A tasty se­lec­tion

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - FRONT PAGE - Graeme Phillips

TWENTY fi ve years ago there were seven stall­hold­ers but no stalls, fewer than sev­eral hun­dred visi­tors, you brought your own bar­be­cue and I gave away or took home more veni­son sausages than we sold.

This year more than 250,000 visi­tors were catered for by 76 stall­hold­ers, 41 of them in cus­tom- de­signed stalls and, while a few un­luck­ily sit­u­ated ones did well to crack even, the cof­fee stands were pump­ing 400 cups an hour.

Five dol­lars topped the plate prices in those days. This year, it was 10 times that and a $ 50 bot­tle of wine was one vine­yard’s big­gest seller.

I wasn’t around for Taste last year, but I’ve done or at­tended the pre­vi­ous 23 and for me, and from all sorts of as­pects, this year’s was by far the best ever.

Co- chair­men Al­der­men Marti Zucco and Peter Sex­ton, have done a great job over the past two years, par­tic­u­larly in the im­prove­ments they’ve over­seen in the pre­sen­ta­tion of the stalls, in stall­holder and vis­i­tor fa­cil­i­ties and the overfl ow of the event onto the Sala­manca lawns.

This year’s big­gest im­prove­ment, how­ever, was in the prod­uct mix of the 76 stalls.

When I spoke to Marti Zucco dur­ing the lead up to the 2011- 12 event, he said “In the se­lec­tion process and mix of stalls, we’re aim­ing to re­turn the Taste to its roots, a com­mu­nity celebration of the best of Tas­ma­nia’s food, wine and re­gional pro­duce and of the peo­ple who make them”.

And it struck me that with the stall se­lec­tion this year they largely achieved their aim. That, with stalls like the Cable Sta­tion, Mount Gnomon Farm, El­gaar Farm, Seven Sheds Brew­ery, Christ­mas Hills, Ash­grove Farm, Bar­ring­wood Wines, Dick­ens and Sprey­ton Cider, all from the North and North West plus Ta­mar Val­ley vine­yards such as Holm Oak, Mar­ion’s, Na­tive Point, Moores Hill and other cheese, beer and wine stalls from the North East and East Coast, the 25th Taste was a much truer and wider celebration of Tas­ma­nia than ever be­fore.

And, de­spite stall­holder costs and con­se­quently food and wine prices ris­ing, there was a “re­turn to its roots” in there be­ing more cheap, small- plate tastes this time than in re­cent years, thanks mostly to the Asian stalls.

Hejo’s su­perb over- sized oys­ters, sea­weed

salad and dumplings; Mint’s se­lec­tion of re­fresh­ingly spiced rice pa­per rolls; the dif­fer­ent sa­tays from Vanidols and Sapa Rose; An­na­purna’s samosas and Waji’s ever- pop­u­lar Thai- crusted scal­lops and chilli mus­sels were all avail­able for $ 5 or less.

Even a good old Aussie sausage roll at Ur­ban Bounty for $ 5 and a wagyu beef pie from Clover Hill/ Cable Sta­tion for $ 4 pro­vided ex­cel­lent value for money, es­pe­cially for fam­i­lies with kids.

The Tas­ma­nian high­lights for me this year were the cer­e­mo­nial- like cut­ting of Pyen­gana’s huge wheel of aged ched­dar and the way that the evo­lu­tion of the Taste was on dis­play at An­dre Richard­son’s Is­land Berries stall.

Six­teen years ago, he came to his fi rst Taste with just one prod­uct, a ba­sic sum­mer pud­ding. This year his stall’s daz­zling dis­play con­sisted of six dif­fer­ent panna cot­tas, a stun­ning sum­mer pud­ding and two tarts made in var­i­ous com­bi­na­tions of red and white rasp­ber­ries, straw­ber­ries, blue­ber­ries, red­cur­rants, sil­van­ber­ries and spiced fi gs.

The sad­dest part this year was that this was the last Taste for the mutli- award- win­ning Tas­ma­nian High­land Cheeses stall with the Bignells with­draw­ing from cheese mak­ing for the time be­ing to con­cen­trate on their Both­well farm and fam­ily.

Among their other cheeses, this means the last of their Bil­lie Blue, the aged ver­sion of which is, in my opin­ion, Tas­ma­nia’s best cheese, the equiv­a­lent of the best Euro­pean Gor­gonzo­las, Ro­que­forts and Stil­tons.

Un­for­tu­nately, but mem­o­rably, this year it was avail­able for only the fi rst few days of Taste.

Un­like in the early days when Sala­manca eater­ies com­plained bit­terly that the Taste sucked up all their busi­ness, it was good to see the whole strip pump­ing this year.

Zucco said he and Sex­ton were al­ready mak­ing notes for im­prove­ments next year.

“Each year there are al­ways a few prob­lems and a few new ideas and things you could do bet­ter”, he said.

“And you can look for­ward to an even big­ger and bet­ter Taste as it en­ters its sec­ond quar­ter of a cen­tury”.

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