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Food and Tasmania
Spend more than a few minutes in Tasmania and you will quickly realise that it’s all about the fresh produce. The origin of many chefs, tv shows and books, Tasmania has a strong reputation for providing high quality fresh produce that is farmed or produced locally. Seafood is a specialty but you’ll also find amazing cheese, honey, fruit and vegetables, meat, beer and whiskey.
On a recent visit to Hobart, the capital of Tasmania, I really wanted to understand more about the area’s food. But with such variety, where would I start? Hobart is awash with great restaurants, cafes and markets. With only a few days here, I wanted to make sure I saw some of the best.
The best food tour in Hobart – Spend a day with Gourmania Food Tours
Enter Mary McNeill and Gourmania Food Tours. Mary, a sixth generation Hobartian, has been eating her way around Tasmania (and the world) for many years. As a former pastry chef and a well known identity on the Hobart food scene, I couldn’t think of anyone better to show us around.
Now in its sixth year, Gourmania Food Tours offers the travelling foodie a variety of options ranging from a self guided tour obtained through a downloadable PDF through to more tailored and specific bespoke tours. But more on those later.
Our tour started with a visit to the Pigeon Whole Bakery. This bakery in Argyle Street was an addition to an existing cafe of the same name. In a building where old printing presses once churned out the local Hobart newspaper, shiny bakery equipment now has pride of place. A modern fitout now provides visual access through to the bakery from the front of the shop.
I stand staring at the perfectly formed croissants and pain au chocolat, and I instantly wish I didn’t have breakfast. Never mind, I’m sure I’ll find room somewhere. I’m a sucker for french pastry and this bakery has a beautiful range of sweet treats, all perfectly formed and willing us to buy them.
The sourdough doughnut catches our attention. Made in a typical sourdough way using a wheat starter and filled with creamy dulce de leche, it was soft and delicious, and it becomes abundantly clear why they are so popular here.
Farm Gate Markets
Next, Mary heads up hill to the Farm Gate Markets, a Sunday tradition that sees locals flood Bathurst St to stock up on their farm goodies for the week.
Local producers line the street here, selling their finest from 8.30am until 1pm each Sunday. A dedicated eating area with nine vendors now whips up their culinary masterpieces, that are both tasty and easy to prepare for the hungry crowds. It’s a great way to test out some of the local foods, and the perfect addition to an already successful market. I can just imagine everyone huddling around steaming plates of food to warm up, as the temperatures start to head south.
Mary’s tours aren’t just about visiting the best food establishments. With a fine attention to detail, she carefully selects opportunities to introduce you to a new type of food. Yes, you can spend all day eating on these tours.
Tasmania’s finest seafood
Our first taste test takes us to Wild Thyme Kitchen, where coconut pancakes are being whipped up feverishly and plopped onto the hot plate. But it’s the new menu addition of corn cakes that is what Mary has brought us here for. Served with crispy pancetta and maple syrup, the two fluffy corn cakes are a meal in themselves. But, it wouldn’t be Tasmania without showcasing some seafood with five fresh scallops encircling the plate. This market dish just took on a whole new level of fancy.
“I didn’t realise that would be so large”, said Mary with a grin, as she headed off in the direction of Pacha Mama. Before I knew it, she was back, this time with a wallaby burrito. Yes you read that right, wallaby! I’ve eaten kangaroo before, and to be honest, am not a fan, but the wallaby surprised me. Here at Pacha Mama, the food philosophy is simple. There is no farming of wallaby. Certain parts of Tasmania are overpopulated with these animals and are legally culled. It’s a sustainable food production process that sees the wild animals used for food, rather than be buried and wasted. Pacha Mama slow cooks around 60kg of wallaby every week.
