Mention Queensland and spots such as the Great Barrier Reef, and the Gold Coast come to mind. But the Sunshine State offers more than theme parks for the family.
The region is also home to many small, local farmers who proudly let you know how their products have made its way to restaurants, big and small, across the country.
The state is big, and it will take more than a trip to explore it all. For a start, head out to the Sunshine Coast, a two-and-half-hour drive from Brisbane. Apart from its world-class beaches and hinterlands, the area is home to some of the best produce on the plate. To prove it, it even has its own highly popular Noosa International Food & Wine Festival.
The Sunshine Coast's mild weather, which ranges from 11 degrees Celsius in winter to about 28 degrees Celsius in summer, makes it ideal for growing more tropical produce, such as sugar cane, ginger, peppers, alongside the usual vegetables such as beans and tomatoes.
70 McCarthy Road, Maleny. http://malenydairies.com/
The Hopper family have owned Maleny Dairies since 1948, but it was only in 2002 that they began bottling their own milk under the Maleny Dairies label. To date, the company is the only dairy with a manufacturing plant in Maleny village. Only Guernsey cows are reared here, as this breed is particularly renowned for its rich flavour of milk.
Farm tours are available twice a day from Mondays to Saturdays, where visitors can try their hand at milking, and also view the bottling process. You can buy the milk right there too, be it full cream, skimmed or low-fat.
943 Maleny-Montville Road, Maleny
Some 22 years ago, South African native Matilda Scarfe came to Maleny, fell in love with a 500 year old fig tree, and settled there. Today, she runs a highly successful holiday accommodation business, where visitors get to sleep in cottages decked out in a safari theme.
She also opened a restaurant with South African cuisine on the menu. And when diners began complimenting her on the food, and wishing that they could cook as well as her, Ms Scarfe branched out into food production as well.
She produces a range of marinades, chutneys, sauces and curry mixes under her label, Gourmet Afrika. Her production space is a tiny kitchen at the back of her house. Many of the products are traditionally South African, such as the sesame, lime and ginger marinade, or the Mango and Paw Paw Chutney with Ginger.
Gourmet Afrika's products are sold in 200 shops across the country.
A few years ago, Graeme and Karen Paynter were living the expat life in Singapore. He was managing the Asia-Pacific region for a US-based software company and she was a corporate lawyer. Mr Paynter thought about becoming a cheese maker after watching a TV programme on making cheese in Ireland. Both had no experience.
But Mr Paynter began researching cheese making on the Internet, and found a property in West Woombye, which has since become his home. His cheese factory is inside a former tractor shed, next to his house. The first batch of handmade cheese was produced in 2013. The range of cow's milk cheese now includes camembert, triple cream brie, truffle triple cream brie, vintage cheddar and marinated persian feta in oil.
Woombye Cheese has been invited to participate in food festivals, and its products are sold at selected retailers such as Woombye IGA. Factory visits are not available to the public.
Cedar Creek Farm Bush Foods
387 Cedar Creek Road, Belli Park
Peter Wolfe used to work in Australia's well-known restaurants, but these days, he's happy cooking up a meal on the back of his "ute", a term lovingly given to a utility vehicle. His passion now is in Australian bush foods.
In 2002, together with his wife, Shauna, they started Cedar Creek Farm Bush Foods, providing a range of culinary products made from native fruits, vegetables and herbs. When we visited him, he whipped up some kangaroo tail meat soup, and fried up some bunya pine nuts, which taste fairly similar to macadamia nuts. He also cooked up a dish of pan fried scabbies with Tasmanian Mountain Pepperberries.
Cedar Creek Farm Bush Foods also sells bush spices such as wattle seeds, mountain pepper leaf and native mint. There are also sauces on sale, including a pepperberry jam which works as a meat marinade, and a Dragon Breath chilli sauce. The items are available at farmers markets, such as at the Eumundi Markets.
Cedar Street Cheeserie
It is hard to tell but bespoke cheesemaker Trevor Hart is also an accomplished jazz trumpet player and composer.
Having travelled a lot around the Mediterranean and spending time in rural France, cheese lover Hart knew a lot about the quality of cheese. He uses only buffalo milk, and gets them from a nearby buffalo dairy farm. Hart makes each batch by hand and only in small batches to ensure quality. His non-descript cheeserie is a tiny space beneath his home, and this is where he produces buffalo mozzarella, burrata, buffalo bocconcini and buffalo milk haloumi.
