Vanessa & Bianca: Last weekend we, along with our husbands and baby V, made our way to Orange, in regional NSW, where we stayed for two nights as a preview to Orange F.O.O.D week. Located approximately four hours from Sydney, Orange truly is a picturesque region with its green rolling hills, fruitful orchards and robust vineyards. It is fast becoming known as one of Australia’s best wine districts with over 80 vineyards and 30 plus cellar doors. In addition, it is also highly regarded for its local produce, gourmet restaurants and cafe culture so it is easy to see why it has become a haven for lovers of food and wine.
Orange F.O.O.D (Food of Orange District) week is Australia’s longest running regional food festival. This year marks its 29th year running and will be held on the 5th-11th April, 2019. The event sees over 26,000 people converge upon Orange to enjoy all that the region has to offer in terms of food and wine with an overall ethos that embraces sustainable practices and community spirit.
With that in mind, we were very excited to be experiencing a glimpse of what will be on offer during F.O.O.D week and it certainly did not disappoint.
Day 1: Vanessa – We knew we were in for a treat when we arrived at Magnolia Cottage, our home for the two days we were there. This quaint three bedroom cottage has been tastefully decorated French provincial style and is just a short stroll into the town where you will find loads of cafes, shops, bakeries and supermarkets. It’s fair to say we all felt right at home the minute we arrived at the cottage and were impressed at the fresh sourdough waiting for us with butter and spreads.
First stop on our Itinerary was Heifer Station Wines. The vineyard spans across 130 acres and due to its ideal balance of elevation and sunshine, it is the perfect location for growing Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Gris, Merlot and Shiraz. We were immediately impressed by the level of detail that had gone into creating a rustic yet chic cattle station interior at the 100-year-old cellar door.
We wandered outside where chickens roamed freely, their dog greeted us and people were enjoying the scenery as well as food and wine at what appeared to be a very family friendly winery..it even has a sandpit to occupy the kids – genius!
After a spot of wine tasting, we were greeted by James, the Operations Manager, who led us out to the golf buggy that was waiting to take us on a vineyard tour en route to our private picnic at the Willow tree. At this point, our excitement levels had well and truly risen! James shared with us his knowledge of the vineyard and wines it was well known-for producing.
As we arrived at the picnic point we were immediately wowed. A beautiful set up with blankets and cushions as well as a table set for four with a cheese and charcuterie board waiting to be enjoyed with a bottle of Chardonnay. It was smiles all round as we waved goodbye to James who casually said “call when you are ready to be picked up…and take your time”. Well what better way to enjoy a sunny Friday afternoon than to be sipping on crisp chardonnay, dining on artisanal produce and relaxing whilst gazing out across a vast spanning vineyard. We were in heaven and this was just the beginning! Side note for anyone that is planning a proposal…do keep the private picnic in mind..it’s guaranteed to impress!
It was a wonderfully lively atmosphere and you could see that it was full of locals who were gathering to catch up with friends or take their children out. A really lovely vibe with delicious food to boot. Many of the town’s restaurants, wineries, bakeries and other locals were represented at the markets and there was a decent range of choice on offer.
As much as we had high hopes of staying on to enjoy the market vibe though to its 8:30pm close, it was not to be as Baby V was quite clearly shutting down after the events of the day. So we took a leisurely walk back to our lovely country cottage and settled in ahead of a very busy Saturday.
DAY 2 – Bianca – After an exciting taste of Orange, we were keen to start the day early. Heading down to Groundstone Cafe, adjacent to the Orange Regional Museum precinct. You wouldn’t be remiss to think you’ve landed back in Sydney’s Surry Hills.
The space is light-filled, with an open indoor/outdoor seating area, wooden chairs and a striking greenery feature, a nod to the Scandinavian interior design. With a locals first policy, we were keen to see the local produce shine.
Across the table, we tried a selection of dishes, a generously sized Smashed Avocado $18, a Classic Eggs Benny $21 and an interesting take on Corn Fritters $18.50 (which was a hit with the whole table. And we always have to finish a meal with something sweet, the Sweet House Waffles $18.20 -with a rhubarb & strawberry compote. Popular with tourists and locals alike, it’s one you should add to the list.
A stone throws away, is the Orange Regional Gallery & Museum. The Paddock to Plate exhibition showcases the history of food & wine in the Orange region. Jump across to the gallery and you can marvel at some of the countries most prized 2018 offerings at the Archibald Prize exhibition (open until 10th April).
Bookmark The Sonic. The perfect amalgamation of fashion, home-wares and coffee.
Phillip Shaw is considered one of Orange’s wine-making pioneers. Phillip passed on the batton to sons Damian & Daniel in 2015. We couldn’t look past the Dreamer Viognier, No 19 Sauvignon Blanc & the Idiot Shiraz.
