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Chefs get back to nature with Hills food and wine

Eat | Drink | Explore

An experimental food foraging project launched in the Adelaide Hills yesterday is designed to help build the region’s identity as a food and wine destination.

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The ALTR project, an initiative of the region’s wine industry group, saw well-known chefs foraging for local ingredients to create a menu matched to a selection of local wines.

Adelaide Hills Wine Region CEO Robin Shaw says the ALTR project, which culminated in a lunch yesterday at Mt Lofty House, is all about changing perceptions of the Hills food and wine culture. ALTR, Shaw explains, is simply a play on words with the “e” deliberately left out – symbolic that the Hills region is doing things differently.

One of the key outcomes of the project will be a short film due for release in early July that will expose the food and wine culture of the Hills.

“Over the months of April and May a group of Adelaide Hills winemakers have been working with chefs Justin Miles (Windy Point Restaurant), Tze Khaw (National Wine Centre) and Jamie Laing (Maximillian’s) to help them discover the hidden gastronomic and vinous gems the region has to offer,” Shaw says.

“These chefs have been sent foraging through creek beds and market gardens, have fought off hives of bees, pilfered pantries and tasted bubbling ferments with wine royalty to provide inspiration for their design and construction of a four-course menu for a regional lunch exclusively featuring Hills produce and wines.”

Khaw used locally foraged river watercress from Sixth Creek, fennel from Piccadilly, red and golden beets, and walnuts from Cherryville to create a shared entree plate with Udder Delights goat curd; Laing took a fillet of Hills venison, dusted it with rosemary ash and plated it with pea puree, Summertown blackberries and blackberry jus, wild pea tendrils from Sixth Creek and Brussels sprouts; and Miles’ dessert featured fried dumplings with Udder Delights King Saul cheese, roast Basket Range quince, Lenswood Pink Lady apples, river mint and nasturtium leaves from Sixth Creek and Blue Gum honey from Buzz Honey.

Local winemakers, food producers, property owners and media enjoyed the range of exciting dishes with the parade of Hills wines on offer from prominent labels including Henschke, Longview, Paracombe and Petaluma. However, the fact that the foraging had been carried out six weeks earlier showed, particularly in the absence of mushrooms, which was a pity, given the bounteous crop this year of pine mushrooms, slippery jacks, and, wondrously, porcini mushrooms. That was because the event originally was to have taken place during Tasting Australia and there had been no opportunity for the chefs to convene since then.

While the wines easily showed the great diversity of varieties and styles the Hills is capable of producing, this was just the barest sampling of Hills produce, whether foraged, grown or value-added. The region really is a garden of extraordinary delights for both chefs and their customers.

For many of those involved, it was a long-overdue and very timely project to pull together and highlight the now very obvious strengths of the region in both the quality and diversity of its wine and food offerings, just as has already happened, in a much more developed way, in the Barossa.

Interestingly, it took a relatively small, industry-funded group to take the initiative in creating what, at this stage, is intended to become an annual event and include chefs from interstate. Next year the plan is to bring the forage and the lunch closer together.

The lunch was filmed as part of a three-minute promotional documentary on Hills food and wine, which will be available on the Hills wine region website, with a 30-second film for cellar-door and promotional use at consumer and trade events.

Shaw says the project, partially funded with $40,000 from PIRSA, which has been matched by the wine region, is a big investment for the winemakers to make: “It’s not perfect yet but it’s a start,” she says. “Already it’s working in creating growing interest in the eastern states.”

It’s an exercise that has great potential and should be applauded. But it will need serious support, most obviously from both SA Tourism and the local Regional Development Board, as happened in the Barossa, to give it the muscle and influence it will need to convince the rest of the world.

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