Tasmania: the state of the menu.

Neil Ponsonby

Returning back to the place of one’s roots brings with it mental flashbacks. The memories of my childhood remain, but have over time blurred together with those from my more recent trips. Returning back to Tasmania every two years with my family has become almost a pilgrimage. Brought about by my desire to expose my children to my identity and memories. You can never change where you come from.

I have lived and worked in Europe for thirty years and have seen my fair share of Michelin stars and five star hotels. I look at Tasmanian food and the local produce much differently now than when I did my cooking apprenticeship in the local steak barn.

Our big trend now in Europe is story telling. Telling the guest via the menu or through the service team all about the food, where its from, who grew it, how it was handled, produced, packed and how these processes have impaired special traits which you our guests can see taste and experience on the plate in front of you.

This time while travelling around “Tassie” we purposely sought out places, suppliers and experiences that reflect local Tasmanian produce. Tasmania produces fantastic and an ever growing amount of diversified produce. Alas big city story-telling still hasn’t made it onto the menu here as yet. Unfortunately many of Tasmania’s prime products don’t see the light of day here before they are whisked away to top restaurants in Australia’s larger cities or further afield. Tasmanian products are often overshadowed by cheaper and imported inferior products or by multi-national companies that squeeze the local produce off the supermarket shelves.

However the availability of local produce is improving all the time as more and more tourists explore Tasmania. During their travels they are being exposed to the local produce and favouring it over its imported rivals. This has driven a rise in cottage industries, which have steadily grown into entrepreneurial enterprises, while also filling a growing need for jobs and income in the Tasmanian economy. These efforts are paving the way and bringing confidence to the tourism, food manufacturing and restaurant industries. There is absolutely no reason why Tasmanian restaurants shouldn’t be using 90% Tasmanian produce.

Tasmania is often fondly called the “Apple Isle”. With over 100 years of experience in the apple growing industry the Spreyton Cider Company are building on this heritage with a range of five hand crafted ciders. Incorporating traditional cider making techniques with a modern twist, vintage, dark, classic, bright and a perry ale are available. Cider is growing steadily in popularity; the local and national industry is driving this development with related competitions, awards and marketing.

tasmanian black lip abalone
  • Around Tasmania’s rocky and often treacherous shoreline are Abalone. The Tasmanian abalone fishing industry is driven by a 99% export market feeding the insatiable demands of China and Japan for this product. Two species are native to Tasmanian waters, the Black lip and the green shell abalone. Both are fished by divers in depths from 1 to 20 meters. Abalone diving is a demanding and challenging occupation with big financial outlays and risks. A license to dive for abalone costs over $100,000. To buy a harvest quota enabling a diver to sell his harvest to a licensed handler/exporter costs more than $500,000. We bought two abalone from a licensed local seafood export company. They weighed 1,4 kg and had a 30% yield after they were shelled and cleaned. The two abalone also came with a legal purchase document in case we were stopped by the police or fisheries inspectors. It is easier to dive or take your own abalone from the rocks than it is to find an accredited abalone wholesaler. I have never seen abalone on a menu in Tasmania. It’s a shame that we haven’t learnt from our export markets how we should respect, prepare and serve this delicacy. Abalone should be a skills challenge for local chefs.

Taste of Tasmania
  • Hobart our capital relishes in the “Taste.” As the world famous Sydney to Hobart yacht race finishes so does Hobart kick start the new year with the Taste of Tasmania. The “Taste” brings the docklands area of Hobart to life. Offering entertainment and experiences for thousands of inquisitive gourmands wanting to try the best Tasmanian food produce in combination with drinks from it’s ever exploding wine, brewing and distilling industries. The Taste is situated on the docks right in the centre of Hobart framed in by Hobart’s magnificent deep-water port and Salamanca Place, an area steeped in Tasmania’s Colonial history. The Sydney boats parade past the taste receiving a standing ovation on their way into their moorings just a stones throw away in constitution dock.
the rural setting at Hellyers whisky
  • Hellyers Road Whisky is situated off the Bass highway on Old Surrey Road, just outside of Burnie. The distillery boasts panoramic views of the local countryside, a great little restaurant and off street parking. There is also a gift shop with the complete range of Hellyers road products and then some. The whisky is impressively packaged in boxes and tubes making for great gift ideas. Hellyers road is Australia's largest distiller of single malts, offering whisky aged in pre loved barrels, Jack Daniels, Sherry & Pinot noir are featured giving the local variety different flavours. Local barley is used in the distiller’s choice selection and a smokey peated malt variety is also available. Single barrel selections are available for own your own tapping on the whisky walk guided tour. A recent addition to the Hellyers road assortment is different flavoured whisky cream liqueurs and vodkas.

New season bismark potatoes
Around my hometown potatoes are big business.  We have a processing plant that makes pommes frits for all the big fast food giants. Kennebec, bismarks and Dutch creams are local favourites from the mineral rich red soil. The local farm produce is as diverse as it is quality driven, drive by farmers stalls and farmers markets are now everyday events.

Leatherwood honey

My favourite Tasmanian product has always been our premium Leatherwood Honey from the unspoiled rainforests in Tasmania’s southwest. This honey has to be one of the worlds most iconic honey and has to be tasted to be believed. “Runny honey” was a part of every breakfast when I was little.

