It’s been way too long since I wrote here.

Life has changed significantly and focus has shifted on food, wine,  the restaurant industry and my children more than ever before, it’s an exciting time, although now I am toying with the idea of a new blog so will certainly keep you posted on any changes or updates in the coming months.

My friend, John Ford, asked me to give a talk with him at the Sustainable Living Festival in February  this year. It was a great time and an honour to have Chris Smyth from the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), Oliver Edwards from GoodFishBadFish and Angeline Charles of the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) join us for a panel discussion. Differing opinions are inspiring and important in the quest to find foundation to our own beliefs; robust discussion is healthy.

One of the many things people took from the talk was the fish cooking chart we handed out, it’s a simple list of different sustainable Australian fish species and the best methods by which to cook them.  I’ve had a few requests for it, so here it is again:

fish cooking chart

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Olive oil is a vibrant accompaniment, cooking tool and significant ingredient and the oils we’re producing in Victoria are worth seeking out.

   Delis, green grocers, farmers markets, supermarkets all have extra virgin olive oils sitting on their shelves. Olives oil from all over the world – Australia, Italy and Spain particularly – but it’s the Victorian olive oil industry that’s creating some luscious gems of viscous liquid that, like their European cousins, tell the story of their region, their cultivation and their harvest.

Olive oil tastings are (almost) as common wine tastings and when you taste olive oil, take a moment to think about the vibrant golden greens and yellows the oils take on. A taste of the oil and you may find yourself discussing the texture and viscosity, considering the aroma and flavour and then looking for fruitiness or herbaceous, grassy characters on the palate which are all pivotal to the character of a good olive oil (it sounds a little like tasting wine!).  Local olive oil producers are creating a product that’s complex, delicious and of great quality and we’re embracing what we see.

Like wine and different grape varieties, there are different olive varieties each with their own character and attributes to add to the oil. Manzanilla would be one of the most versatile olives in the orchard, renowned as being a good all-rounder as a table olive and an oil olive, much of the Australian olive oil we buy is made from Manzanilla. Richard Seymour, owner of Mount Zero olives in the Grampians with his parents Jane and Neil says, “If you talk to a processor they hate them [manzanilla olives], as they are notoriously hard to press but for the effort the reward is worth it.”

Mount Zero also grow picual, frantoio and coratina olives on their 200 acres that they bought in 1992 taking on an over-grown olive orchard of trees that had been planted in the 1950s. They don’t irrigate their trees, producing a sturdy, intense fruit that is responsive to its season. Richard explains, “Because we don’t irrigate, as the trees get older their roots go deeper and deeper into the soil. This year there was lots of moisture around and we had a great year, some years are harder than others but when there’s lots of rain and if there was irrigation as well, too much moisture can cause the oil to be lacking in flavour.”

 Rose Creek Estate in the outer-suburb of east Keilor sees Tony, Lina and Angleo Siciliano make their olive oil from mostly frantoio but also grow manzanilla and corregiolo olives among other varieties on six acres with 300 trees. The Siciliano’s press their olives over a couple of months underneath their house, “Some of the trees mature earlier, some later,” says Lina. The family have three harvests: pressing green olives first; semi-ripe second and ripe black olives in the third harvest as “you get more oil from the olive,” she explains. It’s the yield of oil to olives that explains why some oils are pricier than others, Tony explains, “ When we press the green olives we get about four to five litres from 100kg olives, semi-ripe olives yield nine to ten litres of oil and the black produces 20-22 litres per 100kg of olives.”

Yield, time and mother nature all bless or hinder any agricultural pursuit and olive oil production is no different. Heading out to the Bellarine Peninsula, Rosalind Ellinger set up Mason’s Creek olive oil back in 1998 on 10 acres, has about 1200 trees and went into commercial production in 2004. Like Mount Zero she doesn’t use irrigation which can be frustrating regarding yield but guarantees a better quality product. “We get about 1200 litres of oil from 10 tonnes of fruit,” says Rosalind, “which may be less than others but it’s a quality product.”

Mason’s Creek grows Kalamata olives (which are only good for the table not for oil), manzanilla (for table and oil), frantoio and corregiola (for oil only). Ellinger finds it best to let her customers know when the olives were picked by placing the harvest year on the bottle, “That way people know how long the oil has been in the bottle,” she says.

Freshness is one of the most important characters of olive oil. It is simply the juice of an fruit and has a quality that deteriorates over time. Olives are traditionally picked in late autumn, early winter – so that’s November, December in Europe and May, June in Australia. The Australian new season’s olive oil was released in June and July and this is the freshest olive oil you can buy at the moment. When buying olive oil, look at the best before or use by date or what is becoming more common is the ‘pressed date’ or ‘harvest’ date you will find on some local products.

Mount Zero olives in the Grampians have started putting a ‘pressed’ date, similar to Mason’s Creek harvest date and it’s important to note that olive oil isn’t good after 24 months. So if you pick up a bottle of oil and from the dates on the bottle it’s been on the shelf a bit too long, keep searching. This wonderful liquid that highlights produce, dresses salads and cooks delicately is deserving of our understanding to get the best out of it.

