Pinning their hopes on a blue moo
On Norfolk Island, a strangely hued beast is the star of a thriving farming and dining venture
WHENRobyn Murdoch arrived on Norfolk Island in 2001 as chief executive of its administrative body, she thought her eyes were playing tricks on her. Many of the cows, she was perplexed to see, were blue.
The curious cattle, a heritage breed that had evolved over decades on the island, 1400km off the east coast of Australia, soon became her obsession. She left her job in November 2002, married local farmer Paul ‘‘Jap’’ Menghetti a year later and set about collecting every one of the unusually-hued animals.
Today, the couple owns all but one of the island’s norfolk blue cattle (a neighbouring farmer has the other), which is said to have its origins in a single angusshorthorn cross ‘‘blue bull’’ brought from the mainland more than 100 years ago.
Affectionately known as Dr Blue Suit, the energetic beast set about seducing the local herefords, friesians and murray greys with his bovine bedside manner, creating a unique herd.
The Menghettis soon established a breeding program for their unusual collection, the meat from which supplies their popular Norfolk Blue Homestead Restaurant, Grill & Bar, and last year they teamed up with central NSWstud cattle breeder Jonathan Wright to begin an artificial insemination program to improve the genetics of their herd.
Menghetti is rightly proud of what she and her husband have achieved almost single-handedly on 100 Acre Farm in the island’s southwest, originally part of a Melanesian Mission established there in the 1860s.
We jump into her battered four-wheel-drive for a tour of the thriving property, which the pair has painstakingly regenerated over the past few years.
‘‘Every weed has been cut and poisoned by hand, we’ve chainsawed and mulched it all ourselves,’’ she says as we veer down a steep, green slope. I half expect to end up in the creek at the bottom, which the pair has brought back to life using the sustainable agriculture principles of respected Australian grazier and author Peter Andrews, but diminutive Menghetti expertly negotiates the uneven terrain. She steers us out of the property’s front gate and down a road lined with moreton bay figs, past the entrance to novelist Colleen McCullough’s home (the awardwinning author married an islander and has lived on Norfolk for more than three decades), and into the paddocks in which the prized herd is kept.
As soon as Menghetti opens the paddock gate, the cows begin lumbering towards us.
Menghetti gets out of the car brandishing a bag of feed and we are quickly surrounded by the determined bovines.
These doe-eyed beauties are not so much cobalt as a soft greyblue, a shade that wouldn’t look bad on a living-room wall. Some are almost completely blue, others have large white patches that break up the colour block.
These are the breeding stock, Menghetti tells me, as I edge back into the car after a little too much pushing and shoving. The plucky farmer shows no such fear; it is clear she is attached to the herd, able to identify individuals even from a distance.
Menghetti points out one cow set to be dispatched in the next few weeks for failing to calve; one of the farm’s three bulls, an unpredictable beast with a serious personality problem, is under similar threat.
Back at the restaurant, we take a seat on the veranda and tuck into the house specialty, norfolk blue beef pate, a tasty spread served with caperberries, crostini and homemade chutney. We also try a warm Asian beef salad and an extremely moreish slowbraised beef with dumplings.
It’s the only place in the world you can eat norfolk blue beef, and you can do so without worrying a jot about the environmental impact — the food miles here are all of about 1km, the distance between the Menghettis’ paddock and my now scrupulously clean plate. Michelle Rowe was a guest of Norfolk Island Tourism, Norfolk Blue and Air New Zealand.
Robyn Menghetti with one of her prized norfolk blue bulls