Everyone in the Barossa Valley has a firm view on the best place to buy bread rolls with caraway and salt crust and who sells the finest dried apricots. And that’s before you broach the subject of wine.
The region’s rich culinary tradition dates back to its establishment by its first European settlers. Once here, the German immigrants were determined to hang onto their food culture and were too poor to move anywhere else. Through necessity, they were forced to grow much of their own produce, smoke their meats, make their bread and preserves. That legacy lives on, not just in the excellent German smoked and baked goods available around the valley, but in the culture to make your own. The Foodland supermarket in Tanunda sells industrial quantities of bread making flour in 20 kilo sacks for home use, the breadmaker being one of the most popular kitchen appliances in the region.
Tourists wanting to tap into the food and wine scene in the Barossa can follow the ‘Butcher, Baker, Winemaker Trail’, a route with many branches through the valley on which lie 24 vineyards and food shops. It gives information but allows the visitor to explore on their own and is ideal for people with a car who don’t wish to join a guided tour.
To do the trail, visitors can pick up a map and get on their way or do the $65 VIP version. For that they receive a hamper containing some local produce, a booklet of coupons that can be swapped for more as well as special deals at wineries and shops. It’s a fun concept: collect a hamper from the visitor centre containing the beginnings of a picnic – cheese knife, napkins, cheese board, dried apricots, olive oil, dukkah, biscuits, all local stuff - and the coupons. Some of these vouchers can be exchanged along the way for more picnic items, such as bread rolls from one of four bakeries to accompany the olive oil and dukkah already supplied. Another can be swapped for a tub of quince paste at Maggie Beer’s Farm shop and, at Seppeltsfield Wines, the $5 charge for a cellar door tasting is waived when a coupon is produced. The booklet provides map references, addresses and details the options. Presenting the booklet at the outlet, a coupon is either torn out or marked by the shop assistant when redeemed.
I went the VIP way and found it’s important to plot a strategy because the valley’s a big place with coupon swap spots spread far and wide. While the cheese coupon can only be exchanged at one place in Angaston, the one for a bottle of wine can be redeemed at one of ten vineyards, accommodating a range of preferences, mainstream to boutique, as well as vast geographical meanderings. There’s a good map showing suppliers that helps decide whether it’s viable to get the olives from Truro and the wine from Rowland Flat and still picnic before sundown.
To make the most of it tourists would collect the kit one day, research the options and tackle the trail the next, not stressing too much if they don’t get everywhere. Or do what most people do and spread the experience out over several days.
Jaci Thorne from Barossa Tourism said the trail gives some structure to a visit. “The Barossa has over 80 cellar doors and over 40 restaurants. This trail helps people narrow down the options, especially if they only have three or four days to spend.
“It takes people all around the area and doesn’t focus on just one town. It gets them moving and experiencing the whole breadth of the region.”
And that breadth is enormous. The valley is 14 kilometres wide and appears at first glance to be fairly flat. But there are gentle foothills surrounding it and mini valleys within. This geography with its resulting meso climates as well as the many soil types is what makes it such a diverse winegrowing area and endlessly interesting to explore. Plus there’s something ethereal about the light here, especially in the late afternoon. Once the glare of the midday sun has subsided, colours take on a new intensity. It’s like a film of dust has been wiped away, showing the brilliant chartreuse of young vine growth and throwing clouds into dramatic contrast as the sky’s blue deepens. One of the beauties of following a trail like this is the incidental views encountered along the way, even if the primary mission is food and wine. Turning onto Seppeltsfield Road on the way to Barossa Valley Estate the ordered date palms lining they way are both aesthetically stunning and surprising in this area dominated by grapes and native plantings. It’s a view only bettered on the way back, when looking across the vines; there’s the much-photographed Barossan view, the Lutheran Gnadenfrei Church, its pale, square-profiled spire standing out above the palms.
With diversions like this many might miss the fact that the butcher component of the trail is a little thin at this stage. There are no butchers participating yet and there’s just a stick of mettwurst included in the VIP hamper. Otherwise the meaty links are a bit tenuous with Turkey Flat vineyard offering tastings on the site of the Barossa’s first butchery, the original chopping block on display. There’s also a smokehouse at the Moorooroo Park Vineyard open to visitors. “Our challenge was to find outlets open seven days a week and that rules out most butchers.” Jaci said. “But we’re revising things at the moment and have a few butchers coming on board who’ll have interesting stories to share with visitors.”
