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Food

Matthew Evans: Creating Community

Matthew Evans is peering intently at a shiny lime green spear of asparagus. It’s freshly watered, so it glistens in the sun. He bends it, and there’s a clear, sharp snap. He looks up at the group gathered in his top paddock and breaks into that ever-enthusiastic grin often seen on The Gourmet Farmer.

“Why does one spear of asparagus taste so different to another?” Matthew asks. There’s a few raised eyebrows, some murmurs and the shuffling of shoes, but no one is sure enough to vocalise their opinion. “It’s the grower that makes the difference,” says Matthew. “Whether it’s carrots, apples or berries. It’s what the producer puts into it – how they grow it. That’s the difference. No two farmers’ spears of asparagus will taste exactly the same. Just like wine-making. It’s how the grapes are treated that leads to the end result – to the taste of the wine. Cheese? Bread? It’s what someone puts into it. That’s the difference.”

There are lots of nods as the group trails behind as Matthew ambles through some higgledy piggledy rows of fruit trees. “We didn’t put them in straight rows,” he says. “Apricots, plums, peaches and nectarines. Not the season right now, but you can see the blossoms.”

We can indeed – there are hundreds. He plucks off pieces of this or that, ducks down to nip some coriander and basil leaves, tastes some of the tips and moves on. Every now and then he offers someone a bite of something, and there’s plenty of smiles as the fresh tastiness hits taste-buds.

Critic to community

Matthew has long been sampling and commenting on food, but in the first chapter of his career in the big smoke, it wasn’t like this; he didn’t live in well-worn Blundstones and a faded farmer’s shirt.

Over a decade ago, Matthew was a major Australian food critic, trying, tasting and judging the dishes that chefs and nervous waiters placed in front of him, with the power to make or break a restaurant via his well-worded opinions in top newspapers and magazines.

He enjoyed that life at the time, but now he’s truly in his element, as a farmer. It’s a laborious but glorious life lived largely outdoors on his Fat Pig Farm, with his partner Sadie and their son Hedley.

“This is where we’re supposed to be,” he says. “People ask if we ever regret the tree-change and we laugh. This is what we love doing. It’s a lifestyle we’ve chosen with care.”

And despite being city slickers with a TV profile, the community has embraced Matthew and his little tribe.

“I often thought we’d be considered outsiders because of our city background,” says Matthew. “But if you embrace those around you, and ask for help when you need it, and offer it when you think your community needs it, then doors open.

“We’ve been blessed with so much support. We couldn’t ask for a better place to live and work, culturally, environmentally, socially and geographically.”

Pig-spiration

While Matthew mainly works on the land and in the kitchen, Sadie runs the business they’ve created: an enormous shed-like restaurant sitting halfway down a hillside surrounded by glorious folds of the Huon Valley, in Australia's southernmost shire. It’s called Fat Pig Farm after some ‘girls’ that Matthew wants us to meet.

“There’s Audrey, Jackie and Denise,” Matthew points to the rotund Wessex Saddlebacks munching on piles of food scraps. Seeing their dad, they snuffle on over to check everyone out. They snort and shuffle about the rows of legs, raising their black and white hairy snouts in undisguised, cartoon-like expectation.

“They want mushed apples,” says Matthew. There’s no apples on offer, and so after a thorough inspection of pockets and bags, off they all potter.

We then potter up to the restaurant where a five-course degustation is primed to begin. Inside, it feels like a friend’s very large dining room made to comfortably seat 46. Sadie greets guests as they wander in from the deck, where they’ve been nibbling on bread fried in pork fat topped with seared beef. The treat has been matched with Bill McHenry’s locally produced gin, mixed with a homemade strawberry and rhubarb shrub.

Everyone takes a seat and finds a bulb of white Japanese hakurei turnip gracing a deep blue napkin – perfect fodder for a still-life painting. Matthew explains it’s a welcome turnip; an offering to represent what the land is producing right now.

In the kitchen, there’s more where that came from, as the staff are bustling about cooking up a storm.

“We’re not trying to serve the best food in Tassie,” says Matthew. “We serve the food we love, from the land we love.”

This is a major part of what Fat Pig Farm offers – a genuine taste of a small region of Tasmania. Matthew sources olive oil from their local Uber driver, who lives about 500 metres down the river.

“We do buy in cheese, because we have friends in the trade who make it better than we can,” says Matthew with a laugh.

“Our fruit and nut trees are immature, so apart from the apples, which we grow hundreds of kilos of, we source walnuts from Coaldale and peaches from the Cane family across the river. We are blessed to live in a state where growing a huge variety of things is part of its history. Tasmanians often have a connection to the soil, and for many, it’s in the growing of food.”

