Australia’s longest-running regional food festival, Orange F.O.O.D Week (Food of Orange District), kicks off its 26th year on March 31 with an arts and crafts market, a retro fruit-preserving class and a night market where local food will be eaten under the stars. It’s the quietest day of a packed 10-day program that, through dozens of events, showcases the produce of a NSW region with a growing reputation for paddock-to-plate food culture and cool-climate wines. But as much as the culinary gold they produce, the people are the stars of this success story; their passionate connection to land and community is lived year-round. Says F.O.O.D Week president James Sweetapple: “Every week is food and wine week” in Orange. Here are some highlights you shouldn’t miss – and some people you should meet – no matter the season.
Orange Mountain Wines
“Sav blanc is like a Big Mac in so many ways,” says Terry Dolle of the national go-to white wine. Not that he doesn’t make his own sauvignon blanc at his Orange Mountain Wines; it’s just that he’s more of a viognier man. He and wife Julie were the region’s first producers of the ancient French grape and are one of the only vignerons in the world making viognier ice wine. At their winery in sight of Mount Canobolas, they also make riesling, chardonnay, rosé, pinot noir, sangiovese, cabernet sauvignon and merlot using hand-picked grapes and traditional methods. “We do things very differently,” Terry says of their boutique one-hectare operation. They also love to share their passion (impromptu) with visitors who show an interest. “We’ve always taken people on tours, to show them how the wine is made,” says Julie. “People love being right in it.” And now the Dolles have built a viewing platform where visitors can try the wines while watching them being made, as well as have a chat (volume up) with the ebullient Terry as he presses the grapes just below. Says Julie happily: “While he’s working we can sit up here and taste.”
10 Radnedge Lane, Borenore
DURING F.O.O.D. WEEK: A vertical tasting of Orange Mountain’s 1397 Shiraz Viognier with a regional produce brunch is on Sunday, April 2; bookings on (02) 6365 2626.
ANY TIME OF YEAR: The Orange Mountain cellar door at Borenore is open Wednesday to Friday from 9am to 3pm and weekends from 9am to 5pm.
Small Acres Cyder
They’ve been growing apples in Orange since the 1830s, a fact that traditional cider-maker James Kendell wants you to know. “Orange has a great name for food and wine. But, in fact, apple orchardists were here a long time before the wine growers,” he says, pouring tastings of his dry and savoury Somerset Still on a sunny Orange morning. Kendell came here 10 years ago with his Bristol-born wife, Gail, to grow old-fashioned English and French cider-apple varieties and turn them into similarly old-fashioned ciders. Their Small Acres Cyder label (the Old English spelling speaks volumes) includes sparkling and dessert ciders, a Normandy-style apple apéritif matured in French oak barrels and a sparkling perry (made of pears). Two non-alcoholic ciders, labelled Golden Knot, are inspired by the Kendells’ two kids, who wanted to be able to drink the family drop, too.
“We don’t use any sugar, water or flavourings,” says Kendell. Indeed, he has a bit of a grumble about mass-producers of cider adding too much of the sweet stuff, believing it gives the wrong impression of an age-old drink. “It irks me when I hear from customers, ‘I don’t drink cider because it’s too sweet.’ There’s already plenty of natural fruit sweetness in apples; there’s no need to add sugar.”
12 Akhurst Road, Borenore
DURING F.O.O.D WEEK: The Small Acres Cyder Festival is on April 1 at the Kendells’ Borenore orchard, 12 kilometres west of Orange. Hands On Cider Making Classes will be held there on Sunday April 2 and 9; bookings on (02) 6365 2286. Several apple growers are on hand for the Orange Apple Ramble on April 1, a 2.5-kilometre walk through orchards in the Towac Valley, with food stations along the way for tastings of apple-based food and beverages; bookings on (02) 6365 3477.
ANY TIME OF YEAR: The Small Acres Cyder cellar door is open Saturday and Sunday, 11am to 4pm, for tastings and sales.
