The best experiences are when you get the inside track from a local. SBS Food star Poh Ling Yeow is our lucky mainlander who has local Gourmet Farmer Matthew Evans taking her around Woolnorth and Cape Grim, on Tasmania's top northwest tip, to meet local producers and discover what makes Tasmanian produce some of the best in the world. On their travels, Matthew learns some things about Tasmania that he didn't know and Poh picks ups her favourite food souvenirs to take back to the mainland.
Just try to stand up straight at Cape Grim
It would almost be disappointing if you could stand up straight at Cape Grim. Home to the cleanest air in the world, The Roaring Forties, as the winds are known, whip across 16,000 kilometres of ocean before they make landfall at the cape. It’s here that you often need to stand at 45 degrees, just to make sure you don’t fall over.
It’s here that you’ll find Woolnorth Wind Farm, which is the most efficient of its kind in the country (yep, that wind is consistent!). It’s at Cape Grim that you stare out to sea, and face your mortality amidst the scale of the cliffs, the freshness of the air, the strength of the breeze.
Our guide, Laura McIntosh, is a force of nature, too. She’s a friendly, farmer-tough soul who’s also a walking encyclopaedia.
Want to know how fast the blades of the wind turbines are turning? Laura will know. Want to find out what makes Cape Grim beef one of the finest branded beefs in the nation? Laura has the goss. Want to work out why Woolnorth, Australia’s largest dairy farm (or more accurately, farms), has no wool, and actually has no beef cattle, despite being the home of the actual Cape Grim? Laura is your woman.
To see Woolnorth, you'll need to take a tour. Hello, chopper!
If you want to lean into the wind at Cape Grim, you have to enter Woolnorth, and because it’s private property, you need to take a tour. Laura takes large and small groups, including those who arrive by chopper and get the full gourmet lunch, including Josef Chromy’s top-end Zdar wines. She knows the stories of the property’s Tassie devils (thankfully in good health), has a good handle on the Indigenous history of the region, and is as versed in the stewardship of the farm as most of the farmers. And yet the tour is anything but dry. It’s something she’s done, first with her mother for a decade or two, and now on her own as Woolnorth Tours.
I thought I knew a bit about this northwestern tip of Tasmania from a previous trip. I thought I understood its history (including an Indigenous massacre at Cape Grim). But what I learned on a tour of Woolnorth with Laura was mostly how little I knew.
Woolnorth is a massive chunk of verdant green dairy country, slowly being divided into smaller dairy farms under the one owner. Over a platter of King Island Dairy cheese (“from just 40 kilometres, over that way” Laura gestures out over Bass Strait), the place is demystified.
Hang on, there's no wool in Woolnorth?
Set up by the Brits to grow sheep for wool (possibly for greatcoats for the British Army), Woolnorth was – curiously – never very good for sheep, especially those bred for their fleece. But for 180 of the last 190 years, sheep were farmed here. Eventually, with its abundant rain, deep topsoil and mild perfect-for-grass-growing climate, Woolnorth – after several changes in ownership – saw the light, and now focuses on dairy.
And Cape Grim beef doesn't come from Cape Grim?
While I’m enjoying a slab of Cape Grim Beef, Laura explains that the beef brand represents all that’s good about the area, even if it doesn’t come from the cape that shares its name. The local abattoir in Smithton noticed that amazing quality beef was being sold as just, well, good quality, because there was no grading system to cope with the really good beef going through. So they set up their own standard to hand pick the best beef that they can find, and now Cape Grim is synonymous with great flavoured meat. That’s also thanks to them only using British breeds, and ensuring there’s no grain feeding, no growth hormones added, and no antibiotic use. When you look at it from an eater’s point of view, it’s the way beef cattle probably should be raised.
From ancient middens to state-of-the-art wind turbines, Woolnorth is a mix of old and new; a blend of what at first glance is traditional farming and yet underneath is world-leading technology.
It’s wild and yet civilised, weather-beaten and yet pretty as a postcard.
In other words, it’s like every place you’ve never been. I'll be going back.
Poh's food souvenirs
You’d be hard pressed to find any beef better than Cape Grim Beef. The cattle from this region comes from the highest quality husbandry and is bred in one of the most pristine parts of the globe. In fact, the air in this region is rated the cleanest in the world. Great care is taken to ensure the animals are entirely grass fed and stress free - the result, an incomparable buttery texture and sweet flavour.
I can't go past using the beef in its simplest form as a gorgeous steak.
If there’s one thing I’ve learnt over the years as a cook, is that when it comes to a premium product, in order to do it justice, avoid fussing about with it too much and let it speak for itself.
I love steak with a creamy mushroom and white wine sauce. My method is to caramelise mushrooms well in salted butter, garlic, eschalots and a few sprigs of thyme, before adding a Josef Chromy pinot gris or sauvignon blanc to deglaze, then simmer before finishing with a good dash of cream. To inject some freshness and vibrancy to the rich sauce, add a little freshly picked thyme and a handful of roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley at the end.
My other favourite sauce to have with steak is a Piedmontese specialty, bagna cauda. It’s a buttery, creamy anchovy sauce usually eaten with crudités; over a beautiful piece of steak, it’s a heavenly experience. Serve with a lamb’s lettuce salad tossed with a simple Dijon dressing so your palate is refreshed between mouthfuls of the richly flavoured steak.
With premium steak, you want to make sure you don't muck up cooking it. Here are a few tips for cooking steak to your choice of doneness. For what a rare steak should feel like, lightly bring your thumb and index finger together so they are just touching, then press the fleshy part at the base of your thumb with your other index finger; for medium-rare, do the same thing with your thumb and middle finger; for medium, do the same thing with your thumb and ring finger; for well done, press your thumb against your ring finger.
Also, always use a very hot cast-iron griddle, stainless steel frying pan or barbecue but avoid a non-stick frying pan because you want maximum caramelisation over a short period of time and a non-stick frying pan doesn’t conduct heat as well so you’ll wind up not sealing the meat immediately and drawing a lot of the moisture out before you get it to the ‘doneness’ you want.
Then, always rest the meat for half the time you cooked it for. If you don’t, all the precious juices won’t have time to settle, be re-absorbed and will immediately spill out upon slicing.
A few years ago, I had the fortune of doing a story on King Island Dairy's fantastic and very lovely head cheesemaker, Swiss born, Ueli Berger for Poh’s Kitchen. I returned to Adelaide with several wheels of their cheeses - as I did with this trip too. Some of the cheeses I shared with friends and some I made into beautiful dishes.
One of my favourite things to use cheese in is pastry - think a beef and stout pie with a Bass Strait Blue studded pastry or an apple pie with a Surprise Bay Cheddar-infused shortcrust.
I also love making a a Stokes Point Smoked Cheddar soufflé, served with a simple chopped salad - it’s perfect for a light spring or summer dinner.
Don't miss the next instalment of Matthew's and Poh's Local versus Mainlander four-part video series from September to October 2017.