The Angel's Share at 14 Church st. Stanley, is an old ANZ bank with a vault full of Tasmanias newest riches. Whisky. Being a penal colony in the early 1800’s, the locals, many of who were either convicts or ex-convicts, were quite fond of a drink with 16 legal distilliries and countless illegal stills operating by 1824. As a result in 1838, a total prohibition on distilling was imposed. A prohibition that lasted for 150 years and was only overturned in the early 1990’s. Since then the Tasmanian whisky scene has developed into a small but significant force on the global scene.
The Angel’s Share offers tastings and sales of many Tasmanian whiskies & spirits as well as other Tasmanian artisan products. Here you can get the low down on the states quickly expanding whisky industry as well as sampling the best that the industry has to offer. The existence of this little whisky bar/shop shows how Tasmanians are diversifying and looking for possibilities to extend existing ideas.

Ashgroves dairy shop, Deloraine 

The Tasmania countryside is blessed with fine pasture and a strong dairy heritage. Dotted around Tasmania are larger national and international dairy manufacturing depots. Quality cheese, butter and diverse products are distributed and exported from these manufacturing dairies. Smaller scale producers have also fought their way into this market with many having their own manufacturing and open door sales. These dairy shops are often combined with a restaurant and a wide selection of locally produced products. If you want to see and taste what the local cottage industries are developing and how they’re pushing forward Tasmania’s iconic gourmet image then a visit to these dairies is well worth a visit as you drive around the state. Tragically many of these award-winning cheeses are not well represented in Tasmanian supermarkets due to their independence and sometimes higher price, local supermarket shelves are instead stocked with cheaper volume products from interstate or Europe. Look for the local handcrafted examples if available, they’re well worth the effort.

Raspberry farm at Turners Beach

The opportunity to buy farm fresh produce or pick your own direct from the grower is an ever-increasing activity. Cherry sheds & Berry Patches fill a need in Tasmania’s expanding tourist industry as well as niche markets and jobs for local businesses, farmers and entrepreneurs.
Many of these businesses have taken the next step and offer meals, hands on experiences, afternoon teas and have even ventured into the development of their produce by value adding and diversifying their base products into consumer products such as preserves, alcohol, ice cream and take away food. These value added products are of high quality and made by locals with local produce.

Live crayfish at Stanley wharf

While we know them as crayfish, they’re probably more widely known as rock lobsters in other parts of the world. In Tasmania crayfish seem to get passed around as if they’re a currency in themselves. The locals don’t seem to buy them but they’ve always got one at home in the freezer, a favour between friends, barter or as simple payment where no money is involved. Buying them live from the tanks at good fish shop like the one on Stanley wharf is expensive but an experience in itself. When I was doing my cooking apprenticeship we always had them on the menu, but my favourite is always the crayfish pizza in the local pizza parlour.

 Tasmanian rivalry, the never-ending question, which beer you order at the bar denotes your origin and loyalties within the state.
Hobart's Cascade brewery
The abundance of rainfall and Tasmania’s good clean is reflected in the quality of Tasmania’s beer. In the north Boags Brewery, brewing in Launceston since 1881. Their James Boags Premium is described as a smooth and stuble lager, a perfect balance between hop and malt. In the south, Hobart’s Cascade Brewery, Australia’s oldest brewery brewing since 1824. Cascade Pale Ale is Australia’s oldest continuously brewed beer. Hopped with Pride of Ringwood hops, it has a fragrant hoppy nose with a fine malt note in the mid-palate and a firm hop bitter finish. It uses our unique Cascade yeast. Both are great beers and available all over the state. If you’re not prepared to take a stance order both.The emerging micro brewing industry is also gaining momentum with specialty beers and brews available from selected pubs, bottle shops and on site bars.
The Tasmanian wine industry is growing at breakneck speed, the state has been divided up into regions, with tours, cellar door sales, restaurants, on site tasting opportunities, vineyard excursions with some vineyards also hosting on site events. Ghost Rock is the closest local vineyard to my hometown. Ghost Rock produces award winning sparkling wines as well as super crisp and fruity pinot grigio and sauvignon blanc. These can be purchased or tested on site or enjoyed slowly on the veranda with a Ghost Rock platter full of local produce, wallaby, salmon, preserves and cheese, while you muse over the vineyard.

Trimmed pasture fed black angus rump steak 6,5kg
All around the north west coast of Tasmania are cattle, pasture fed black angus, hereford, murray grey and limousin. Further along the coast is home for the famous cape grim angus and wagyu beef some of which are partially raised on sea weed. The larger percentage of this prime beef is in great demand and exported interstate or internationally. If you can find a local specialist butcher like Sharman’s in Wivenhoe, tell them exactly what you want and you wont be disappointed. Tasmanian grass fed beef maybe isn’t the most prolific visually marbled beef but taste and tenderness are in the cooking

Tasmania is a relaxed and friendly place to visit be it your first time or a returning visit like mine. There’s something for everyone and if you think you are a bit of a gourmand like me take the time to stop and try the local produce. Dig around after the small producers be it truffles or oysters they’re all world class


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