Sisters Rock Restaurant at Borrodell Vineyard was another highlight, Borry & Gaye, owners of Borrodell have created a true love letter to the land. With a property consisting of a cellar door, restaurant and accommodation. They also grow heritage apples, cherries, plums, grapes and cider apples ( to make their own cider). And in the cooler months, they harvest their own black Perigold Truffles.
Head Chef Richard Learmont, formerly of Porteno, The Unicorn Hotel and Bistro Moncur now heads Sisters Rock and it was evident how excited he was about the produce and techniques used on the property, he happily showed off the smoker & garden. We were joined by Emily, communications Manager at Orange360 and her lovely son. Whilst we took in the views, Baby V was on a mission to hunt and gather as many tiny apples as his little hands could gather.
Some highlights from our long lunch, Pepperberry Cured Beef $18, Smoked Riverfish Pate $15, Country Lasagne $36 (which was a love letter to seasonal veggies if there ever was one), a beautiful Braised Lamb Saffron Farfalle $40 and some incredibly impressive Dutch Cream Potatoes $10. Not to mention one of the most decadent kids Mac’n’cheese we had ever come across – it should be a staple on the regular menu it was that good.
Our next stop turned out to be the most informative yet. A sunset tour and tasting with James Sweetapple. Owner, vigneron and holistic farmer at Cargo Road Wines. I think we spent the better half of 2 hours with our jaws on the floor, his wealth of knowledge and humbleness was incredible. And if running a successful winery wasn’t enough, he’s also the president of Orange F.O.O.D week and the creator of one of the festivals most successful events, Forage. This really is a must visit if you plan to visit Orange. Our top picks, the Sparkling Sav Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurztraminer and the Zinfandel. And some of their Lucky Ate Honey & Fig & Ginger Jam.
Racine Restaurant has been on many an Orange dining list and for good reason. Serving locally sourced ingredients in a rustic yet homely cottage. Despite the chill in the air, we took full advantage of the rolling hills of Mt Canobolas and settled in for the 5-course meal -w/ matching wines $145.
Start to finish, there was barely a misstep. We devoured Textures of Carrot, Quail with intensely sweet caramelised grapes. Trout with a squid ink romesco melted in the mouth, with our final savoury a delight for Lamb lovers. And to finish, what could be more Australian a Lemon Lamington.
Vanessa: Day 3 – Another early start to make the most of the final day in Orange and our first stop was The Agrestic Grocer. This was highly anticipated as we had been told by many people over the weekend to ensure we pay a visit whilst in Orange. Housed in a semi-industrial/semi-agricultural building, the Agrestic offers a unique experience with a restaurant on one side of the building and a grocer on the other. The grocer stocks an abundance of local produce including fruits, vegetables, oils, jams, cheeses and wines to name a few. It really does give you a snapshot of some of Orange’s finest all under one roof.
The restaurant has a varied menu with some solid breakfast options. Between us we had the house cultured buttermilk pancakes ($19.80), the local eggs with dukkah and wilted greens ($13.50), the Turkish Cilbir ($19.80) and a special that day the fried chicken and waffles. The early start at another eatery may have been all too much for Baby V but the Agrestic Grocer is a must visit on any trip to Orange!
A short drive on and we arrived at Thornbrook Orchard with high hopes of bringing back some country fruit to Sydney. Our hopes were met and exceeded when we arrived at this family-run orchard that offers an abundance and variety of apples, pears, stones fruits and figs. The five of us were like kids in a candy store as we gathered our buckets and made our way to the Orchards. This is another highly recommended stop in Orange as it’s a great activity for all ages. We spent over an hour wandering through orchards and picking as much fruit as we could carry back in our buckets.
One last winery stop for the weekend was Rowlee wines, a short drive from the Orchard. Rowlee produces singly only varieties and is well-known for its pinot noir. A bright cellar door with a relaxed atmosphere and knowledgable host saw us load a few more bottles into our almost bursting car boots before jumping on the highway to make the journey back.
We made a final pit stop at the Beekeepers Inn which is about 30 minutes from Orange in the direction of Sydney. An ideal spot to grab a bite, coffee and some locally produced honey before hitting the road homeward bound.
We were on a high for the week following our weekend in Orange and continued to reflect on the amazing experience we had and all the wonderful food and wine we consumed. We can’t recommend Orange more highly as a destination not only for lovers of food and wine but for families and everyone that wants a touch of Country life within easy reach.
For an overview of the events and activities taking place during Orange F.O.O.D week, check out their website and program https://orangefoodweek.com.au/2019-food-week-program
Enjoy and we hope you do experience the region!
Vanessa & Bianca
*A special thanks to Emily and the team at Orange360 who organised this famil and itinerary.