The Avon Valley Gourmet Food & Wine Festival was held in Northam on the WA Day long weekend. The festival was previously the York Gourmet Food & Wine Festival but was rebranded this year to “Avon Valley” and moved to Northam, having outgrown the York venue. It was a showcase of food, wine and producers from all over Western Australia. The images do not cover every stall at the festival, but I hope this post gives you a sense of its size, scope and atmosphere.
Andersen Cacao Creations sells raw organic handmade chocolate that is sugar and dairy-free.
The family-run BushShack Brewery hails from Yallingup, starting life as the Wicked Ale Brewery in the late 1990s. In addition to more traditional brews they make flavoured beers including chocolate, chilli, Twister Lemon Lager (with lemon and honey) and Strawberry Blonde (made with real strawberries), and flavoured wine drinks including Ginger Beer, Mango Madness, Passionfruit and Scream’n Cream’n (alcoholic soda with raspberry and vanilla flavours). They had plenty of tastings on offer at the festival as well as takeaway packs for sale.
Shenton Park-based business Waggy Dog Bakehouse had delectable-looking cupcakes and cookies on display, surprising some onlookers when they realised these were healthy gourmet doggy treats. They even make special birthday cakes and pizzas, all with ingredients safe for doggies’ tummies. All recipes have been taste-tested by Waggy Dog owner Donna’s cattle dog Ollie, and 10% of the proceeds made from sales are donated to Shenton Park Dogs Refuge Home, where she adopted Ollie from.
I had a quick chat with Bettina Pretsel of Pretsel Vineyard Pickled Walnuts from Manjimup. Pickled walnuts were popular in Britain in the 1700s and perhaps, thanks to Pretsel Vineyard, they’ll make a surprise comeback. I sampled apple cider pickled walnuts (quite tart) and the new honey preserved walnuts, based on a traditional Persian recipe (quite sweet, with a subtle hint of ginger). Pickled walnuts can be eaten as a snack, but the apple cider ones are great on a tasting platter, especially with blue cheese, salami and smoked meats, while the malt pickled walnuts are traditionally used in cooking, to add flavour to soups and casseroles. There were five varieties for sale, and Bettina had mini packs for people who weren’t game to commit to buying a whole jar.
Jac bought a box of assorted biscuits (ANZAC, triple choc, macadamia and white chocolate, shortbread) from For the Coffee Table, a Perth-based business, from Wembley.
Katandra Preserves from Busselton had one of the most colourful displays at the festival, with jars of preserves, chutneys, pickles, mustards, jams, sauces and bottled fruits.
You couldn’t miss the York Ice Cream Company‘s umbrella-topped tricycle. The ice cream is made in small batches using Harvey Fresh milk and blended by hand by the same people who own the York Olive Oil Company. They use seasonal ingredients with no artificial flavours, so at different times of year, some flavours may not be available.
Jac and I shared a tub of Jarrah honey ice cream (AU$5 per tub) – fantastic. If you get the chance to try York Ice Cream Co’s ice cream, don’t hesitate!
A number of Western Australian wineries had stalls at the festival, including Avonbrook Wines from Clackline in the Avon Valley, Thomson Brook Estate and Barton Jones Wines from Donnybrook in the South West, and Downderry Wines from Narrogin in the Wheatbelt region. Jac bought a bottle Donnybrook Sweet White from Thomson Brook Wines, which she took to dinner and enjoyed with her hockey team-mates last week.
Uniquely Toodyay is a co-up run by local food producers and craft businesses in the old post office at Toodyay. Their stand featured a diverse range of products including organic honey, lime cordial and marmalade, organic olive oil, olives, chutneys and relishes, organic capers, and sandalwood nuts and soap. We sampled Santaleuca roasted sandalwood nuts for the first time at this stall. They’re quite a soft, subtle-tasting nut that’s definitely improved by a good salting.
It was a sausagefest at Karutz Smallgoods, with garlic, venison and kangaroo mettwursts (regular and hot varieties), as well as salami and chorizo. You can usually find Karutz Smallgoods at Fremantle Markets and the Station Street Markets at Subiaco.
WA Pistachios sells pistachios grown in their orchard in the Avon Valley.
The Heritage Country Cheese stand was among the most popular, with people lining up to taste the free samples of cheese. Heritage Country Cheese is family-owned and run, and has its factory in Balingup where cheese sales and tastings are available. Our favourite was the chilli and garlic club cheddar.
Although the focus was food and wine, there were stands featuring cooking equipment, clothes and shoes, mobile device accessories, second-hand goods and other non-edible/drinkable items. Among the more interesting were these roses made from birch wood by Fremantle Wooden Roses. You can complete the illusion by adding fragrance using rose essential oil mixed with water.
