Truffles, Marron And More: A Guide To The Southern Forests
East of the famed Margaret River region lies the Southern Forests, centred around Australia's truffle town Manjimup.
Food and wine tourism in Western Australia is synonymous with the famed Margaret River wine region, and its award-winning mix of natural wines, rich chardonnay and complex cabernets. Venture east of the river region towards the Southern Forests, however, and the rewards only get richer – think truffles, marron, cool-climate Pemberton pinot noir and avocados worth their weight in house deposits.
North-west of Albany, the Southern Forests region centres around Manjimup, one of Australia’s few prized truffle destinations. Hemmed by forests full of towering karris and jarrahs that stand tall like a guard of honour, the Southern Forests is the state’s food bowl, with agri-tourism on the rise.
For food lovers interested in farm-to-table experiences, a group of producers have come together to create the Genuinely Extraordinary Southern Forests Food and Farm Experience, mixing primary produce with a touch of luxury.
The local food council’s chairman Bevan Eatts is passionate about promoting this small pocket to tourists.
“Our tour goes beyond the farm gate and is the only agri-tourism venture in WA,” says Eatts, a third-generation farmer who lives on a 292ha sheep farm and plum orchard.
“I’ve lived in this area my whole life and the pride, care and love that goes into producing the food in this region deserves to be celebrated.”
The Genuinely Extraordinary tour
So you’re up for the full experience? The four-day, three-night tour (from $1285 per person) is an all-inclusive affair that will see you tread through avocado plantations and dodge boughs bent with the weight of heavy fruit, explore local markets and enjoy truffle degustations.
The tour kicks off at The Kingsley Motel, which although renovated, retains much of its retro charm. The motel is run by brothers Andrew and Charlie Hamersley and its restaurant is where the local community – farmers, labourers, winemakers, teens and tourists – all seem to end up, eating elbow to elbow in the dinky little dining room.
For the ultimate local showcase of ingredients, try the marron basmati risotto, peppered with truffle, fresh marron and the ubiquitous avocado.
In the morning, poached eggs come courtesy of CharCol Springs, run by ethical farmers Charlie and Colleen Roberts. The pair are pushing for pasture-fed eggs – a sustainable practice that goes above and beyond the standard free-range provisions – to be a recognised category on supermarket shelves.
“Pastured eggs come from chooks that are continuously moved around onto fresh pastures, which means they produce beautiful rich full-flavoured eggs,” says Charlie, who collects close to 2000 eggs each day.
Want to take some samples home to play with? Head to Manjimup Farmer’s Market, where you’ll find beekeepers selling their honey, farmers showing off boxes of potatoes, towers of ripe bravo apples and a local producer proffering samples of his olive oil.
Indulgent wine, beer and more
The dirt road leading to Jarrah Jack’s Boutique Brewery is also lined by that ethereal backdrop of karri and jarrah trees, while the brewery itself is in the middle of a gently sloped vineyard.
Brewer Jason Mitchell will happily pull a sample paddle of ales and take visitors behind-the-scenes to learn how he crafts the beer he describes as ‘full-bodied’.
“We’ve moved away from the trend of floral and citrus beers to more full bodied ales, balancing fruit with malty and biscuit flavours,” says Mitchell.
Still thirsty? Hidden River Estate is a rather tucked-away vineyard, carved into a crest of land made of a loamy gravel soil that owner Sue Nigg says produces excellent examples of chardonnay and shiraz. Here, the tour includes a sunset dinner, showcasing dishes such as prime beef sirloin with twice-cooked Pemberton potatoes and seasonal greens prepared by Nigg’s husband Ardal, while the sun sets over the sun-dappled forest.
In between feasting, take a stroll through the great trees and thick forests, and climb the 51m Diamond Tree. The region of Pemberton is also perfect for walking enthusiasts, with lush green pastures and hectares of vineyards quilted onto rolling hills.
Just in case you haven’t collected enough wine, the tour finishes up at the Pemberley of Pemberton vineyard.
Run by David and Monica Radomiljac, who planted their first grape vines in 1995, the vineyard has 60 hectares under full production of grapes, including chardonnay, pinot noir, shiraz and merlot.
“I want people to walk away from this cellar door with more than a few bottles of wine. I want them to enjoy the experience,” says Radomiljac.
The family-run farm also produces premium potatoes and Angus beef, which guests will sample with the matching wine – what could be a more pure expression of terrior?
The writer travelled to WA as a guest of Southern Forest Food Council with assistance from Tourism WA.
Published 12 December, 2017