In the little town of Cygnet, south of Hobart, big-city refugees are living the dream, writes Winsor Dobbin.
WHEN former Sydney Morning Herald restaurant reviewer Matthew Evans quit the big city rat race and made the sea/tree/Brie change to Tasmania, he chose to base himself just outside the pretty hamlet of Cygnet in the Huon Valley.
Cygnet is just 45 minutes south of Hobart in a region best known for its apple and cherry orchards. Its population of just under 1000 includes a large proportion of foodies - many of whom, like Evans, have turned their hands to breeding, growing and cooking their own produce.
Evans, who is filming the second season of his popular SBS TV series, Gourmet Farmer, in and around Cygnet, says he's realising a food lover's dream and living on the doorstep of "a gorgeous town".
The Rare Food gourmet charcuterie treats he produces with partners Ross O'Meara and Nick Haddow are just some of the many local culinary delights.
Popular Cygnet eatery, the Red Velvet Lounge, was named 2010 Australian regional restaurant of the year by Country Style magazine. Like Evans, chef Steve Cumper opted for the country over the city, having previously worked as head chef for Maggie Beer at her Pheasant Farm restaurant in the Barossa Valley and at several Melbourne fine diners.
Cumper has his own small farm outside Cygnet where he grows a wide range of vegetables and herbs, as well as fattens up cattle. He, like many of the local foodies, was attracted to Cygnet by the wide range of superb local produce.
"I'm proud of the produce available locally and try to weave as much of it as possible into our menus," says Cumper.
Former Sydneysider Gerard Crochon, from Nicholls Rivulet Organic Farm, sells his organic and free-range produce from his farm gate on Saturdays, including prime grass-raised and fed Hereford-Friesian beef and Berkshire pork.
"Every animal goes through my hands from being born to butchered," he says. "It's real paddock to plate."
Crochon's rhubarb and other vegetables are also available throughout the week - customers simply make their selection and leave their money in an honesty box in his driveway. He is one of several farmers selling directly from the farm gate, with apples, cherries and berries all sold from roadside stalls during the season.
At the Lotus Eaters Cafe, just a few doors down from the Red Velvet Lounge, Giselle Benton and Alex Klimenko also use local produce wherever possible, including vegetables, herbs and eggs from their own kitchen garden, and highlight ingredients such as Tongola goat's cheese and Crochon's organic rhubarb.
The menu changes daily but focuses on pies, curries, gourmet pizzas, soups and vegetarian dishes - with everything made from scratch.
Marcus Boks began his Boks bacon business in Cygnet before moving to Glenorchy but his premises have been taken over by Graham Victor, who styles himself as a "a 24-hour emergency butcher". He's one of two artisan butchers in town.
Other gourmet food producers include Swiss couple Hans Stutz and Esther Hauesermann, who, at Tongola Goat Products, make cheeses and curds from their own herd, and another former Sydneysider, Gillian Ryan, who makes handcrafted Cygneture chocolates using Belgian couverture and "fresh fruit, vegetables, herbs, teas, local beers, wines, ports and liqueurs from the Huon".
Like many local producers, Ryan sells her chocolates at markets and festivals. She can be found at the Cygnet Farmers Market in the Town Hall on the first and third Sundays of each month and sometimes at Hobart's weekly Salamanca Market. She is opening a shop in Cygnet village.
Wine lovers are catered for with Panorama Vineyards and Hartzview, both just outside the town, having cellar doors and Two Bud Spur due to have their weekend cellar door open any day now. Leading Hunter Valley winemaker Jim Chatto and his wife, Daisy, have big plans for their pinot noir vineyard, also just out of town.
But there's much more to Cygnet than food and drink. The town has its own arts trail and is home to several galleries, including the Whispering Tree Gallery, Stanley's Fine Arts and Crafts, the Ginger Nutt Gallery, Lovett Gallery, the recently reopened Cobweb Designs and the handcrafted woodwork at Phoenix Creations. Throw in a print workshop with an old print press, the fascinating local museum, a bird sanctuary, several waterfront parks and a yacht club and it's a perfect weekend trip from Hobart. There's even a luxury guest house, the Old Bank B&B, run by ex-Sydneysiders Bruce Piddler and Jasmine Kamaralli, within staggering distance of both the Red Velvet Lounge and Lotus Eaters. In a refurbished 1909 bank building, the Old Bank has lovely gardens, open fireplaces, satellite TV, free wi-fi and, of course, sources eggs and vegetables from its own garden.
At the other end of town, the Cygnet Art Hotel has simple country accommodation - and often features live entertainment.
Cygnet is 45 minutes south of Hobart in the Huon Valley. Weekday buses are from Hobart but a car is needed to explore the region properly.
The Old Bank, 20 Mary Street, Cygnet. Rooms from $225 a night, including a hearty country breakfast. (03) 6295 0769, oldbank.com.au.
Lotus Eaters Cafe, 10 Mary Street, Cygnet. Open Thursday to Monday for breakfast and lunch. (03) 6295 1996.
Red Velvet Lounge, 24 Mary Street, Cygnet. Open daily for breakfast and lunch; Fridays and Saturdays for dinner. (03) 6295 0466. theredvelvetlounge.com.au.
Cygnet Arts Trail, green-gables.com.au/images/brochure_art_trail.pdf.