I was a bit late to the Tasmania party. While seemingly everyone else has been skipping through Salamanca markets and MONA, or hiking the Three Capes – I only recently experienced the Apple Isle for myself.
There were 5 foodie highlights for me. At one point there were 7; I took out gin because that deserves a deep dive of its own. I also took out salmon thanks to Richard Flanagan’s book Toxic, which has left me horrified and scarred over the Tasmanian salmon industry.
Full disclosure – I had my doubts about the scallop pie. I adore scallops and could eat them a dozen ways but swimming in a creamy sauce infused with curry powder was not high on my list. I generally believe that the less you do with seafood the better – some lemon and possibly a dab of butter/olive oil for a light sauté/bbq is all you need.
No one is exactly sure about the provenance of the scallop pie (although rumours it’s a descendant of devilled scallops seem sound), only that eating one in Tassie is mandatory. My pie had around 4-5 big whole scallops enveloped in a creamy sauce stained by Keen’s Curry. It has to be Keen’s as the 150y old spice mix actually heralds from Hobart. I grew up watching my dad pile tablespoons of the stuff onto all sorts of delicious dishes (poor mum) and I’ve never quite understood the allure – but I do think the packaging is iconic.
The pie was actually quite tasty and the scallop to sauce ratio was impressive. Definitely one to try for the simple quirkiness of it all.
I am (sadly) no bush tucker woman. But thanks to my regular trips to Margaret River and a few lessons in foraging by Peter Kuruvita, I have come to recognise saltbush when I see it. And I saw lots of it along the stunning beaches of the Bay of Fires. My hiking pals thought I was mad when I started grabbing leaves and chewing them energetically. Coastal saltbush grows on beaches and around salt lakes all over Australia but sadly I’ve never seen it on the NSW coast (although it pops up on menus here and there – like the Archie Rose distillery who use a sprig of saltbush as a garnish for their martinis). There is something very liberating about eating the natural ingredients around you (and not being poisoned).
I love all seafood but oysters in particular. There were oyster farms littered all along the coast line of the mainland and Bruny Island and I couldn’t pass without picking up a cheeky dozen. I always looked in pity at the people who bought a dozen to share. My only hesitation was whether to buy two dozen…
Plump and creamy Pacific oysters are generally the order of the day in Tassie as they take half as long to grow as the native flat oyster, the Angasi, which was almost harvested to extinction in the 20th century (even through Indigenous communities have been enjoying them for thousands of years). They are now sustainably grown and harvested from oyster beds to ensure this doesn’t happen again. I was a bit early for the Angasi season so will have to try them on my next trip, but the Pacifics were delicious and needed no more than a squeeze of lemon to reach perfection.
The cheese game in Tassie was delightfully strong. It really punches above its weight – producing 10% of Australia’s cheese despite being home to only 2% of the Aussie population. All that rain comes in handy for creating fertile land.
The lush North East highlands are known for their cheese, especially cheddar. I almost bought a giant cloth bound wheel of it from Pyengana Dairy (actually why didn’t I? Oh that’s right, I maxed out my weight allocation on gin). The farmstead cheddar comes from an 1885 recipe passed through the family. It’s the sharpest, craggiest version of this dinner table stalwart I’ve come across. And even better when mixed with pickled onions – unconventional but a genius ideas.
And did I mention the cows choose when to be milked via an automated system? Their incentive is grain and a mechanical back-scratch. No wonder all the cows looked so satisfied.
While I’m always a fan of a bit of cheddar, what I love even more is a pungent, unctuous washed rind cheese. The sort that leaves an indelible scent in its wake. I specifically wanted to try the famous washed rind cheese from the Bruny Island Cheese Co. called 1792, the year French explorers first landed in Tassie. This cheese is matured on a small round of local Huon pine (revered in Tassie), which gives it a subtle smoky flavour. It was a sensational cheese and I couldn’t help but think how brilliant the Huon pine element was, both from a taste and marketing perspective.
I need to declare a bias and that is that I am a white wine kind of girl. If you ask me what wine I feel like, regardless of what I’m eating (yes Katia, even cheese!) red will never be my first choice. I will happily drink it, but it will never be the wine I turn to first. That’s probably why I start wine tastings with gusto, then run out of steam in the middle before perking up right at the end when the sticky comes out.
So it surprised no one more than me when I realised I was starting to like Tassie pinot more than I thought possible. Its softness and fruit seemed that little bit kinder on my palate. I’ve always had soft spot for cool climate wine regions like Canberra and Orange so this might have been a factor too. And I may possibly have been a bit caught up in the romanticism of a bit of grape picking (next year’s pinot release). I know from experience in Alsace this is hard yakka so was happy with just a light touch effort this time. Cheers to that!