Besides being sold at farmers' markets, such as at the Noosa Farmers Market, the award-winning cheeses are also sent to high end restaurants in Brisbane and Melbourne.
Farmer & Sun Shop
306/1-5 Ramsey Road, Southside Town Centre,
What annoys farmer Steve Waugh most are the pigs that run through his vegetable farm, eating and destroying the crops. To get that problem under control, he's hired a team to shoot them. It is all part of farming, he says.
Together with his wife Trena, they have been farming in Gympie for over 35 years. At their farm, they grow up to 60 varieties of vegetables, such as beans, tomatoes, carrots, and broccoli. The couple are best known for their baby green beans which is supplied to Qantas, and for their skill in growing heirloom tomatoes.
The produce is sold at farmers' market, and also to restaurants in Sydney. Three years ago, they opened a Farmer & Sun store, so customers could get easier access to their produce. Apart from fresh fruit and vegetables, the store also stocks gluten-free and organic products.
Gone are the days of selling real estate for Cecelia "CC" Diaz-Petersen. These days, you're more likely to find her in a small kitchen at the back of her home in Woolooga, cooking up jams and sauces.
She prides herself on creating products that have no preservatives, artificial flavouring and colouring, "when food went straight from the garden to the pot to the plate", she says. Living with her husband and his parents on their farm means she has ready access to fresh produce such as gourmet tomatoes, green papaya, herbs, rosellas, gooseberries, chillies, beans, cauliflower, zucchinis, eggplant and wide variety of Asian veggies.
CC's Kitchen products can be found in speciality shops and butcher shops, trade shows/festivals or at markets around the region from Maryborough, Hervey Bay, Tin Can Bay, Sunshine Coast and Brisbane area.
Some of the best selling products include her tomato and chilli chutney and rosella jam.
Step into the Garnisha Curries plantation, and you get a feeling like you haven't stepped out of Singapore. There are rows of chillies, curry, limes, and lemongrass being planted on a large scale rather than on the balcony which we are more familiar with.
These are all grown by Tim Warren, who has a lifelong interest in spicy foods, and a background of travel that influenced his experiments with curry pastes and spice mixtures. Urged on by curry loving friends requesting sample jars, Mr Warren began developing products that were tasty and had a long shelf life.
In 1991, he started the Garnisha range of spice blends with a stall in a nearby farmers' market, and four years later, Garnisha products became commercially available with wholesale distributors.
Mr Warren produces a variety of Indian, North African and Middle Eastern, Malay and Thai sauces and marinades, as well as brinjal and lime pickles.
The food festivals
Now in its 12th year, the Noosa International Food and Wine Festival (www.noosafoodandwine.com.au)draws a strong crowd at every edition. This year, some 30,000 people turned up for three days of eating, drinking, shopping for produce, cooking demonstrations and the chance to meet celebrity chefs.
Festival director Jim Berardo says what makes this festival different from others is the "fun factor". Indeed, most chefs would tell you that food festivals are mainly held in big halls. But at Noosa, the festival is held in a park, and at some meals, diners get to eat on the beach with their feet buried in the sand. This festival is held annually in May.
Another food festival that is taking off is the Real Food Festival (www.realfoodfestivals.com.au), which is taking place on Sept 12 and 13. Festival director Julie Shelton says: "This will be a great weekend for building relationships with others in the food and agribusiness industries, from primary producers, manufacturers, right through to the value chain to chefs and retailers."
This festival brings together local producers from the Sunshine Coast, with plenty of activities for the family.
Meeting the producers on their farms or factories can sometimes be tricky. Some are very small, and are not open to visitors. The best way to meet them is to go on a food tour.
Mystic Mountain Tours (www.mysticmountainstour.com.au) offers tours that will take visitors to farms, and also with stops at cafes to taste award winning gelatos.
If visiting all these producers has inspired you to learn some cooking, then take a class at Freestyle Escape (www.freestyleescape.com.au), run by food tourism consultant Martin Duncan. The former chef and restaurant owner is a big advocate of Sunshine Coast produce, and conducts cooking classes. Some of the classes are conducted by celebrity chefs.
The writer was a guest of Tourism and Events Queensland and Tourism Australia.
This article was first published on June 6, 2015.
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