The Melbourne Food and Wine Festival Urban Coffee Farm
This year was a particularly enjoyable Melbourne Food and Wine Festival for me - as you'll see below, one of the events was of special emotional resonance for me and my family - and I wanted to share my top five MFWF events here on the blog, listed in chronological order (for those keeping score, I was a Festival guest at the World's Longest Lunch and a Treasury Wine Estates guest at the Seppelt lunch, but I paid for the other events).
1. World's Longest Lunch
The Festival kicked off with the World's Longest Lunch, taking place on a glorious Friday afternoon in Fitzroy Gardens. I'd never been to the event before and was surprised at how smoothly it ran and how good the food was, given that 1,230 people were being served a three course lunch in a park simultaneously (kudos to Peter Rowland for an epic job well done).
The menu this year was designed by two of the grandest dames in Australian food, Maggie Beer AM and Stephanie Alexander OAM. I was sitting three seats down from them and was appropriately starstruck. Maggie B rocking some killer shades!
The Middle Park Hotel was home one afternoon to Meatopia, a festival of rare breed meat and beer. I went with my Warialda Belted Galloway-smitten partner and a friend of ours, and in addition to Warialda beef and other meat treats we ate some terrific spit roasted Gropig Wessex Saddleback suckling pig in a bun with morcilla and apricot aioli. There was also a BBQ throwdown between Melbourne Pub Group's Paul Wilson and Dandelion's Geoff Lindsay, with Lindsay narrowly winning the vote and taking home the trophy and the glory.
3. The Everleigh Cocktail Tram
Despite never having dined on it, I've had a longtime fascination with Melbourne's Colonial Tramcar Restaurant. So when I saw in the MFWF program that Fitzroy's superlative cocktail bar The Everleigh would be running three nights in the restaurant tram using their new cocktail trolleys, booking tickets was a no-brainer.
Despite the heatwave the air conditioning in the tram was working just fine, and we settled down into the plush velvet seats and peered out between the fringed curtains. I may have clapped my hands with glee as the tram shuddered into motion, tracing the 112 route down through South Melbourne, Albert Park, Middle Park and along St Kilda's Esplanade and back again. Everleigh owner/manager Michael Madrusan and his dapper team did a great job mixing up Daiquiris, Negronis and Martinis (the Martinis were made using the silky new 666 Autumn Butter Vodka from 666 Pure Tasmanian Vodka) to a crackly jazz soundtrack. As my companion J quipped, all we needed to complete the Hercule Poirot ambiance was a MURDER. Perhaps fortunately, the worst that happened was a slight headache the next morning.
An unforgettable experience.
4. Salchicha De Bonegilla
Another event in the MFWF program which caught my eye was the sausage making workshop at the Bonegilla Migrant Experience, up near Albury/Wodonga. I quickly consulted my parents and my aunt Paola (of Italy on my Mind fame) and booked four tickets for us.
Our reason for being so keen to attend a workshop three hours' drive from Melbourne was the fact that it was being held at Bonegilla, the migrant centre that received and trained migrants to Australia during the post-WWII immigration boom. Between 1947 and 1971, over 300,000 migrants from more than 50 countries called Bonegilla their first Aussie home - including my own Italian grandparents upon their arrival in Australia in 1950. The only section of the camp remaining is Block 19 which now is now a museum, included on the National Heritage List. The workshop would be the perfect excuse for us to make a pilgrimage to a location that had such special significance for our family, particularly as we'd just marked the first anniversary of my Nonno's passing.
Visiting Block 19 was terribly moving. I can strongly recommend visiting, even if you're not one of the estimated 1.5 million Australians descended from migrants who spent time at Bonegilla.
Paola has written a wonderfully detailed blog post filled with photos and anecdotes about Nonna and Nonno's boat voyage from Italy. They arrived at Station Pier in Melbourne on 12 May 1950, and a train whisked them up to Bonegilla the following morning. My Nonna was put in an accommodation hut like the one pictured above (prior to taking in migrants, Bonegilla had been an army barracks), sharing the room with 19 other women. Because the camp was overcrowded at the time, my Nonno had to sleep in a tent with three other men. My Nonna cried every day she was at Bonegilla, desperately missing Italy and her brothers and sisters.
Nonna's voice is always tinged with dismay (okay, disgust) when she recounts how tasteless she found Australian food in 1950. Everything was cooked with lard/dripping, and if you wanted olive oil you could only buy it at the pharmacy.
It was fascinating to read the original recipes from the camp's Mess Hall. In addition to the mutton stew with lard and "meat salad" recipes below, we winced at descriptions of 'breakfast - mince on toast (yield 50 serves)', 'pineapple butter sauce (for tournedos) - add 1/2 cup canned pineapple juice...', and 'add the gourmet touch - mandarine marinade with 1/4 cup soy sauce, 1/4 cup orange marmalade, 1/2 cup clove or finely chopped garlic, 1/2 levels tspn. powdered ginger'. How times have changed!
The sausage making workshop was held in Camp 19's mess hall by Lutz Peters, a butcher from Albury/Wodonga who was born in Germany in 1949. He emigrated with his family in 1952 and spent his third birthday in Bonegilla Migrant Centre, and eventually followed in his father's footsteps and became a continental butcher.
As you can see from the photos below, we had great fun at the workshop.
5. Feast Beneath the Seppelt Vines
The final MFWF event I attended was held at Seppelt winery. A group include b-f-K and I were ferried in a coach from Melbourne to Great Western in the Grampians wine region, where we were taken on an extensive tour of the winery by Seppelt's viticulturalists and vignerons: we picked Shiraz grapes in the vineyard, crushed Riesling grapes in a basket press and tasted Chalambar Shiraz.
The original vineyard was established in 1865, and what makes Seppelt unique is the underground labyrinth known as the Drives. More than three kilometres of tunnels dug by hand in the soft granite underneath the vines by local miners over 60 years. The Drives have been used for nearly 150 years for sparkling wine maturation, and are capable of storing over 1.5 million bottles.
Our tour culminated in an exploration of the Drives and a banquet lunch for 70 people in one of the tunnels, deep underground. An incredibly atmospheric dining venue! Despite the challenging catering conditions the food was very good quality (congratulations to the caterers Rue Cler Market on doing a terrific job - loved the local yabby and the pressed duck salad), the mood was jovial and we were treated to some excellent Seppelt wines, including some pre-release 2012 Drumborg Pinot Noir and Riesling, a comparison of the 2008 and 1999 vintages of St Peters Shiraz, and the 2004 Show Sparkling Shiraz.
All in all, a satisfying and fitting end to a very busy fortnight. What were your highlights/lowlights?