“Come down and taste what the Tweed has to offer.”
The ten-day Taste Tweed festival challenges locals and tourists to experience the region. Event Manager Jayne Henry says that the festival, held annually in July, is a showcase for both business and produce in the Tweed Shire.
Once considered one of Australia’s largest sugar bowls due to the rise in sugar prices in the 1960s, the Tweed region is fast becoming the food bowl of the South-East corner. An area of rich red soil due to the volcanic activity of the region, there’s an increasing emphasis on sustainable farming and cooperative practices.
Michelle Stephens, owner of Farm & Co in Cudgen, told those present at the Taste Tweed media opening that people need to reconnect with farms. Market days on the farm are a huge attraction, bringing around 2,000 people to experience the event.
‘Nourish – Stay – Learn’, the mantra of Farm & Co, also applies to farm practise. Growing about sixty varieties of fruit and vegetables using organic methods, Michelle tells us of the importance of letting the farm rest to rejuvenate the soil. On Farm & Co sunflowers are used as green manure to nourish soil for the next crop. The fields of flowers are a spectacular sight, drawing visitors to the farm by the thousands.
The festival opening, a food truck meet in Central Park at Salt Village, saw around 5,000 people enjoy a frenzy of international dining. Over thirty various stalls held goods for purchase, and live entertainment was provided on the main stage. it’s the beginning of a week of festivities, cooking classes, industry visits, cycling tours and chef presentations to acquaint locals and visitors with the culinary treasures of the region.
Bright and early on Saturday morning, we were picked up from the peaceful Peppers Resort at Salt by a bus, which took us on a picturesque drive through the Tweed Valley to Tumbulgum, the home of Mt Warning Tours.
Begun in 2014, Mt Warning Tours offers a variety of tours and cruises in the area, including specialty birdwatching cruises and kayaking expeditions. Co-owner Michael Simmons tells about the growth of the company whose expansion led to the purchase of a larger pontoon boat which has no impact on the environment, operating in 700ml water and leaving no wash. This is the boat we board for our cruise.
“Food is an essential part of each tour,” Michael tells us, adding that he likes to outsource catering to show off the expertise of local companies. Today we pick up baked goods from The Bearded Baker at Tumbulgum to enjoy as morning tea on the cruise, along with refreshments from local breweries Stone & Wood and Pickled Pig.
Nicola Kendall, owner and pastry chef of The Bearded Baker, tells us that they make old-fashioned baked goods in a modern style. Opened in July 2016, the bakery was one of many businesses that suffered greatly in the floods, helped back onto their feet by community support.
We board the ‘Spirit of Wollumbin’ for a two-hour cruise down the Tweed River. Looking back, we see Mt Warning, the core of the ancient shield volcano, the largest volcano of its type in the Southern Hemisphere, dotted around its edge by national parks. Michael tells us about the historic volcano eruption, its lava flows reaching out 148km from its core to form the headlands of the Gold Coast, Tweed and Ballina.
Fauna and wildlife are major attractions on the cruise. With the area well known for its bird life, we see several pelicans, snake birds, cormorants, wading birds and birds of prey as we pass by Stott’s Island.
Named after James Stott, an early cedar cutter, the 190-acre nature reserve holds the largest area of lowland subtropical rainforest in NSW, including hoop and plum pine, ancient cycads and tree ferns. It’s a fortunate accident of history and nature, Michael tells us, that Stott’s island was considered too much of a challenge to farmers as it was not only an island, but also flood-prone.
We pass by Husk Distillery, home of the famous Ink Gin that changes hue with pH level. Their visitor centre, presently under construction, has an expected opening date early in 2018.
The boat berths at Chinderah Tavern, where we stop for lunch before our transfer back to the hotel.
The festival’s Signature Dinner is held at Season Restaurant, Peppers Salt Resort and Spa. The four-course meal by Season’s Chef de Cuisine, Michael Lee and Executive Chef Craig Robertson, has matched the best local Northern Rivers produce with the South Australian O’Leary Walker Wines.
David O’Leary praises the skills of his business partner Nick Walker’s sparkling wine making, noting that Nick’s grandfather was the first sparkling winemaker in Australia.
It’s a wonderful night of fabulous food, great wine from 120-year-old vines and new friendships. Truly Australian, we’re all surprised at the chefs’ subtle touch with the kangaroo. Truly delicious!
O’Leary Walker Wine Dinner
Saturday 15th July 2017
Beetroot & Ink gin-cured Ora king salmon
2011 Hurtle O’Leary Walker, Adelaide Hills, SA
Sambucca-flamed scallop, cauliflower & charcoal, bacon, apple, smoked mussel & yuzu ketchup, ancient grains (GF)
2016 Polish Hill River Riesling, Clare Valley, SA
Lemon myrtle roasted kangaroo loin, celeriac & macadamia custard, pumpkin, sweet & sour pickled cherries, cavalo nero, rosella jus (GF)
2013 Clare Reserve Shiraz
2014 Final Instructions Shiraz
Chocolate & beetroot brownie, mandarin curd, honey, coriander (GF)
Determined to take a little of the Tweed home with us, we visit Pottsville Markets the next day, held near the beachfront on the first and third Sunday of each month. Free range eggs, together with vegetables and fruit grown in the rich soils of the Tweed line our basket as we take the short trip home.
It’s only a week later that we return to the Tweed to get Phippsy’s tips on how to cook fish.
Former chef and host of Hooked on Water, Getaway and presenter on National 9 News, Phippsy has written three best-selling cookbooks. He now runs Phippsy’s Smooth Water Charters and is opening a new bar, ZZTaps in Noosa soon.
It’s a brilliant day, glaringly bright as we gather at the Kingscliff Hotel for Phippsy’s demonstration. The audience is augmented by a bunch of ‘Wallies’ – pretty random, really, but Phippsy is up to it, cracking jokes and tips and taking it all in his stride.
Phippsy demonstrates two dishes: Deep-fried sweetlip with plum and ginger sauce, and Beer battered scallops on a julienned salad, the hotel’s Sous Chef Simon Van de Meulengraaf stepping in to cook Honey & garlic -cured duck breast.
Both delicious, Phippsy says that his beer batter is hard to beat. Here’s the recipe:
Phippsy’s Beer Batter
1/2 c cornflour
1/2 c SR flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup beer
Mix together the dry ingredients. Add the beer slowly and work the batter until the lumps dissipate. let the batter rest for 40 minutes in a cool place before coating your seafood.