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Food and beverage stories

Food story has been a Tassie epic

Edition 190_Phillips

By Graeme Phillips

When I arrived in Tasmania in 1980, there were five vineyards and two historic breweries.

When I placed my first order as a restaurateur with Hobart’s then leading greengrocer, she hadn't heard of dill.

Of the 45 businesses at a Brand Tasmania’s Meet the Producers event a few years ago, only three had been operating in 1980. Of the 63 products on show, only five had then been available.

Coincidentally I arrived at the start of what was to become nothing less than a gastronomic revolution.

The '80s were the years that producers such as King Island Cheese, Elgaar Farm, Heidi and the Healey family at Pyengana were showing the country there was more to cheese than Kraft's packaged cheddar slices.

At the same time, fifth-generation sheep farmer John Bignell, and others, were catching feral deer from the island’s large wild herd to lay the foundations for a farmed deer and venison industry.

In a much-imitated example of farm diversification, Bignell then went on to produce the State’s first goat and sheep cheeses.

The first farmed Atlantic salmon hit the market in 1983. Today it’s a $600 million a year industry with sales growing at over $1 million a week.

Those five vineyards in 1980 have become 250, with 1,800ha under vine and an annual harvest of around 13,000 tonnes. There are 160 licensed wine producers.

Tasmania’s first modern sparkling wine, Jansz, was released in 1989 and, 28 years later, Tasmania is accepted as Australia’s best response to Champagne.

In 1992, while Bill Lark was freezing his butt off trout fishing in the highlands, he felt in need of a whisky. So he decided to make some.

In fact, he started an industry, with Tasmania now having some 24 distilleries selling their single malts, rye whisky and 130 different varieties of gin, vodka and other spirits.

And, if you have the stamina and head for it, you can now visit 90 wine cellar doors on three regional wine routes, the 24 distilleries on the whisky trail, 22 artisan breweries on the statewide beer trail and a dozen cider, perry and mead producers along the northern and southern cider trails.

Tas-Saff, started by Nicky and Terry Noonan with 1.2ha of bulbs in the Huon Valley in 1991, is now the largest saffron operation in the southern hemisphere.

It has more than 50 associated growers around Tasmania, the Australian mainland and New Zealand.

People laughed at Duncan Garvey and Peter Cooper over plans to grow black truffles in Tasmania — until they unearthed their first one in July 1999 and went on to establish the truffle-growing industries in New South Wales and Victoria.

The abundance goes on: aquaculture with fresh oysters, mussels, scallops, baby abalone, other seafoods and, soon, rock lobsters.

Olives, wakame and other seaweed, wagyu, Cape Grim and King Island beef, Flinders Island saltbush lamb, leatherwood and meadow honeys, cherries and apricots.

Where once you couldn’t get dill, you can now get such exotica as Tasmanian grown and produced fresh and powdered wasabi and traditionally fermented red, white and yellow miso.

And, of course, the changes have flowed on to create an increasingly vibrant, varied and quality produce-driven restaurant and café scene.

Along with our wilderness, cultural institutions such as MONA and the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, our history, landscape and lifestyle, this 37-year gastronomic story and the quality larder it has created have made Tasmania a brand of excellence around Australia and, increasingly, throughout the world.

It has been the journey of a lifetime.

Image courtesy of Graeme and Denise Phillips

5 December 2017, Edition 190

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