Time to dine

The much-anticipated entrée is an artfully presented picking plate of Fat Pig prosciutto, pancetta, olives, kimchi and buttered radishes. And then out rolls something we’ve all caught whiffs of – a crisp-pastry pie filled with ricotta and spinach, nettle and rocket. It’s been baking in the outdoor wood-burning oven, filling the air with an intoxicating scent.

Wood-fired sourdough rye bread with creamy cultured butter (two of the things Matthew loves making daily) are also laid upon the table. There’s a beet and goat’s curd lentil salad and roasted, shredded pig, a salad of spring flowers, and spicy Asian-style sausages that make the tongue tingle.

This is followed by a smooth rice dish with purple sprouting broccoli, wood-roasted carrots, spigarello and snow peas, sprinkled with the neighbour’s olive oil.

For dessert, the beautifully rustic apricot cobbler with thyme ice-cream matched with a Home Hill Pinot Noir is as warming as an old friend’s hug.

Soil agenda

Matthew and Sadie drift around the room, greeting people and chatting to them about life, food, science, and other items that are raised in an environment nurtured to spark conversation around food and farming. Matthew explains that every piece of produce, if not grown on Fat Pig Farm, comes from as nearby as possible, and the grower is always known to he and Sadie. This whole exercise is as much about honouring the land and community as it is about lauding the food.

“We are custodians of this farm, where the Melukerdee Indigenous Australians lived for 35,000, possibly 45,000 years,” he says. “Our aim is to leave this parcel of land in a better condition than when we arrived, so that future generations can enjoy it, like we have today.”

Try Matthew Evans' recipes at home: 

Spinach and ricotta pie

White wine steamed cauliflower

Golden syrup dumplings

 

