A tasty selection
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”.