WITH Port Macquarie's Tastings on Hastings food festival coming up on October 27-29, celebrity chef Matt Golinski recently spent three days meeting the farmers gearing up for the biggest culinary and cultural celebration on the NSW North Coast.
Golinksi, who will host a series of foodie events at the festival, admits he fell head over heels in love with the region, its people, and its vibrant food culture.
The small rural town of Wauchope has recently been declared the most motorcycle-friendly town in NSW, so it was only fitting that Golinski's tour on a brand new Suzuki VStrom 650, loaned by Mud 'n Tar Motorcycles in Wauchope, should kick off there.
"I did what any self-respecting rev-head chef would do on a tour like this: made a winery my first stop!" he said.
Bago Winery is an easy 10-minute ride from Wauchope and its cellar door looks out over the vineyard and the Bago Maze. It offers wine tastings as well as coffee, snacks and Baba Lila's Hand Made Chocolates where Tash Topschij makes thousands of chocolates each week using a generations-old recipe passed down from her Russian mother.
Golinski's next stop was the sleepy fishing village of North Haven to enjoy lunch overlooking the waterways that wind through the area.
Marisa and Adam Woods recently travelled from Adelaide to visit friends and, like a lot of people, decided to stay. Now they serve up fresh, unpretentious food for breakfast and lunch, seven days a week, in their relaxed little cafe.
Then it was on to the oyster sheds nestled along the Camden Haven estuary.
"You can tell which one belongs to James Woods by the loud music blaring from his workshop," Golinski said.
"I'd swap every fancy dinner in the world to stand ankle deep in that pure water slurping back his freshly shucked Sydney rock oysters with nothing but the briny water in their shells as a sauce.
"If oysters are your thing, and you're around between December and June, then dropping in to pick some of these up is a must."
Other places Golinski visited included the Lorne Valley Macadamia Farm; Bruce and Barbara Barlin's Australian native bush foods farm, Barbushco; and Ticoba Avocados and Blueberries. Here, the week before Christmas, once the main flush of the crop has been picked by professionals and sent off to market, the family opens the farm to the public to pick their own.
Golinski stayed at Ewetopia's farm stay cabin where cheesemaking was in full swing. There, Ian and Jill McKittrick produce yoghurt, labneh, fetta and haloumi from their sheep's milk. They also have a Jersey cow to supply customers with unhomogenised fresh milk and yoghurt.
The chef's last stop was Ricardoes Tomatoes and Strawberries where brothers Anthony and Richard Sarks have turned a productive farming venture into a bustling tourist attraction. Visitors can see what's involved in growing tonnes of perfect hydroponic tomatoes each year through daily farm tours. Port Macquarie's Tastings on Hastings attracts 20,000 people each year to a series of intimate dinners, seafood feasts, paddock-to-plate farm tours, winery lunches and the main event with more than 100 local chefs, bakers, producers, farmers and artisans.