Matthew Evans reflects on the uniqueness of Tasmania's microclimates, small-scale agriculture, and boundless diversity. The experience of filming Gourmet Farmer Afloat cements his opinion of Tasmania as a society that has never lost its connection to the soil.
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26 Jan 2015 - 4:26 PM  UPDATED 17 Sep 2015 - 5:13 PM

There was a stark realisation as we sailed around from the South West Wilderness to Recherche Bay and later the Huon Valley; a jolt as we suddenly rounded the last big corner of our triangular-shaped state and saw people walking on beaches, and heard the strangely familiar sound of birdsong.

It was so different from the uninhabited, wild remote west coast. A guide once explained to me that the rainforest of Tasmania’s west is so ancient that it evolved before birds. So while some birds make their homes there, the forest itself doesn’t rely on their presence. Hence it’s quieter, less resonant with song. Though it does rain in buckets.

Variety comes from within our sphere. What this means is we can consume countless things grown within cooee, not hundreds of kilometres, of our house.

Where we live, on the edge of this wilderness, is different. The soil is different. The trees are more likely to be the newcomers, eucalypts, and they attract and need birds. The rainfall is far less. And the potential for agriculture far greater. What came home to me on the last leg of our journey was the uniqueness of where we live. No wonder the French established a garden at Recherche Bay when they first sailed through. No wonder countless others – including us – have sought rural lives here.

In terms of density, more people live in the country in my council area than in any other regional area in Australia. This means we have a lot of people living in the bush. This means we have small farms. Small blocks with myriad microclimates. We don’t do broadscale agriculture. A big farm probably boasts cherries or apples or beef cattle. A small farm boasts saffron and perhaps a couple of pigs. What we lack in scale, we make up for in diversity. You can milk two dozen goats in my valley and make cheese and make money. Tongola goat dairy do it. You can grow to sell at the farm gate and markets. Fork and Hoe and plenty of others do it. There are those that specialise in organic blueberries. There’s a large grower of amazingly sweet strawberries. Others, like Andy and Mary down the road, have just a few apple trees, and are famed for the quality of their cherries. I’ve watched a local bloke use far less than an acre to earn a living off, apparently for 30 years, mostly from peas. It’s marginal country for wine (though less so as the climate warms), which translates into sensational cool climate pinot noir and chardonnay. In Franklin, the Canes grow amazing, melting flesh peaches, where they’re picked and packed in order of ripeness, so you start at one end of the box and work up to the other. Other farms just feed themselves and perhaps a neighbour or two.

What this means, for us as eaters, is that variety comes from within our sphere. It means we can consume countless things grown within cooee, not hundreds of kilometres, of our house. Sure, we’ll buy a few mangoes from far-off Queensland in the season. Who wouldn’t, when they taste so sublime? And we’re not averse to bananas, or avocadoes, or the occasional prawn, which typically don’t come from these shores.

But sailing around Tasmania, and eventually cooking such varied local produce at Government House at the climax of the trip, did give me an increasing appreciation for the specialness of the place. It gave me more of an insight into our corner of the globe and why I’ve chosen to call it home. It’s opened my eyes to what everyone else is doing on this island state. From its Aboriginal history, to its current artistic rise, floating around the shore has cemented my opinion of Tasmania as a truly remarkable location. The food is one expression of this. And it’s made me proud to be just a small thread in the fabric of a society that has never lost its connection to the soil.

 

Matthew's Tassie menu

1. Skipjack tuna sashimi with salted onions and ponzu sauce

2. Salad of beetroot-cured trout, grapefruit, goat's curd and salmon roe

3. Mussels steamed with cider, chorizo and tomato

4. Saffron, mascarpone and leatherwood cheesecake

 

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