam, owns the business. There are also businesses back in England run by other family members.

Over the years you may have seen their product on the supermarket shelves under the labels Springs Smoked Salmon. They supplied to Coles and Woolworths nationally and were known for top quality smoked salmon. Their smoked salmon was always fresh and never frozen. They used Tasmanian salmon and produced on average about 30 tonnes a week (even getting up to 70 tonnes one Christmas). Since then, they have sold the Springs business and after waiting the necessary time, they started another. I guess the smoke is always in the blood!

Here instead of employing 120 people, there are six of them including Richard, his two sons and two other staff members. They concentrate on the premium market and smoke items such as abalone, salmon, trout, prawns, kingfish as well as the English favourites of cod, haddock and mackerel. They only use fresh, top grade Tasmanian salmon and they trim all of the brown pieces off so that all you get is the lushest coral smoked salmon. There are also tastings offered for customers of their smoked salmon and smoked mackerel dips (fabulous!) as well as the other fish available. Prices are reasonable here and they do an overnight freight service through their website which costs $18 for delivery.

We go through the back and see how the smoking is done. They start off deboning the fish which is finished off with a machine doing all of the painstaking deboning of the pin bones. This removes 85 per cent of the bones and they do the remaining bones by hand. The smoked salmon then has all of the moisture removed by a coating of salt where it will sit for about 6-8 hours before hitting the smoker. The more you dry the fish, the less profit you make as the final product is sold on weight. Fish can also be brined using a brine injector which has little needles of brine that pierce the flesh below the skin.

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They do two types of smoking here: cold smoke and hot smoke. Cold smoke which is done at 22C, and is the way we normally see smoked salmon. Hot smoked salmon is done at a 65C core temperature for 30 minutes and is cooked all the way through. However hot smoked salmon also start off being cold smoked. How long it is smoked depends of course on the size of the fish. The smoking is all done using oak chips which is the traditional method in the UK. The total time depends on the size of the fish but a typical rainbow trout can take up to three days to produce from beginning to end whereas a salmon may take five days. Smoking the fish without the skin produces a strong smoked effect.

Richard tells us that the best time to eat salmon is from August to February and that in March the salmon that you will see will be leaner. They buy the salmon on the colour and oil level and the thickness of the belly. In March salmon will start to live off their body weight so their belly isn’t as full. Ahh the life of a salmon!

Hahndorf Hill Winery

Our next stop is at the "Choco Vino experience” at the Hahndorf Winery. Here instead of combining wine and cheese which is a common pairing, they decided to pair chocolate and wine. After doing a lot of research into chocolate and pairing the chocolate with the best wine they decided to stock chocolates from five overseas brands: Amadei, Francois Pralus, Michel Cluizel, Dolfin and Valrhona as well as Haighs, a South Australian company.

Customers can choose from a range of menus and we are starting with the "Discovery” which matches two wines with three squares of chocolate. There is also a palate refresher with Tasmania’s Cape grim water which was rated as the purest water in the world (it’s that Great Southern Ocean water, John says).

There are three types of cacao beans: criollo, forastero and trinitario. The criollo is the rarest and most expensive and the Amadei Chuao is primarily made from this. The forestero is a high yield cacao bean that really responds to the care taken, whilst the trinitario is a hybrid of the two from Trinidad.

We start with a wooden box (I’m a sucker for presentation) and in the box there is a roasted cacao beans. For cacao beans to be used they must be fermented in a mucilage, dried out, usually in the sun and then roasted until they get to this state. We try a roasted cacao bean and it is nutty and quite palatable with a slightly bitterness.

There are also apple slices and a square of Haighs 32 per cent milk chocolate which is a blend of forestero beans from Ghana and trinitario beans. I then try the Valrhona 40 per cent from France which is a Jivara milk made from forastero beans from Ecuador.

We then try two wines matched with three chocolates. There is the Amadei Chuao matched with the HHW Chardonnay 2008 and there is also the Pralus (pronounced pra-loo) matched with the HHW Shiraz 2004. I adore the Amadei Chuao as it’s a dark 70 per cent chocolate without a hint of bitterness. It’s purely smooth and gorgeous. To be honest I didn’t know about the matching of these wines with the chocolates as I didn’t find that they went that well together and I preferred them separately but I guess wine and chocolate matching can be subjective and who is ever going to complain when eating good quality chocolate?

We finish off with a mini match which is a bar of the Dolfin earl grey tea chocolate with a pinot gris which I prefer over all of the wine types. The Dolfin chocolate is gorgeous with tiny little pieces of Earl Grey tea and the wine matches very well. This is my sort of people. But as always, we need to make a move!

The Lane Vineyard and Bistro

It’s lunchtime! Our very next stop is The Lane Vineyard and Bistro where the Edwards family have a vineyard, cellar door and bistro.

I’m an oyster nut from way back although I’ll admit I hated them as a child. So when I see that there’s a new variety of oyster on the menu called a pristine oyster I am excited. The pristine oysters are deliberately grown to two thirds of the size of regular oysters to concentrate their flavour. Here they are served au natural with the shells on top. And I’m glad to see that they come with a lot of the brine too which a lot of places wash away with they shuck them. Oh my, these are heaven. The are strong and intensely salty and hit with a fantastic flavour. Jason the maitre’d then pours some of The Lane The Gathering Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2009 which goes very well with the strong, salty oyster. I find champagne sorbets and dressings too strong but this intense oyster stands up to the wine perfectly. There are also oysters with a deep fried shallot, chilli and cress topping which are nice but the natural oysters have won my heart.

This is an abridged version of the original blog post. To read on click here.