 

My friends and colleagues Phil Lamb from Spring Bay Seafoods in Tasmania and director of CQ Foods Michael Canals passed this on to me.

It is simply more information to confirm our belief that if a mussel doesn’t open when cooked it’s still fine to eat. Up to 370 tonnes of perfectly good mussels are thrown away each year because of an idea about mussels that is dated and hasn’t been challenged until now. Try it for yourself and remember if a mussel if no good it will smell to high heaven (and beyond).

AMIA4102_Mussel Fact Sheet_V2_Interactive

The sardine, I’ve said it before (and will do so again here) it’s a deliciously unctuous, omega-3 laiden, slightly salty, fleshy fish that’s insanely sustainable. The sardine is far from being over-fished and is very very inexpensive. It grills quickly and is lovely with a generous squeeze of lemon juice and can carry bigger flavours too, like garlic and chilli. Choosing sardines at the fish counter is a very sustainable, affordable, tasty choice.

Wine writer and sustainability advocate Max Allen has found what to drink with this small fish – a wine called Vermentino –  this is a grape variety from Sardinia that’s grown around the Mediterranean, its a sturdy grape that copes well in harsh climates and produces a crisp, dry wine that has some length and its own character along with a refreshing finish. It’s perfect for the Australian climate and there’s some beautiful Vermentino being made in Australia now. Max wrote a brilliant piece about the grape variety and its easy marriage with grilled sardines. He mused about the idea of allowing people to try this combination of oily, distinctive fish with some examples of Australian-made Vermentino. It could be considered a sustainable culinary solution (bloody clever I say!).

Australian winemakers who are making Vermentino liked what they read and Sardines & Vermentino The Musical ‘played’ its last gig today in Sydney after appearing in Adelaide Friday 21st January and Melbourne 24th January.

Tressle tables were piled high with different examples of the wine, tasting glasses and fleshy sardines deliciously grilled served next to them and it was all for free. Getting people to try Vermentino is what S&V The Musical was about and this sustainable feast of fish and white wine literally took the product to the streets.

Quite simply, you’d be mad not to try Vermentino – it’s readily available in bottle shops – it’s affordable and in the cooler months ahead I’m going to make a dish of linguine tossed with grilled sardines, lots of garlic, lemon zest, chilli, oregano, parsley perhaps a touch of a well-reduced tomato sugo and I’m going to try an Australian Vermentino with it – anyone care to join me?

Here are the winemakers who took their haul to three cities in 5 days to allow people a taste of their Vermentino.

919 Wines, Boyntons, Brown Brothers, Chalmers, De Bortoli, Ducks in a Row, Foxey’s Hangout, Mitolo, Trentham Estate and Yalumba

Get tasting!

After the talk I gave in Sale last weekend, many people expressed interest in Greenpeace’s sustainable tinned tuna guide – some of us have given this fish up completely and others want to eat it, but consume it thoughtfully. So I thought I’d simply re-post:

Click here to find out the top sustainable tinned tunas available on supermarket shelves at the moment.

Ever gone to a market that claims to be a real farmers market only to find out later the people selling the produce had nothing to do with its growth and production?

We can now put those days behind us with the introduction of the Victorian Farmers Market Accreditation that was introduced here in May 2010.

It helps on many levels but mostly for all of us as consumers. We  now have  logos that represent the integrity of the industry, guarantee accreditation and  the authenticity of the product and produce we are buying.

Miranda Sharp, VFMA President says, “The Accreditation Program is a huge step for the farmers’ market community. Now the public, media and the rest of the food industry can easily identify farmers’ markets which have proven their authenticity and get behind regional Victoria with confidence. We look forward to many more of Victoria’s wonderful farmers’ markets coming on board.”
Simply, look out for the ticks (click on the link below for more comprehensive explanations of each tick):

Black for farmers


Brown for specialty makers


Red for markets

VFMA Accreditation Program_details

Victorian Farmers Markets accredited so far include:

Bendigo Community Farmers Market

Boroondara Farmers’ Market

Casey-Berwick Farmers’ Market

Collingwood Children’s Farm Farmers market

Echuca Farmers’ Market

Gasworks Farmers’ Market (Albert Park)

Hurstbridge Farmers’ Market

Lancefield Farmers’ Market

Kingston Farmers’ Market

Melbourne Showgrounds Farmers’ Market

Mt. Eliza Farmers’ Market

Slow Food Melbourne Farmers’ Market (Abbotsford Convent)

University Hill Farmers’ Market

Veg Out Farmers’ Market (St Kilda )

The Department of Primary industries has just produced this video about sustainable fish and fishing in Victoria featuring Neil Perry.

It’s just under 10 minutes and looks at Port Phillip Bay, snapper, calamari, King George whiting and is supported by people with great vision and love of the sea: Anthony Hurst from Fisheries Victoria, Roy Palmer of Seafood Experience Australia and Ross McGowan from Seafood Industry Victoria.

Just 10 minutes of your time…

Click here