Pochi Ma Buoni Pop-Up Events
When Italian steel-construction engineer Paolo Picarazzi met Australian communications strategist Kelly-Anne Smith, he cooked her a different meal every night for a year. It was the way to her heart – the pair are now married and living the dream of running their own cooking business. Pochi ma Buoni (Small but Great) pop-up events use fresh local produce in traditional Italian recipes – some millennia old, like the Ancient Roman stuffed bread spilling over with figs, fetta and sage that we eat before dinner at Belle Hill Homestead as the Central West countryside glows in the setting sun. At the table, potato gnocchi comes in a Gorgonzola sauce with walnuts on top and venison and pork meatballs swim decadently in béchamel sauce – a staple to which Italians lay as much claim as the French, explains Smith, due to close 18th-century links between the two royal courts. A born storyteller (“I thought I’d tell you another little story,” she’s wont to say between courses as she materialises at the table), Smith tells us of the Italian region, Ciociaria, from which her husband hails: forest truffles, megalithic walls and an Etruscan dialect that sounds like a whisper. “Ciociaria was famous in Roman times as a food and wine region,” says Smith. A bit like Orange now.
DURING F.O.O.D WEEK: The Pochi PopUp polenta party is on Friday, April 7, at Rowlee Wines, Orange; bookings on 0409 780 810.
19 Lake Canobolas Road, Orange
ANY TIME OF YEAR: Keep an eye on Silver Compass Tours to see where Pochi ma Buoni is popping up next – a cellar door, perhaps, or a charming country venue.
Franklin Road Preserves
“I call this my breakfast bush,” says former wool, cattle and wheat farmer Richard Dowling as he plucks snow peas from his garden and hands them around for everyone to taste. Then he starts ripping the husks off corn and snapping the cobs into pieces so we can munch on those raw beauties, too. Vegetables don’t come fresher than this and Dowling has a knack for growing them. Franklin Road Preserves was born out of a bumper season of zucchini and cucumber in his and wife Liz’s backyard vegetable garden. “It was a massive crop. We couldn’t eat them all so we made them into pickles,” he says. His family and friends began encouraging him to take the pickles to market and in 2013 the business began. I line up for a preserves tasting at Word of Mouth winery, where Dowling, having outgrown his backyard, now grows his vegetables on a plot next door to his mate’s cellar door. The Indian-inspired brinjal kasundi is packed with heat and chunks of eggplant; the tomato relish is a tangy, sweet delight; and the bread and butter cucumbers are a recipe handed down from Dowling’s grandmother. It’s soon apparent that this accidental-relish-maker’s approach comes with lashings of bonhomie as well as organic veg. “Everything I make goes with wine,” says Dowling. “My recommended dosage of crackers, chutney and wine is at least three times a day.”
98 Franklin Road, Orange
DURING F.O.O.D WEEK: The Franklin Road Harvest Feast will be on Sunday, April 2, at Word of Mouth Wines, Orange; bookings on 0429 653 316.
42 Wallace Lane, Orange
ANY TIME OF YEAR: The Dowlings sell their Franklin Road Preserves at the Orange Farmers Market, held on the second Saturday of the month, and at the Old Bus Depot Markets in Kingston, ACT, on the first and third Sundays of the month.
Charred Kitchen and Bar
The Cowra lamb rump is pink and juicy inside yet charred to black on the outside. The carrots, served on almond cream, come from Millthorpe, 20 clicks down the road. Moroccan flavours are courtesy of the spice known as za’atar, teamed with a twist of eggplant and pomegranate seeds. It’s a dish that summarises the confident approach of Charred Kitchen and Bar, the latest eatery to join Orange’s rollcall of standout restaurants. Head chef Liam O’Brien applies the culinary inspirations of his global travels to local produce and seals the deal with “Lucifer”, a wood and charcoal oven in which he cooks his share plates, from manchego custard and gypsy baked eggs to fire-roasted bone marrow and seafood stew.
1 New Street, Orange
DURING F.O.O.D WEEK: The five-course Charred Feast with matching wines is on Saturday, April 8; bookings on (02) 6363 1580.
ANY TIME OF YEAR: Charred is open Tuesday to Saturday, 11am to 11pm.
Top image: Kylie Manning