Sampling Barossa Valley’s Food and Wine Traditions

aussieBecause today’s Vinesse Cyber Circle offering focuses on the wines of Australia, I thought it might be appropriate to spotlight one of that country’s top “wine country” destinations.

The Barossa Valley is a major wine-producing region and tourist destination of South Australia, some 37 miles northeast of Adelaide. Barossa Valley Way is the main road through the valley, connecting the main towns of Nuriootpa, Tanunda, Rowland Flat and Lyndoch.

Barossa food weaves Old World culinary traditions with seasonality and Australian practicality into a mouth-watering tapestry. Sewn by many hands since its beginnings, the valley is a glorious abstract of color bound by a framework of devotion and hard work.

Although the earliest land owners were English with large holdings in the Barossa Ranges, it was German-speaking settlers, devout Lutherans, who had the most significant impact on the flavors of Barossa food. They arrived with only a few possessions, but carried a wealth of culinary traditions in their bags.

They were hard-working folk who cleared land for farming and built their homes with wood ovens and smokehouses. They planted orchards, vegetable gardens and vineyards, grazed animals and felled trees to fuel their stoves. Virtually every home had fruit trees, vines and a vegetable garden.

Driven by the need to preserve the bounty of the land and a stoic belief in the waste-not, want-not principle, they smoked meats and dried fruit, fermented and pickled vegetables, made cheese and fermented grapes to make wine. Treasured family recipes, handed down from generation to generation, tell this story again and again, and preserve a foundational food imperative: Nothing is wasted at Barossa tables.

The Barossa townships were established early. Butchers opened their doors and the aroma of their smokehouses full of ham, bacon and mettwurst attracted customers. Bakeries offered traditional Streuselkuchen, honey biscuits and freshly baked bread. The culinary threads were deftly passed from farmhouse kitchens to village butchers and bakers.

The custom of socializing with family and friends at the dining table, on food grown, prepared and served at home in a generous spirit, is deeply rooted in the Barossa’s culture. Accordingly, it was no accident that the “Barossa Cookery Book,” thought to be the first regional cookbook in Australia, was chosen to raise funds for the war effort in 1917. It is still in print today. So deep-seated was the practice of home entertaining that the first restaurants in the region did not open their doors until the 1970s.

The Tanunda Show, now more than 100 years old, adopted a distinctly regional flavor, with competitions for the best dill cucumbers, pickled onions, Rote Grütze and Streuselkuchen taking pride of place in the show hall. The entry forms read like a roll call of the early settlers — Andretzke, Lehmann, Gramp, Rothe — equally divided between men and women. With judges clad in white coats and a strict scoring system, these were (and continue to be) fiercely contested categories.

There’s no better example of Barossa traditions than its food. The influence of the self-sufficient and hard-working settlers is still strong in Barossa butcheries, bakeries, restaurants and homes. Preserving, smoking and baking are still a part of everyday life, and the results include smoked mettwurst, lachschinken, traditional breads, bienenstich and streuselkuchen, dill cucumbers, pickled onions, olives and olive oil, egg noodles, and a variety of chutneys, pickles and preserves.

The Barossa now is world-famous for its amazing wine culture, but this is matched by a rich food heritage and passion. When you visit, you’re sure to become a fan of more than just the wine.

Maggie Beer’s Farm Shop, on the outskirts of Nuriootpa, offers tastings, sales and limited-edition seasonal produce. Customers can browse locally produced regional goods, purchase one of Maggie’s signed books, have a light lunch or simply sit back and take in the view. There also are daily cooking demonstrations.

The Barossa Farmer’s Market has become a Saturday morning institution. It’s open from 7.30 to 11.30 a.m., and you can taste and buy the best the Barossa has to offer. More than 50 stalls provide meats, bread, cheese, fresh fruit and vegetables, oils, preserves and local specialties.

The Barossa Valley Cheese Company in Angaston is an award-winning manufacturer of artisan cheeses. Company founder and head cheese-maker Victoria McClurg and her team are always seeking innovative ideas and refining traditional methods in cheese making.

For a unique dining experience, check out the Hentley Farm restaurant, located in a renovated stable on the grounds of Hentley Farm Wines. Daring flavors are presented in multi-course “discovery menus,” with or without wine pairings, and no meal is complete without popping a few wine marshmallows.

Chateau Tanunda, established in 1890, is one of Australia’s most beautiful winery estates. Located in the heart of Tanunda, it’s home to grand buildings, manicured gardens, croquet lawns and a heritage-listed cellar door (Aussie-speak for tasting room) and winemaking facility. Take a tour of the estate, enjoy a cheese platter and a game of croquet, and taste a broad range of internationally acclaimed wines.

Once you’ve visited Chateau Tanunda, you’ll want to explore other Barossa cellar doors. Because all are welcoming and offer unique cuvees, the challenge will be deciding which ones.

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Posted in Our Wine Travel Log
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