French adventures in Mudgee

Locally-made wine and French-style cheeses are reason enough to take a step back in time at the northern New South Wales town of Mudgee.

Australia's favourite food blogger, Not Quite Nigella, spends a national holiday sampling some of Australia's finest French-style produce.

Sometimes when you tell people that you’re visiting a town, city or country they will say one of a few different things.

"What are you going to see there?”

Or in the case of one country I visited, "What on earth are going there for?”

But when I told people that Mr NQN and I were headed to Mudgee for a lovely Australia Day long weekend everyone’s response was the same: "Oh you’ll have a great time!” they would say, and a long list of recommendations would follow.

Truthfully, I didn’t know what to expect. All I knew is that my dad had a Mudgee honey container that he stored bits and pieces in at home when we were growing up and that we may have visited there when I was too young to remember. But friends and strangers' reactions, particularly those of the foodies among us, told me there was a lot for me to explore. Home to the Wiradjuri people, who named it Mudgee meaning "nest in the hills”, there is vineyard after vineyard with 40 cellar doors as well as lots of food.

We set out to reach Mudgee by 1.00pm so we left Sydney at 8:30am. Stopping for bathroom breaks and a little snack (of course!) we made it by 1pm exactly just in time for lunch at the French Fork Cafe at the High Valley Cheese Company. Now, dear readers, you know of my fondness for cafes or restaurants that have an area for buying things… well, the High Valley Cheese Company is a winery slash cheese maker slash cafe slash store. Just the thing for when you have a large group travelling and everyone has slightly different interests. Or just Mr NQN and I who have different interests

The waitress has nail polish and a hair scarf in French flag colours. The French Fork chef is former Sunshine coast chef Erik Von Alpen who relocated to Mudgee just 8 weeks earlier prior to our visit. The menu consists of pretty much every French bistro classic you could ever think of, which makes choosing quite difficult and we sit there wondering if we should have the Australia Day set menu (prawn cocktail, roast lamb and trifle for $30 a person).

Greed wins out in the end and we try out their prix fixe menu (2 courses for $34 or 3 for $45 with a choice of four for each course) as well as regular a la carte. The cafe is quite busy and I do a bit of shopping picking up a lovely tray. We watch the Australia Day specials come out and people come in to try their signature feta and other cheeses. We’re not waiting long as our entrees emerge.

The tarte tartin, which was a dish where Erik had shared the recipe, was good although I prefer a little more texture to apples. Mr NQN wolfed it down and it was served with their in house High Valley ricotta and almond cream.


Closer to my heart was the crepes suzette, thin as thin could be, cooked in an orange liqueur and butter sauce with little pieces of orange. I could have easily finished this by myself.

Before we leave we try some of the High Valley cheeses with Grosvenor, the owner of High Valley and the French Fork Cafe, in particular the fettas which are a Persian feta-style which has garnered a wall full of awards. Persian is a softer style of feta than regular feta and takes two days to make (regular feta can be made almost instantly, Grosvenor says). They started producing wine and cheese at the same time but he finds cheese making more fun.

Apart from their fettas (the pesto fetta is a favourite followed by the chilli fetta which has a resounding, satisfying kick to it), there is also caerphilly, brie, Mudgee rouge (a washed rind) and a blue. Grosvenor kindly puts together a "survival pack” for us although truthfully, I doubt that we will risk any danger of being starved but who am I to refuse cheese?

We take the short five minute drive to our accommodation at Trelawney Farm. Now this isn’t just any sort of farm and when I was looking at the accommodation choices, this one immediately caught my eye. It is an 1880s vintage five-bedroom brick cottage that comprises of two parts-the Coach House or the Barn End Cottage with one common entrance door that branches out into two separate, self-contained areas each with their own security codes. In total it sleeps 10 people although you can rent out either or both. We’re lucky enough to have access to both houses and I get very excited exploring both areas.

"Ooh that’s the outdoor bath” I say to Mr NQN. He’s busy trying to get the luggage inside and dodging the rainfall. I think I cursed the weather by saying that Australia Day is always nice and sunny. Not so this year… I shall keep my mouth shut next time. The outdoor bath has white lanterns above it and it is so quiet and peaceful you certainly could have a bath outside and no-one would see you. Well, unless the other part of the house is rented…


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