Australia Day. It’s complicated.
I was born in South Australia and spent my childhood in a dusty agricultural town called Yankallila, down on the Fleurieu Peninsula. My teenage years were spent in the Adelaide Hills, surrounded by market gardens, vineyards and a rich food culture.
Many Cornish miners were early ‘settlers’ of South Australia – Copper mining towns such as Moonta were predominately settled by Cornish miners and their families – it is still known as ‘Australia’s Little Cornwall’. Growing up I ate many pasties, not as good as Cornish Pasties, but with clear signs of the shape and crimp.
Australia day fills me with mixed emotions – proud of my heritage and the fabric of my upbringing, but like a lot of Australians there is a great deal of shame felt about the European settlement and subsequent and continued displacement of the Aboriginal people. (If you have not seen Utopia, watch it now).
About Australia Day, one of my childhood hero’s Dick Smith recently wrote: “Celebrating our national day on the date of British settlement in 1788 has never been a date that brings all Australians together, no matter how many flags we wave or happy barbecues we may enjoy. For many Indigenous Australians, the date is no holiday but a reminder of their country being taken over by others.”
That said, there is still much to feel proud about being an Aussie, such as the willingness to engage in conversation with anyone at anytime. There is also an in-ground resourcefulness as a nation, and a solid work ethic. It may seem a trivial matter in relation to the ongoing debate, but I love how food brings people together. Food cafes, and restaurants, great dairy, wine and meat, excellent produce.
Our little family recently returned to South Australia to catch up with old friends and the grandparents, and I was blown away by how the South Australian food scene is blossoming. Because of the land, and the hard work and resourcefulness, the South Australian food scene is going from strength to strength. Below are a few of the food icons making SA Great.
In Australia, Maggie Beer is a bit of a household name, a chef with no formal training who is renowned for using seasonal quality ingredients to produce incredible gourmet foods. Her philosophy is to always cook from the heart, with ingredients at hand and never letting anything go to waste. As someone who is incredibly passionate about food, her attitude to her cooking really resonates. She is currently running a food business in Barossa, working closely with local growers, to produce some incredible products, including pheasant farm pate, quince paste and gourmet ice creams. The pheasant pate is absolutely incredible – possibly the best pate I have ever tasted; it was one of the first products they started producing twenty years ago and the pheasant is raised locally as well. I love a huge spoonful of it spread onto toast or fresh bread. Maggie has really captured the essence of terroir in her business, and her passion reminds me of many of the amazing local producers in Cornwall, who care very deeply about their products.
Paris Creek is a BioDynamic dairy farm in South Australia – this means that, at every stage of their production process they focus on using only natural ingredients and they don’t homogenize their milk. They believe that the beginning of the dairy process is in the soil, and make sure that there is nothing artificial on the land, in the herd or in their products. The farm owners believe that their focus on excluding artificial ingredients makes their products healthier, and they certainly taste amazing! Paris Creek is located in the South Australian countryside, between the stunning Adelaide Hills and Fleurieu Peninsula – right where I grew up. All of their products are super high quality, perhaps my favourite is their Gris Cendre cheese – a recent addition to their products. It’s a French Style Double Brie and is covered in natural ash – which gives it great flavour that improves as it matures. It tastes absolutely incredible, and after my day on the cheese-making course, I can also appreciate the processes that went into making it and the skill involved in producing such a great cheese!
Haigh’s are the oldest family-owned chocolate maker in Australia, and is run by fourth generation relatives of the original founders – they’ve been operating for nearly a hundred years! They make premium quality chocolate from the freshest ingredients – right from bean to bar. They source their cocoa beans from plantations around the world and roast them themselves to develop their own blends, which have a distinct taste, smell, and feel in the mouth. They have over 250 varieties of chocolate – including chocolate frogs. Going into one of their stores is an amazing experience: the stores are visually stunning and offer chocolate tasting and the staff are incredibly knowledgeable and attentive. I’m particularly fond of their milk chocolate almonds and macadamias which use Australian nuts, whole and roasted and then coated in layers of their incredible milk chocolate.
Kangaroo meat is not particularly popular in England: Wikipedia says that it’s on sale in English supermarkets, but I haven’t ever seen it there. It’s been legal to eat kangaroo meat across Australia since 1993, and it’s now available in pretty much all supermarkets. I don’t really see the problem with eating it: it’s better for you than most meats, tastes amazing and is also extremely sustainable: most meat is sourced from wild animals, which eat organic food and are killed humanely. Macro Meats are the world’s largest retail distributor of wild game kangaroo meat: they supply Australia’s supermarket chains and also export a lot of meat abroad – it’s quite popular in Germany and France. Kangaroo can be used as a substitute for a lot of red meats, but in my opinion there’s nothing better than ‘roo snags done on the barbeque.
Coopers Brewery is the only major brewer in Australia to be totally owned by Australians, and holds quite a significant portion of the Australian Beer Market. It’s still run by the descendants of the founder, Thomas Cooper, and there’s a lot of fifth and sixth generation Coopers to be found at the brewery. I love their pale ale, which has a great body and a lovely malty taste. It’s a taste that some tradition ale drinkers might take a while to get used to, but I think it’s amazing for pretty much any occasion. They also have some great beer making kits, which let you produce something that tastes almost as good. Oddly enough, the brewery also supports Thatcher’s Gold, which is brewed in Somerset.
Farmers Union Iced Coffee is a legendary South Australian drink. In Australia, more than 27 million litres of it are drunk every year. To put it in perspective – in South Australia, people drink nearly three times more Farmers Union Iced Coffee than Coca Cola! It’s owned by Lion, who purchase all their milk from Australian farms, so it’s totally home grown. You can’t get it in the UK, which means that whenever I’m back home I have to have a carton (or several). It’s quite sweet, but has a great rich coffee taste – they have an extra strong one, where the coffee is a much stronger blend, but the original is the drink I remember from when I was younger. They’re also known for having great adverts: a particularly famous one is a group of builders learning ballet for a bet to win a truck of iced coffee.
Laucke Flour Mills
Laucke Flour Mills is an independent, family owned and operated flour Millers – the first Laucke was a migrant from Germany in 1895. He was fortunate enough to find a job as a miller and worked hard enough to take over his own flour-mill within a few years. This entrepreneurial spirit must be a family trait, as Mark Laucke, current owner of Laucke Flour Mills has been part of a massive restructuring which has resulted in the company becoming something of an industry and market leader – you can buy their bread mixes at Lakeland in the UK.
South Australia reminds me of Cornwall in a lot of ways: it’s marketed as a perfect blend of produce, people and places and I think that’s a pretty good description of Cornwall too. The summers are hotter in South Australia – it can reach over 35 degrees – but both places have some of the most beautiful coastlines in the world and some incredible food produce. Wine is a South Australian specialty – there are sixteen wine regions in the area, with over 200 wine cellars. Whilst, at the studio, we have the superb Camel Valley on our doorstep, we don’t have quite that impressive a selection to choose from. There are also a lot of businesses that are family owned and have been for a number of generations, which totally gels with the West Country – moreover, even if they haven’t been owned by several generations of the same family, there’s real evidence of a great food ethos – great food, produced locally.