Merredin Tin Signs and Novelties sell vintage-style tin signs and novelties perfect for the den, shed, retro diner and possibly my study.
Aussie Outback Books had an interesting range of books for sale, on Western Australian rural life, geography and history.
Chef Don Hancey of Panorama Catering ran a couple of cooking demonstrations each day of the festival, using and talking about local produce and products, including some featured around the Festival and other favourites such as Western Potatoes and Linley Valley Pork. He was assisted by Navy chef Paul Graham from HMAS Stirling, and local politician Christian Porter.
In addition to all the free tastings, our favourite foods from the festival included chocolate-dipped fruit (a frozen chocolate dipped banana for me, chocolate strawberries for Jac – the same stall also sold hot roasted nuts and chicken salted pork crackling!), the York Ice Cream Co, and for Jac, freshly shucked Coffin Bay oysters (AU$9 for three) at Carl Thee Shucker‘s stand outside. By our estimation, there were around 50 stalls in the recreation centre, plus another 10 or so outside. A sign pointed to the “Chill out area”, face painting, more food, fresh coffee, and the cuddly animal farm, but I’m not convinced it was seen by everyone, as the outside section didn’t seem as well patronised as it should be. We made the most of it.
We left the Festival in search of a pub lunch, returning afterwards for another hour of wandering, checking out the stands we’d missed earlier and catching more of Don Hancey’s cooking demo. We were given wristbands upon entry in the morning so had no problem getting into the Festival again in the afternoon.
We spent a bit of time with the kids and baby animals at Old MacDonald’s Travelling Farm.
There was ample parking onsite for a gold coin donation with proceeds going to the Northam Men’s Shed, a place where men of all ages can meet, make friends and participate in projects that improve their health and wellbeing.
A few readers asked me on Facebook if it was worth driving from Perth to the Avon Valley for the festival. For food lovers and those interested in supporting local producers, it definitely was worth attending. There were plenty of free samples and new items to discover. You were under no obligation to buy anything, but we emerged with biscuits, lollies and wine. It is always nice to meet and chat with producers. If I had any suggestions to make, it would be that the outside area needed better signage, and it would’ve been great to have more ready-to-eat food stalls.
2013 Avon Valley Gourmet Food & Wine Festival
10am to 4pm, Saturday and Sunday 1-2 June (WA Day long weekend)
Northam Recreation Centre
Peel Terrace, Northam
See map and directions
General entry (Saturday or Sunday) was AU$10 adults, children under 12 free accompanied by an adult
Weekend passes (entry for both days) AU$18
Festival packages incorporating long table dinner tickets were available online
Festival long table dinner with Herb Faust Food and Barton Jones Wines
After spending most of the day at the Festival, there was plenty of time for a nap/rest at our motel before venturing back to the Northam Recreation Centre for the festival long table dinner at 7pm.
The menu for the festival long table dinner was the creation of Bunbury-born Perth chef Herb Faust, back by popular demand after last year’s festival dinner in York. Herb’s best known for being the only contestant to defeat an Iron Chef on Channel 7’s short-lived Iron Chef Australia, beating Melbourne chef Guy Grossi in a lamb battle. At the time, Herb was head chef at Scotch College but has since set up his own business, Herb Faust Food, cooking for special events including degustations, long table dining, parties and masterclasses. You’ll see Herb at festivals and shows around the state, and his gourmet salad range and “grab and go” deli items can be found at The Herdsman in Churchlands.
The wines for the dinner were provided by Barton Jones Wines from Donnybrook. There were 60 or so diners at the table, a mix of Northam and Avon Valley locals and people from Perth.
First course: goats cheese, orange juice surprise, savoury churros, beetroot textures, candied spiced walnut
Wine match: 2011 Blackboy Ridge Rosé
The fried ball of goats cheese resembled a son-in-law egg minus the sauce. The cheese was soft and creamy, with the trickle of orange juice surprise at its core (not really a surprise though, as the ‘surprise’ was listed on the menu). The “savoury churros” added crunch. Regular readers will know how much I detest beetroot due to its taste being like dirt; the beetroot wafers were very light in texture and flavour, but the pickled batons underneath were unmistakably juicy dirt-flavoured beetroot. Not complaining about the dish; I’m thinking as I learn to appreciate red wine (which also tastes like dirt to me – I mentioned my personal voyage of wine discovery in my recent post on Waiheke Island), it’s possible I’ll begin to like beetroot more.