Cheese and wine trail
The Barossa Cheese and Wine Trail, another self-drive option, was established four years ago by winemaker turned cheesemaker, Victoria McClurg. The trail guides visitors in matching these two age-old bed fellows. Starting at the Barossa Valley Cheese Company shop in Angaston, visitors collect an insulated pack containing crackers, knife, a little oak chopping board, map, various local cheeses, some made by McClurg, others by another Barossa company, Ballycroft Artisan Cheese, and off they go.
“We wanted to showcase the cheeses of the region as well as giving people a unique experience. Instead of just visiting a cellar door and drinking, we’re slowing the process down by matching the wine with cheese and giving people a chance to think about what they’re doing,” Victoria said.
The map divides the valley into regions, each one offering around six vineyards to visit. So tourists could go to say, Cockatoo Ridge Winery, taste their Eleanora Botrytis teamed with the Ballycroft Annulet, a nutty, gouda-like cheese, which they’ve brought along in their pack. Then depending on time, go to another vineyard in the Tanunda region or go further afield, maybe to Turkey Flat in the valley’s foothills to pair their Marsanne with the creamy BVCC Wanera washed rind.
At first, it’s a little strange fronting up at cellar doors and unpacking a mini cheese plate but vineyard staff have seen it all before and are very welcoming. It’s fun to analyse the characteristics of the wine and cheese and ponder how the partnership was formulated. Of course there’s no need to stick to just the one pairing; it’s a great place to start but other combinations all provide a point of comparison. You might even come up with a marriage of flavours you like better.
Turning from wine to cheese
Cheesemaker Victoria McClurg spent four years at Adelaide University training to be a winemaker, another four years working as one but on going to France she realised cheese was what she wanted to make. “I’ve always loved cheese but I only started making it at 24 when I got back from France,” she says. Those first attempts were with camembert in her kitchen at home, assisted by her mother, Frances, with whom she still works. The culture of cheesemaking and the French obsession with it swung her around but she didn’t abandon winemaking straight away. She spent three years tripping back and forth between vineyards in Ardeche and Bordeaux in France and McLaren Vale and the Barossa Valley. She also slipped in a couple of short cheese making courses at Gilbert Chandler University in Melbourne.
Her business in Angaston opened eight years ago with just two of her cheeses for sale, a camembert and a fresh curd. The range has grown enormously since then with the counter displaying many styles at various levels of ripeness.
“We’ve added and subtracted from the range since then and we’re always working on something new. We get requests from chefs for a particular product and at the moment we’re developing a haloumi,” she said.
The similarities between wine and cheese are many, including that they’re both fermentation-based, they’re profoundly affected by the seasons and change dramatically with maturity. “I wanted to make something that’s good for our bodies – a bit of fat is always good – and something you can enjoy with wine. Although it’s different to wine, it evokes the same kind of passion about flavour as wine does.”
Barossa Valley Cheese Company, 67B Murray Street, Angaston, 08 8564 3636
The sound of Two Hands helping
The Two Hands winery in Marananga raised almost $33,000 for charity in less than a year by charging a small fee for wine tasting.
It’s one of two Barossa vineyards which charge for tastings, justifying the move by offering a structured, educational approach rather than pouring to fill visitors’ random requests. The Two Hands tasting goes from ‘drink now’ styles to the longer cellared, premium wines. They say it helps people understand the different price levels and the effects of maturation on flavour.
Winery owners Michael Twelftree and Richard Mintz were approached by the Kain C+C Charitable Foundation to get behind its Uganda Project to help children orphaned through Aids, war and diseases.
Cellar door manager, Sally Pellew, said 95 per cent of visitors more than happy to pay $5 for the tasting.
“We used to have a payment that was redeemable against any purchases but now it’s a straight donation to the charity and people are liking that a lot more. They feel good about it.”
Two Hands Winery is also on the Cheese and Wine trail where its Brilliant Disguise Moscato is matched with Ballycroft’s cheese. The cheese, made on Mondays and sold from the following Thursday to Sunday, is simply drained and dry salted by hand before packaging. It’s a mild-flavoured curd and works well with the equally fresh, slightly sweet moscato.
Two Hands Wines, Nelder Road, Marananga, 08 8562 4566
Originally published in the Sydney Morning Herald here