We’d seen the oyster farmer the day before at the Salamanca Markets, so it wasn’t a surprise when we saw a crowd of people lining up to buy these fresh salty molluscs, harvested about 12 hours previously. As Mary proudly stated that the most oysters she had eaten was 57 in a row, several of the finest were being prepared for our benefit. Oysters aren’t my thing, so my husband happily lined up, ably assisted by Mary. Farmed from Bruny Island in the south, I’m told the briny taste balances out the creaminess of the (very large) oyster, making it incredibly tasty.
Thinking that Tasmania would be awash with butter manufacturers, I was stunned to learn how few butter manufacturers there are here. As a small producer, it is difficult to source milk, with a significant proportion of it exported each year. We stopped to talk to Olivia from Tasmanian Butter Co and marvel at the simple pleasure of fresh creamy butter slathered on a piece of fresh bread.
After years of experimenting and testing, Olivia now manufactures about 80kg of fresh butter every week. 40kg makes its way to restaurants and 40kg is sold at local markets.
This isn’t just any old ordinary butter. Each batch takes days, with a fermentation period lasting anywhere between 18 and 24 hours, all done at low temperatures. This is the most important part of the process as it is here that the flavours are developed. Added cultures create lactic acid which in turn develops the flavour and keeps the bad bacteria out. Once the churning process separates the buttermilk from the butter, it is hand molded, given a healthy dose of Tasman Sea Salt and packaged ready for sale.
An apple mightn’t seem that exciting, but when you are talking directly to the farmer who grows them, there’s a better connection than just piling some into a plastic bag at your local grocery store, not knowing if they were picked 12 months ago and frozen or even where they came from. Here at the markets, we talked to the farmer and had to make the very difficult decision of choosing what variety we’d like to try. With many on offer, I chose one that I had never heard of and munched my way around the market until we came to the honey producer.
Mt Gnomon Farm
Here I become engrossed in a conversation with the owner of Mt Gnomon Farm. He’s got some fantastic pork products on display here, including a really tasty chorizo made from his own recipe. It’s his business model that’s got me most interested today. As the largest producer of free range Wessex Saddleback pigs in Tasmania, he’s already got a lot going on. But, rather than rely solely on pig production, it’s a great example of diversification, value adding and in my mind, developing longevity for the business. With a varied range of activities occurring on the farm, it’s ready to ride out any change in the physical or commercial landscape. The farm regularly runs and participates in food festivals with pop-up meals happening in the on-site restaurant.
You don’t have to go too far in Tasmania to find good honey and this market was no exception. Here we learnt about the various types of honey on sale and the process and temperatures which cause it to turn from a runny consistency to candied honey. As the honey crystallises, the flavour profile also changes.
Coffee break at Ecru
Just around the corner from the Farm Gate Markets is bustling coffee shop Ecru. At peak hour, those who can’t possibly continue through the day without their shot of caffeine wait patiently on the street.
We were treated to a special display of barista art as our hot drinks were delivered.
Wurst Hauss – a gourmet delight
A walk through town away from the markets and we find ourselves on the outside of Wurst Haus. I’m immediately faced with fantastic memories of eating wonderful sausages of all kinds in Germany. But it’s not all it seems. Indeed the sausage is integral to this fine store, having been established in the mid 80’s by two men who wanted to make good quality snags. One step inside however reveals a veritable treasure trove of gourmet goodies. Cheese (another Tasmanian speciality), small goods, beautifully farmed pork, beef and lamb and enough sauces, pickles, vinegars and crackers to make any charcuterie board a standout.
I’m fascinated most of all with the black garlic. Slow roasted, it’s soft and mellow to the point where I can’t believe it’s actually garlic. With a faint hint of a good balsamic vinegar, it becomes an absolute delight when paired with cheese. So much so, that some of it made it’s way into my suitcase!
Jackman and McRoss – a beautiful bakery and patisserie
Mary packs a lot into these tours, enabling us to see a variety of food places. Walking out of the CBD and towards Battery Point for our last stop of the day, I reflect on how this is so much more than just a food tour. Walking through one of the oldest areas in Hobart, it’s a trip into yesteryear, and a chance to observe and take in the beauty of the carefully preserved cottages.