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Wine
Simply Savvy
Words by Mark Hughes on 19 Dec 2016
It is fair to say that Sauvignon Blanc is the most recognisable wine ever, but Australian producers are doing their best to create a host of appealing new identities. We find out who is doing what to make drinkers swipe right. I’ll come right out and say it. I quite like Sauvignon Blanc. That statement will probably earn me the ire of a few wine critics that I know, but I reckon it is a sassy and wondrous wine, and deserving of far more than the limited adulation we give it. I’d be as bold as to say it has been unfairly heaped with harsh criticism. There are a few reasons as to why Sauvignon Blanc is the kid the rest of the class picks on. Firstly, Sauvignon Blanc is seen as a pretty simple wine – it really is a case of WYSIWYG – What You ‘Smell’ Is What You Get and Sauv Blanc has an unmistakable tropical aroma. No matter where it is grown, it will always smell like Sauv Blanc, and this leads to the second reason why it is ridiculed. Because it is so recognisable, it is the first wine that drinkers new to the game can accurately identify. And for the well-heeled wine critic, that is just so ho-hum. Thirdly, it is popular, and we all know Australians hate anything that is popular. It is so well-liked for the two reasons given above. It is appealing for the novice wine drinker, particularly young women, as its simple tropical and punchy profile is not too dissimilar to the flavour of juices and fruit punches we enjoy drinking as teenagers. And it is popular because the novice wine drinker can identify it. Not only does that give them a sense of assurance that the wine experience they are about to have is going to be an enjoyable one, but it also gives them a sense of pride about their burgeoning wine knowledge. And finally, it is because New Zealand has had phenomenal success with the varietal and Aussies just can’t put that Trans Tasman rivalry to bed. It is a wonder we are still playing rugby given the dominance the All Blacks have had over us this millennium, and for the foreseeable future.   ANOTHER POINT OF VIEW Having said all of that, Australian winemakers are a hardy bunch (even more so than the Wallaby scrum) and they have been busy creating a unique identity for Aussie Sauv Blanc that will have a point of difference from Kiwi SB and be just as popular, or even more popular. “I think Australian Sauvignon Blanc tends to be leaner than NZ wines, lower in alcohol with less residual sugar,” says McWilliam’s winemaker Adrian Sparks, whose High Altitude Sauvignon Blanc from the Orange wine region topped our State of Play tasting. “It is a crisper, more refreshing style of wine. This is what we try to achieve, but you want the wine to say where it is from. “I would hate to see wines from Margaret River , Adelaide Hills and Orange all looking the same. Regional differences are important.” Dan Berrigan, winemaker at Berrigan Wines and avid Sauv Blanc lover agrees. “As an Aussie winemaker, I try to understand what makes the NZ Sauv Blanc so popular, and emulate those characters in my wine,” he explains. “I then weave in the regional Mt Benson personality, which is usually in the form of more fruit weight on the palate, and I feel that it’s this combination that drinkers really appreciate, and are drawn to as a point of difference.”   BETTER WITH AGE Shane Harris, chief winemaker at Wines by Geoff Hardy in the Adelaide Hills makes another good point – we have only been growing and making Sauvignon Blanc for the last decade or two. After a slow start, we are growing better fruit and getting better at making good wine out of it. “When the Sauv Blanc train came to town, lots of the industry was fixated on turning the volume up to 11 on the varietal character, but somewhere along the line, the focus on site was lost and replaced with maximising varietal character with picking times and yeast selection based on volume of varietal character more than reflection of site,” says Shane. “More and more Australian winemakers are learning how to get the best out of the fruit sources they have available to them. Sauv Blanc has a great ability to show the site it comes from if you let it.” “I love Australian wine due to the vast differences in climate and styles. We are so fortunate in that fact and more so than any other country,” adds Adrian. “The altitude of Orange is the key, with its warm days and cool nights allowing the grapes to ripen slowly, retaining wonderful acidity and not tending to have full blown tropical fruit, rather a lovely combination of citrus, herbs and exotic notes.”   TINKERING THE TECHNIQUE So what are some of the techniques winemakers are using and what result does it have on the wine? Overall, the answer seems to be to bring Sauv Blanc some complexity. “Winemaking begins in the vineyard,” says Dan. “With the Berrigan Sauvignon Blanc this means managing the canopy to achieve fruit with a balance of tropical and grassy flavours. “In the winery, you then need to extend the skin contact time of the must to ensure that those flavours you’ve worked hard for in the vineyard are extracted from the skins and into the juice. From there, it’s all about minimising the extraction of phenolics, while maximising flavour retention and balance in your wine without oak maturation, lees stirring or fining.” “Oak with the right fruit works very well,” says Adrian conversely. “Lees contact providing texture and depth and some wild fermentation all are providing layers of complexity.” “Sauv Blanc responds to as little to as much winemaking as you wish to give it. Whether that response is appropriate depends on the site and the intended style,” explains Shane. “This doesn’t mean that just because you can do something that you should! A level of restraint is required to bring the subtle characters from your little patch of earth. “For our site I find that some skin contact time, leaving the juice slightly cloudy, and yeast selection are the most important areas of my input. Some post primary fermentation lees contact also helps, but this varies vintage to vintage. “The ability to change and adapt to vintage variation and change your approach is required to get the best out of the variety. Following what you did last year isn’t good enough if you want to get the best out of it this year.”   THE FUTURE While critics predict the popularity of Sauvignon Blanc cannot last, our winemakers seem to believe it will be here for quite some time to come. “The wine style is just so strong in its personality, and with the majority of Australians living in warm, sunny coastal regions, the freshness of Sauvignon Blanc will always have its place amongst our lifestyles,” says Dan. It will always be popular as it’s such an easy drink and suited to Australia’s summer climate,” agrees Adrian. “I hope as an industry we can move with the ebb and flow of consumer preferences and make moves to deliver a style that is relevant and current,” says Shane. “We have to learn to not flog the horse too hard and kill the market and burn the variety, we need to be more sensitive to changes in consumer preferences and move with it, not fight against it. “Keep it fresh, keep it relevant.” Top 20 Sauvignon Blanc 2016 McWilliam’s Wines High Altitude Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (Orange) Scotchmans Hill Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (Geelong)  Henschke & Co Coralinga Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (Adelaide Hills)  Berrigan Wines Sauvignon Blanc 2016 (Mount Benson)  Taylors Wines Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (Adelaide Hills)  Blue Pyrenees Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (Pyrenees)  Redgate Reserve Sauvignon Blanc (Oak Matured) 2014 (Margaret River) Silkwood Wines The Walcott Sauvignon Blanc 2016 (Pemberton)  Tamar Ridge Sauvignon Blanc 2016 (Tamar Valley) Dominique Portet Fontaine Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (Yarra Valley) Howard Park Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (Margaret River) Alkoomi Sauvignon Blanc 2016 (Frankland River) Dandelion Vineyards Wishing Clock Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (Adelaide Hills) Wangolina Station Sauvignon Blanc 2016 (Mount Benson) Geoff Hardy Wines K1 Sauvignon Blanc 2016 (Adelaide Hills) Cherubino Sauvignon Blanc 2016 (Pemberton) Eden Road Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (Canberra District) d’Arenberg The Broken Fishplate Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (Adelaide Hills) Lambrook Wines Sauvignon Blanc 2016 (Adelaide Hills) Nannup Ridge Firetower Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (Blackwood River)
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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