We’re a dram fine state
WANDERING through Brand Tasmania’s Meet the Producer showcase at Wrest Point a fortnight ago, it brought home to me just how dramatically our food and beverage scenes have changed since I arrived in 1980, a time when Hobart’s largest vegetable wholesaler didn’t know what dill was.
Of the extensive range of products on show, only four were available in 1980. And of the 45 producers proudly showing their wares, only Cripps Bakers, Mures and, I think, Betta Milk were then in business.
The first farmed salmon was released to market a few years after my arrival.
At the Brand event, Huon Aquaculture was providing tastings of what is now a $ 400 million industry, with demand growing at more than $ 1 million a week.
Four olive growers were at the event offering tastings of vivid green and peppery oils from early picked fruit, golden and less spicy midseason oils and milder late- picked oils from different olive varieties.
I wondered how many of them realised that they, and the many other producers across the state, owed a legacy to the late Attilio Minnucci who planted the state’s first commercial olives near Huonville in 1985.
People laughed up their sleeves at him at the time, and thought he was just a crazy, old, homesick Italian. Now it’s an industry.
Of the 10 participating vineyards at the event, none were around in 1980.
Today, Tasmania boasts more than 250 vineyards and about 160 different producers in an industry contributing about $ 90 million a year to the state’s GDP and employing more than 1000 people.
Jansz was there, 24 years after it was released as Tasmania’s first sparkling wine in 1989.
Today it is but the first of many, with James Halliday recently writing about sparkling wine that “Tasmania now and in the future [ is] the keeper of the Holy Grail”.
There were four of Tasmania’s nine distilleries represented at the event, all part of an industry that started with Bill Lark’s single barrel of home- distilled whisky in 1992, their single malts and other spirits now receiving wide international acclaim with exports to the United States, Asia and Europe.
As Bill Lark said, “I had absolutely no idea it’d end up like this. The Scotch malt whisky industry is centuries old and to think we could achieve the sort of recognition that we have in the world of whisky in just 20 years is really quite staggering.’’
Then, of course, there were several producers from the booming cider and artisan brewing industries as well as relatively recent entrants such as Hammond Farms Wagyu, Flinders Island Meat, Miellerie Honey, Island Berries and Island Curries.
Especially pleasing was to see – at a time when hundreds of millions of dollars are being invested in the milk and cheese processing industries – was that there’s still room for new, small, hands- on, speciality producers such as Red Cow Dairies and Yondover Farmhouse Cheese to establish a quality niche. This is just as Frank Marchand, Joe Gretschmann and John Bignell did with Heidi Farm, Elgaar Farm and Tasmanian Highland Cheeses, respectively, decades ago.
So, for me, it was a bit of a nostalgic trip.
But my, how things have changed from the days when you couldn’t get dill to how lucky we are 30 years later. What a fabulous and complete, multi- course feast we could manage today.