Small Georgian cottages, built side by side line the streets, interspersed with more elaborate mansions. Each of them have their own place in history and it’s wonderful to see the importance of this area now covered by heritage legislation.
Along the way, we talked to Mary about the areas we were walking through, always happy to soak up as much of the local knowledge as possible. This is another bonus of Mary being a local.
Jackman and McCross, a thriving cafe, operating out of one of these heritage protected cottages was the final destination. The brainchild of Chris Jackman and Nerida and Justin McRoss, this combined bakery and cafe was the first of its kind in Hobart when it opened in 1998. Now owned just by the McRoss’, all breads and pastries are produced on site. They are obviously doing something right as the place was pumping, with all tables filled and a line to the door buying takeaway product.
This time, Mary had chosen a sweet treat for us. A small, shortcrust pastry tart, filled with the smoothest of crème pâtissière and a fresh fig sitting aloft. It quite possibly didn’t need the extra quenelle of fresh cream sitting alongside, but oh well, we’ve got to walk back to our hotel, right ?
Why choosing Gourmania Food Tours is a great idea
I knew we covered a lot of ground on our tour, and I knew we’d eaten and sampled a lot. I was still, however in shock at exactly how much we did consume when I reviewed my photos from the day. This isn’t an ordinary food tour. This is one that sees you involved in it from the get-go, eating and sometimes drinking your way around one of Australia’s prettiest cities. One of the benefits of having Mary as your tour guide is the degree of personalisation that can be applied to the tours.
Starting with a city tour, which remains one of the most popular, Mary branched out into tapas, market tours and those involving eating and drinking at restaurants.
During this time, Mary discovered a formula that works well, but is ever evolving, ensuring that the needs of her customers are taken into account.
To that end, Mary’s tours can be broadly categorised as “self-directed adventure” or the more personalised, bespoke variety.
The self directed tours allow visitors to the city to go at their own pace, wandering the streets of Hobart, getting lost (actually that’s not really possible in this small city), but making sure they never miss out on all the great places.
Instead of arriving in a new town and wondering where the best eating spots might be, or forever searching on Google, only to find everyone’s latest opinion on Trip Advisor or Yelp is conflicting, Mary has it all taken care of for you.
With PDF tours and maps that you can buy online and download, the stress is instantly removed.
The bespoke tours are the ones that appeal to me. I’m not a fan of big tours, where I have to wait for other people to arrive, or come back from a break. Or, where I have to drive, or catch public transport to locations that are far from my hotel. I love the attention that comes from a small group, allowing me to learn more and engage with the experience more fully. If I only have a short amount of time to spend on the tour, I want it to be time well spent.
If this type of arrangement is more your style, all that is required is a conversation with Mary about the types of things you are interested in, the time you have available, dates, time of day etc. It’s the perfect scenario in my opinion as you can work with an expert to develop a unique and interesting event.
Gourmania Food Tours has several new tours in the pipeline. The ‘Pastry Pilgrimage’, with recommendations of the best places to eat is underway, as is the “Culinary flight”, a night of progressive dining, where your canapes and bubbles are consumed in one restaurant, your main in another, followed by dessert elsewhere. No doubt a nightcap will feature prominently too. Being pre-paid and organised, all you will need to do is get the list of where you need to go, sit down and enjoy the evening.
Tips before you go
- Easy to get around, you can walk everywhere. It’s a good idea to wear good walking shoes.
- Remember it’s Hobart and the weather can be changeable. Check what is best to take with you depending on the season.
- Take a market bag and a thermal market bag to carry any of the goodies you wish to buy. We had a normal bag but forgot one for cold food. Not having this meant we couldn’t stock up on cheeses and that beautiful butter.
- Have a light breakfast. There’s so much to eat and taste along the way.
- Get in early to avoid disappointment or to allow Mary time to create your special experience.
- It’s a good idea to mention if you have any dietary issues,