Second course: White Rocks veal carpaccio, celeriac remoulade, just-cooked yolk, artichoke thins
Wine match: 2009 Barton Jones “The Brilliant Cut” Semillon Sauvignon Blanc
A few of us discussed whether this should’ve been called carpaccio – strictly speaking, I’d say no: it was cooked sous-vide to a pale pink and a little chewy, not melt in the mouth like buttery soft wafer-thin raw carpaccio can be. Still, I enjoyed the dish. The celeriac remoulade was everyone’s favourite element on the plate but the thins were a fabulous way to eat artichoke – make something into crisps and it’s automatically a treat.
And I loved the just-cooked yolk, gooey but not oozy.
Third course: pancetta wrapped kingfish, warmed tomato and saffron, young fennel, soft herbs
Wine match: 2007 Barton Jones “The Box Seat” Semillon
You could probably look at the pictures, read no words and guess that fish wrapped in bacon was my favourite dish of the meal. Chunky yet delicate kingfish wrapped with pancetta, served on soft tomato and fennel puree. I usually eat kingfish as sashimi and it was great to appreciate it prepared and presented in a completely different way.
Fourth course: slow cooked pork cheeks, horseradish cream, cavolo nero, truffle
Wine match: 2009 Barton Jones “The Top Drawer” Cabernet Sauvignon
The tender pork cheeks were slow-cooked in red wine for four hours, served sitting on horseradish cream blended with potato for extra creaminess. The original dish described on the menu had included kohlrabi but Herb was unable to source any for the dinner; instead, we enjoyed the pop of fresh peas with the piercing green, slightly bitter cavolo nero. The taste of truffle made this hearty winter dish deceptively rich. We had the glass of cab sauv to go with; a roaring log fire would’ve really completed the picture! Along the table, people were convinced the meat was beef; others hunted fruitlessly for the kohlrabi: “These look like peas, but are they really peas?” until Herb solved the ‘mystery’ and confirmed the kohlrabi wasn’t on the plate. Me, I just dug in with enjoyment, wishing I was alone so I could lick my plate clean.
Dessert: coconut rough ice cream, chargrilled pineapple, rice wine syrup, smoky raw chocolate
Wine match: 2012 Blackboy Ridge Chenin Blanc
I was hoping for a really sweet dessert wine, but the Blackboy Ridge Chenin Blanc went well with Herb’s twist on the classic coconut rough, a crunchy coating of roasted coconut and puffed rice wrapped around a dairy-free ice cream made with coconut milk and rice milk, fried ice cream-style. An awesome idea, but ice cream should’ve been rock-solid frozen before frying; it was tasty but had melted and spilled out as soon as we cracked through the crust, looking more like condensed milk than ice cream. Those looking forward to the “chargrilled pineapple” may have been taken aback by the strips of chewy candied pineapple, packed with sticky sweetness but so very tiny. The soft fragments of raw chocolate had been made and smoked by Herb himself and added a bittersweet flavour. The dessert had its issues in execution, but I liked the flavour/texture combo and polished it off… then helped Jac finish hers.
Staying in Northam
We covered all our own costs for our weekend getaway in Northam, including the festival, long table dinner and accommodation.
We drove to Northam (approximately 97km north-east of Perth) Friday late afternoon and spent two nights, going to the Avon Valley Gourmet Food & Wine Festival and Degustation Dinner on Saturday and driving home on Sunday. The drive to Northam took around 1.5 hours, mostly because of the traffic getting out of Perth.
We stayed at the Northam Motel, paying $140 per night for the ‘Executive’ suite.
- The reverse-cycle airconditioning kept us nice and toasty at night.
- Housekeeping service is carried out daily; linen is provided, including towels.
- Breakfast is an optional extra, but we drove elsewhere for breaky both mornings.
- The shower hot water wasn’t great; it was with constant adjustment of the taps, maddeningly just that little bit too hot or not quite hot enough.
- We had a balcony, but if you and your neighbour happen to be out on your balconies at the same time, you’ll see it’s not very private!
It’s simple accommodation but very clean and just what we needed for our short stay. We had a great time in Northam.
13 John St, Northam
Telephone: (08) 9622 1755
Northam was established as a small agricultural village in 1836 and is now the largest town in the Avon Valley. The Avon Valley includes the towns of Beverley, Brookton, Goomalling, Northam, Toodyay, York and New Norcia.
Coming up in the Avon Valley, 3-4 August 2013
The Avon Descent white water race for power and paddle craft starts on 3 August in Northam at 8am. Jac’s gone in previous years to hang out with mates and watch a friend compete.
The Toodyay International Food Festival will be held on the banks of the Avon River (you can watch the Avon Descent racers go past) in Stirling Park and Duidgee Park from 10am to 4pm on 3 August.