Margaret River: What goes together, grows together
South west Australia is an exposed, windswept destination. From the protected waters of Geographe Bay in the north, down to the weathered lighthouse of Cape Leeuwin, the area has a raw beauty that is utterly charming.
But there’s more to this region than stunning vistas; for decades it has been known as one of the country’s gourmet hot spots. Everywhere you turn there are tasty temptations, but if your time is short, head to the south end of Margaret River’s main street on Saturday mornings. There you’ll find the local farmers market showcasing the region’s best, direct from the producer.
One of the producers that regularly attends is Leeuwin Grass-Fed Beef. Lovingly operated by fifth generation beef farmers, the Edgar Family, Leeuwin Grass-Fed Beef runs prime beef cattle on their verdant pastures between Witchcliffe and Augusta, just south of Margaret River. Driven by Ashley and Kristy Edgar and supported by Ashley’s parents, Ian and Denise, Leeuwin Grass-Fed Beef is highly coveted with locals and chefs alike getting up at dawn to secure some of the Edgar family’s product.
The Edgar’s business is truly ‘paddock-to-plate’ and their process defines the commitment they undertake to their animals and their customers. The Edgars farm Angus and Murray Grey cattle and all animals are 100% grass fed with no hormones or antibiotics entering the equation. The cattle roam free their whole life, feed on clover and grass, with hay cut from the property supplemented when needed. The abattoir is close by and the animals are dispatched ethically then immediately returned to the property to be aged in their two-degree aging room for up to 18 days.
Andrew, the Edgar’s butcher, then processes the cuts to order on site and they are then sealed in a cryo-vac and delivered as quickly as possible. The Edgars believe this approach allows for greater transparency and builds confidence with people who are genuinely interested in getting closer to their food.
Ashley and Kristy understand and respect the fact people are becoming more interested in naturally fed, ethically treated animals and want to know the origin of their food. They also recognise there is a clear division between grass-fed and grain-fed feeding practices. It’s well understood that Australian beef is among the best in the world and whilst most grain-fed cattle spends 85-95% of its life in pastures, there is a growing desire for grass-fed product because of the flavour and associated health benefits.
Grass-fed beef has been shown to have greater health properties than grain-fed, with higher levels of Vitamin E, healthy fats, Omega 3, B-carotene, Vitamin A and Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) that reduces the onset of diabetes.
And when it comes to flavour, grass-fed beef is a real winner. Distinct and appealing, diners love the taste, and chefs love cooking with it.
Dan Gedge, head chef at Watershed’s spectacular cellar door restaurant is among them.
“I am a fan of grass-fed beef,” says Dan. “Well, more of a fan of Leeuwin Grass-Fed Beef! I find the beef to have an amazing flavour – rich and complex.”
Dan also appreciates that at Leeuwin Grass-Fed Beef they respect the importance of hanging time and dry aging to the development of flavour and texture. And he should know. He trained at Rick Stein’s Padstow restaurant, where he developed a love of working with fresh, locally sourced, sustainable produce. Dan left the UK and after stints in Melbourne and Port Douglas, he chose Margaret River to settle.
“Margaret River is a very special place for a chef, especially one with a taste for good wine,” remarks Dan. “The produce in the area is truly amazing, from the seafood to the abundance of local fruit and vegetables.”
Dan has found a home at Watershed and since 2014 has presided over the restaurant, showcasing its award-winning wines that have elevated it to a must-visit destination.
Started in May 1999, Watershed is a classic ‘new world wine’ success story, personifying the region’s defining youth and vigour.
After securing land just south of the Margaret River township, founder Geoff Barrett put together a team of financial backers, viticulturists and winemakers and proceeded to plant and build an impressive estate. Watershed grew rapidly and a few years later they added the cellar door and restaurant.
As impressive as this complex is, the wine production scale and quality is of equal standing. Everyone knows that the bigger you get, the harder quality is to manage and maintain, however, Watershed now produces 100,000 cases of wine and the quality is exceptional.
A Watershed Afternoon
To celebrate these two very different, but symbiotic businesses, Dan organised a divine two-course lunch. In attendance were Geoff and Watershed winemaker, Conrad Tritt, with Ian and Denise flying the Leeuwin Grass-Fed flag.
The first course was a carpaccio, thinly sliced from the eye fillet, cured with miso, and served with grilled peaches and dressed with a creamy macadamia purée. Beautifully delicate with soft textures, it was an awesome match for Geoff’s highly awarded 2016 Awakening Single Block Chardonnay.
Next came a decanter of Watershed’s awarded flagship, the Awakening Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2010 vintage was an extraordinary match for Dan’s barbequed, grilled and roasted ribeye, served with a turnip and horseradish remoulade, homemade grain mustard and crumbled and roasted shin marrow.
As the conversation unfolded, it became apparent these two business, while different sizes, shared a focus on quality, a tangible respect for the environment and sustainability, a real respect for their customers and, of course, a love for the south west of Western Australia.