THE first ever Tilba Milk Producers Dinner on Saturday had one of Sydney’s top chefs Colin Fassnidge serving up the finest local produce in the idyllic setting of the dairy farmhouse garden.
On hand were the growers and processors of that produce, who got to taste the fruits of the labour they donated and that were served up in a stunning five-course meal and then give a short speech on how they lovingly made their food.
Host Erica Dibden, founder of South Coast Cheese and more recently Tilba Milk, spoke about her own experiences.
The dinner was about celebrating the best of the region’s food and wine, recognising the people that were embracing the values of sustainable production and the new challenges of value adding, branding and marketing.
The Fassnidge family spent the weekend enjoying the scenery and lifestyle of the Dibden’s dairy farm while preparing the dinner.
But by coincidence, his pre-recorded appearance as a celebrity chef and judge on the hit cooking show My Kitchen Rules just happened to air on Sunday evening.
Speaking of celebrities, River Cottage Australia host Paul West and some his production crew took time out of their busy filming schedule halfway through Series 2 to travel the short distance from Central Tilba to Tilba Tilba and the dinner.
The Tilba connection for Fassnidge began when he started using Tilba Jersey cow milk, cream and cheese in his award-winning establishments Four in Hand and 4Fourteen.
He recognised the local produce including Erica and Nic Dibden’s milk as the best in the land joking in his charming Irish accent that the cream was so thick it was hard to get out of the container.
Saturday’s dinner was actually part of the Sydney Morning Herald NSW Food and Wine Festival that continues across the state until March 21.
Throwing the spotlight on the best food and wine the state has to offer, the festival celebrates all things local, with four weeks of extraordinary food and wine events taking place across restaurants, bars and wineries across the state.
The $350 dinner was offered as a package including a two-day cheese making class at the revitalised ABC Cheese Factory at Central Tilba.
Among the paying guests who tasted the produce, while learning to make some of it were a couple of two young female chefs also from top Sydney restaurants who plan to open their own establishment in the city using local produce.
Guests arriving on farm were greeted with freshly shucked oysters from Shane Buckley’s oyster farm at Wapengo Lake, south of Bermagui.
The “Four in Hand Dining Room” was in fact a marquee in the Dibdens’ garden.
He proudly told everyone his farm was the first organically certified Sydney rock oyster farm ever and how he was shocked with practices such as using tar sticks on the farms when he first started.
The floating systems now used had allowed seagrass and the estuarine habitat to make a come back, while on the marketing side of things he plans on opening a shop marketing fresh oysters and value added oyster products.
The next two courses featured the freshly caught yellowfin tuna from new company Narooma Seafood Direct started by Hayley Abbott.
First there was a bright orange but subtle flavoured smoked fish and citrus soup and then deliciously light charred tuna dish with wakame seaweed puree, pickled seaweed, fennel and horseradish.
Hayley has combined her family fishing roots with an American business degree she obtained in the US while on a soccer scholarship to create an innovate new business, processing, packaging and selling freshly caught fish directly to restaurants and farmers markets.
She spoke about her family’s long connection to the sea, sustainable fishing and the challenge of setting up the business.
And of course there were local wines on offer.
Winemakers Gary Potts and Frances Perkins from Rusty Fig Winery on the Bermagui Cobargo Road and Peter Hermmann of Tilba Valley Wines spoke about their passion and how they went about producing wines from their small-scale vineyards.
While the entrees were light, the main dish was a robust offering with Irish roots, being poached chicken in ham hock broth with a similarly poached egg in the shell, roasted local vegetables and of course colcannon, the traditional Irish combination of mash potato and cabbage.
Explaining what a happy life this particularly chickens had led was Amanda Thompson of Symphony Farm at Tilba.
There the chickens and other livestock and poultry live in organic, harmony with the chickens roaming around and housekeeping behind the beef cattle.
There was an impromptu desert consisting of a deconstructed beetroot coloured cheesecake with muesli.
Finally to finish off, what else than a cheese platter, featuring Erica’s own South Coast Cheese offerings included several soft cheese varieties.
Erica said she would hopefully be planning at least one more food producers’ dinner featuring more local produce and perhaps local chefs of note.
And the participants in the weekend’s cheese making classes had a great time, taking home the skills to make various varieties of cheeses in their own kichens.
The next course is scheduled in a few weeks, so stop by the ABC Cheese Factory at Central Tilba to make enquiries.
If you’d like more information on the NSW Food and Wine Festival, please visit www.nswfoodandwine.com.au