The hinterland food trails in this fertile pocket of Queensland take you to the doorsteps of passionate producers. Here are some you shouldn’t miss.
Where: Bells Creek
Rather than dry desert dunes – where you’d expect to find camels – the QCamel dairy is set against the lush backdrop of the Glass House Mountains and emerald-hued Sunshine Coast Hinterland. But the camels don’t mind. “They are highly adaptable and have adapted to the wetter climate,” says Lauren Brisbane of her 70-strong milking herd.
Each of her animals has a name and distinct personality. There’s Bella, an older first-time mother, who, says Lauren, fusses over her calf, Grace; and badly behaved, greedy Babette, who slips under fences to drink her mother – or any other camel mother – dry.
Fearlessly curious, they come to greet new arrivals, led by the herd matriarch, Theodora. “They’re highly intelligent,” says Lauren, giving Theodora an affectionate rub as the camel rests its head on her shoulder. “She’s lead cow and my favourite. Whatever’s going on with the herd, I can gauge it from her.”
Each camel provides four to six litres of milk a day and can continue to do so for up to 30 years. The milk, which is pasteurised and bottled on site, is slightly thinner and not as sweet as cow’s milk. It’s also higher in vitamin C and iron and lower in lactose, and attracts interest around the world because of its alleged benefits for the treatment of diabetes, allergies, gut problems and other conditions.
Lauren says her relationship with the camels is a partnership and that QCamel has one of the highest welfare standards in the country. “We have a no-slaughter policy – some of the boys stay, some go to a holiday hospice farm as companion camels – and we don’t take milk from the mothers until the babies are two months old so they’ve had time to bond and reach the milestones.”
Even as they get older, the babies are always fed first, with the dairy taking what’s left. Due to high production costs, the milk is upwards of $21 a litre but this “white gold” is snapped up as fast as the camels produce it.
QCamel is in Bells Creek, 30 minutes’ drive east of Maleny.
Maleny Food Co.
The spectacular walk-in fromagerie at Maleny Food Co. stocks more than 250 cheeses, including the Cedar Street Cheeserie buffalo-milk range; Maleny Cheese cheddars, fettas and white-mould varieties; Woombye Cheese Company’s deliciously gooey triple-cream brie; and Kenilworth’s cloth-matured vintage cheddar. Maleny Food Co. also sells its own award-winning sorbets and gelati made from local milk.
While in town, also join a farm tour of Maleny Dairies, where you can then buy their milk, yoghurt, cream and custard.
Gympie Farm Cheese
The quality of the local milk was just one reason Camille Mortaud went into cheesemaking. The other was nostalgia. “When I was a child, my mum had seven or eight goats and I’d help her look after them and watch her make the cheese,” says the Frenchman, who moved to Australia in 1991 from Poitou-Charentes, a region famed for its Chabichou – a soft, unpasteurised, natural-rind goat’s cheese.
“Even though the milk here was so good, there was not much cheese being made back then,” he says, referring to the town of Gympie, where he settled. “I started making it just for myself but everybody wanted some. So in 1999, I started my business.”
Camille eventually moved to a property in Conondale, 20 minutes’ drive west of Maleny, but kept the Gympie Farm Cheese name. Once a fortnight, he drives two hours west to collect the goat’s milk from a farm in Nanango, using it to make his rich, slightly nutty chèvre. He also combines it with milk from local grass-fed Jersey cows to produce a creamy cow/goat’s milk cheese called Tango. Cultured butter has also been added to the range.
While Australian regulations about unpasteurised milk mean Camille can’t precisely replicate the cheese or butter he grew up with, his loyal customers seem more than happy.
Friday afternoon is a busy time for Yvonne Ellis at Baranbali, as it’s when locals and visitors come to pick up supplies of organic meat from the farm shop. A former nurse who grew up on a dairy farm in Ireland, Yvonne greets each visitor as they crunch up the drive. Observing the proceedings is a trio of protective, shaggy Maremma dogs, whose job is to guard the farm’s small flock of sheep.
Yvonne and her husband, David, bought the 32-hectare farm in 2001. “The first thing we did was start the process of gaining organic certification and getting the soil back to a healthy state,” she says.
As well as Murray Grey cows, they have rare Wessex saddleback pigs that wallow happily in cooling mud. The pigs provide pork cuts, nitrate-free ham and bacon, sausages and mince, which is sold alongside beef from the farm, as is hogget (the meat of sheep aged one to two years old).
Baranbali Farm Shop is open on Fridays, 2pm to 6pm, or by appointment.
Fruit, vegetables and honey
Witjuti Grub Bushfood Nursery
Where: Obi Obi
It has been a slow burn but, says Veronica Cougan, interest in native bush foods has finally been ignited. “All of a sudden, people want to know more about them, which is probably down to more chefs starting to use them.”
Veronica has been collecting and propagating native species for 25 years and, depending on the season, has up to 50 edible bush-food plants at her nursery.
“Some people just come to see native foods. Others will buy a couple of things – almost always including a finger lime tree,” she says. According to Veronica, there are 75 varieties of finger lime, with caviar-like juice pearls ranging from delicate pink to yellow, green and deep red.
Her nursery is like an alternative-universe fruit shop: familiar and different. There are dimpled Gympie limes (aka dooja); red new-growth aniseed myrtle leaves that taste like black jellybeans; lilly pilly; lemon-like white aspen; and sweet, tangy millaa-millaa berries. “People are realising that it’s not survival food,” says Veronica. “It’s just food that tastes good.”
Witjuti Grub Bushfood Nursery, 30 minutes’ drive north of Maleny, is open by appointment.
Adopt a Beehive
Conceived by beekeeper Paula West in 2012, the Adopt a Beehive program allows you to “own” a beehive. There’s a one-off fee of $150 to establish the hive then an annual payment of $65 that goes towards its upkeep and the training of young apiarists.
On annual open days, owners can visit their hives, which are situated in bee sanctuaries on organic and biodynamic farms on the Sunshine Coast. They also receive 75 grams of honey from their hive each year.
Paula and her husband, Gary Hands, run organic gardening and beekeeping workshops at the heritage-listed Crohamhurst Observatory, 20 minutes’ drive south of Maleny.