Fuel for love: Tassie's artisan isle

CAMERON WILLIAMSON
Last updated 14:55 24/07/2013
Fairfax NZ

Tasmania's artisan outlier is a wilderness island blessed with gourmet natural assets.

Bruny food
CRAIG SIMCOX
SMOKIN': Raven Vass of Bruny Island Smokehouse presents maple-glazed sea trout and smoked wallaby for guests at her island restaurant.

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It might be the only time in his life that chef Al Brown was pleased to hear the words Get Shucked.

But the Kiwi chef warmed to the name of Bruny Island's boutique oyster producer, and happily necked a round dozen straight from the shell.

Brown savoured the Waiheke-sized island on Tasmania's Hobart coast for his Dishing Up Australia series and found the succulent shellfish one of the culinary highlights.

Tall and rangy entrepreneur Joe Bennett, born and bred beside Tasmania's cold, clear waters, has developed a novel way of fattening Pacific oysters below the tide line in hanging "apartment- block" stacks of trays, and reckons the low-stress lifestyle sweetens the oysters as much as it suits him and his wife, Nicole.

"Oysters are, of course, fuel for love, " he says, and he has emblazoned the slogan on the side of his roadside food truck to spread the word. The marine farmer has a plan to double the oyster intake of Australians from six a year to a round dozen, and rates his filter- feeding bivalves with the best in the world.

Just up the road, Bruny Cheese Company's board-and-batten global headquarters nestles in the shade of an eucalyptus grove where raw milk artisan cheese wheels are handled like newborns.

Big cheese Nick Haddow, who started the company 10 years ago, and cheesemaker Halsey Swetzoff preen and pamper wheels of cheese in the cool, damp maturing room. Many of the wheels are carved with the name of their owner and will rest here for up to six months before delivery.

Cheeses like Tom, Raw Milk C2 (cooked twice) and Saint are made in the style of the French Savoie and Massif - sharp and full of flavour; others, such as the outstanding Otto, are wrapped in local prosciutto and baked in a frypan with olives until they ooze their unctuous texture all over your chin. Truly luxurious, and well paired with a local light pinot noir.

More robust flavours are another hop up the winding road, at Takapuna-born Raven Vass' Bruny Island Smokehouse, "BISH".

With local waters producing 80 per cent of Australia's salmon from vast mobile pens, and sea trout and wallaby meat harvested nearby, BISH's fug of beechwood chips do an amazing job of cooking and preserving the meats.

Vass and her partner experiment with maple glazes and anoint the brined-and-dried fish and meat with flavours from cinnamon-spiced mulled wine to the excellent Tasmanian whisky.

Those whiskies - Lark and Overween and Tant and Hellyers Road - are single malts in the style of the Scottish Highlands and Isles, and well worth an explore.

If you don't make it to Bruny (and you should really try), many of the producers sell their wares at the weekend farmers' markets in Hobart's Salamanca quarter.

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