Pin­ning their hopes on a blue moo

On Nor­folk Is­land, a strangely hued beast is the star of a thriv­ing farm­ing and din­ing ven­ture

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Indulgence - MICHELLE ROWE

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.

MICHELLE ROWE

Robyn Menghetti with one of her prized nor­folk blue bulls

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