In its natural environment

Special promotion

Watching delicious produce being created builds up an appetite, writes Kate Gibbs.

It's milking time at the station and children are counting the sheep. This is culinary adventure tourism on Kangaroo Island, where you can walk with the animals, talk with the producers and watch soil, sea and man turn things into food.

A litre of milk, taken from each ewe every morning and mid-afternoon, is transferred to a refrigerated vat in the factory to be pasteurised and turned into Island Pure fetta, haloumi, Kefalotiri and yoghurt, either plain or swirled with local Ligurian honey.

This paddock-to-plate theme is the general premise of the island's gastronomic attractions. The tourism mainstay of farmers and food producers is showing visitors exactly what they do and then how it tastes.

The milking process is visible through a massive glass wall, tubes and ewes and milk in view, the stamping and bleating only slightly muffled. Every day, visitors arrive at the farm, muddy-footed or gum-booted, to watch the milking ritual.

''The ewes love routine and for everything to be exactly as it was the day before,'' the general manger of Island Pure Sheep Dairy, Justin Harman, says. ''And if it's not, they react milk-volume wise. They know the system.''

Harman, a source of all sheep dairy-related information, leads visitors to the ''bouncing and cheeky'' farm residents - about 25 lambs that will be raised on the farm for breeding and milking.

Post-milking at the Island Pure dairy, silken and squeaky haloumi is lightly grilled and given a squeeze of lemon, then handed around for visitors to try during a short video explaining the process, milking, history and the cheese.

Island Pure produce is sold all over the island, proudly displayed in food stores and on menus, and it becomes clear that if the freshwater marron on a menu is served with haloumi, or the abalone is followed by a yoghurt panna cotta, it's all made using local ingredients.

Until the past few decades, most of Kangaroo Island's 4000 inhabitants survived on sheep farming but the collapse of wool prices in the late 1980s forced enterprising islanders into other pursuits: Ligurian bee-keeping (see story, right), rare-animal breeding, abalone and freshwater marron farming, sheep milking, cheese and winemaking.

A sprawling island made up of farmland and beaches, dry hinterland and thick, red-earthed bush, Kangaroo Island has some 480 kilometres of coastline, a major attraction for being the home of penguins and seals, and the base for another major culinary adventure for visitors: fishing and fish.

Susan Pearson, a chef and veteran gourmand who left the kitchens of London to open an upmarket catering company, 2 Birds & 1 Squid, and a fish-and-chip shop, Fish, in the town of Penneshaw, takes visitors to her own property on the island as part of food tours with Gourmet Safaris, a company run by television presenter Maeve O'Meara.

Fish, whose fare is labelled by locals the best fish and chips on the island, has a queue winding outside. Visitors fresh off the boat from Adelaide make it their first stop on a culinary tour, lining up for beer-battered local garfish. Proper English malt vinegar is an option, with sides of crunchy cucumber salad and samphire. Local marron are halved, grilled and served on a chorizo risotto made from the island's Southrock lamb.

Pearson also specialises in the locally grown pink-fleshed mollusc, abalone. Fish does grilled baby abalone in ginger, soy, sesame, chilli and garlic. It's best either quickly cooked over a high heat or slowly cooked over a low heat, Pearson says. ''People try to cook it and it goes all rubbery, ruined by overcooking,'' she says. ''It's actually a very succulent meat and so fresh because it's grown right here.''

The abalone, or Pearson's fish and chips, best virtually breathed in, still steaming and crispy, can be taken to the grassy knoll across the road, with amazing views out to sea.

Over the north coast at Stokes Bay, 38 kilometres from Kingscote, another laid-back seafood spot serves large paper cones of crumbed local fish, scallops and hand-cut chips. The Rockpool Cafe, set just off the beach, serves relaxed fare to relaxed passers-by.

It might seem strange for a culinary destination surrounded by sea to be recognised for its burgeoning expertise in freshwater produce but ''the inland is filled with creeks and rivers that hold the freshwater marron, introduced 40 years ago to the island'', the manager of Andermel Marron, Stuart Were, says.

Some farm dams across the island stock marron, mainly for private eating. But in a commercial bid to farm the crustacean, milder and flakier than lobster and larger than yabbies, this farm stocks thousands in 52 ponds on a farm in the heart of the island, a 30-minute drive from Snelling Beach.

Marron, black and brown, sometimes a rare blue, also sit in large pools in an undercover holding shed for close-up viewing at the farm. Two-centimetre juveniles are separated from their 20-centimetre cousins, which at 2½ years old are fully grown.

Andermel Marron, which produces an excellent sauvignon blanc under the Two Wheeler Creek label, will cook marron fresh, pulled from the tank that morning, served on platters or grilled and balanced on a large crunchy salad with house-made dressing, using produce from the island, of course.

The local-ingredients purist behind the range of Kangaroo Island Source pickles, beetroot relish, spice mixes and chutneys, Kate Sumner, has now opened her own cooking school in Penneshaw and will cater for any type of event.

Sumner's produce is sold all over the island but is combined with a spread of Island Pure haloumi, local grilled vegetables and fish in a blueprint of local gastronomic trademarks at Chapman River Winery, in Antechamber Bay.

An old aircraft hangar, this old-world and eclectically decorated lunch spot has its own landing strip, if required.

After trudging through sheep farms, marron-breeding lots, driving cross-country along red dirt roads, spotting seals and penguins along the way, the winery, a relaxed space, pulls the whole experience together.

Island Pure Sheep Dairy

Gum Creek Road, Cygnet River. Phone (08) 8553 9110,

Fish; 2 Birds & a Squid Food Company

43 North Terrace, Penneshaw. Phone 0439 803 843,

Andermel Marron; Two Wheeler Creek

WinesHarriet Road, Harriet. Phone (08) 8559 4214,

Kangaroo Island Source

Lot 104, Willoughby Road, Penneshaw. Phone 0412 194 840.

Chapman River Wines

Off Cape Willoughby Road, Antechamber Bay. Phone
(08) 8553 1371.

The writer was a guest of the South Australian Tourism Commission.