I’m going to call it like it is – regional Victoria is grossly under-rated. Our state is one of few pockets of the world where you can see surf, snow, forest and farmland all within a few hours’ drive of one another. The diversity of foodstuffs that this differing climate can produce is equally as phenomenal. In Central Victoria alone artisan cheeses, local wines, home-grown herbs, freshly baked bread and bespoke chocolates are in abundance. In Kyneton in particular, there’s been a local resurgence of “slow” products harnessing old world traditions.
In March this year, the Lost Trades Fair was founded by local artisans Rundell & Rundell. Melbournians hadn’t previously had many chances to engage with the regions fine furniture and fare. With the launch of the Lost Trades Fair, we were up there in masses; whittling spoons and using them to scoop up mouthfuls of Macedon Ranges’ finest.
Year round, local businesses are also pitching in to showcase the region’s skills and splendours to short-term visitors. This month, I visited the Flop House in Kyneton to get a taste. “Flop House carefully sources local produce based on the guiding principles of – good design (packaging), ethically made, locally produced and with a story to tell,” says Genevieve Wearne, Founder of the Flop House, a series of luxurious local lodgings. “Wherever possible this will be supplemented with locally picked fresh produce. If quinces are in season, for example, we will provide fresh quinces in a bowl and stewed quinces for breakfast.”
Scattered across Kyneton with plans to expand, Wearne’s stylish retreats include access to high-end bicycles, a map of local eateries and beautiful woollen picnic blankets complete with leather holders and baskets. Her picnic and in-house menus offer selections of pies from Piper St Food Co, Monsieur Pierre salads, McIvor Farm Foods Salamis and more. “We see food as a way of grounding and connecting guests to their surroundings in a short space of time,” says Wearne. The end goal is for guests to visit farm gates, buy direct from producers and – the Flop House just provides the first taste.
With big brands using slogans such as “local, ethical and sustainable” across products that are far from, it is getting harder and harder to discern what’s real and what’s staged. This business model of bars, restaurants and boutique accommodation pairing up with local makers to forge real connections and help cut through the hype can only be helpful.
Flop House has also collaborated with local grower Richard Goodman to make Shelf Preservation. These preserves, inspired by local botanicals and foraged flavours, features finger lime jelly, sloe berry and gin jam, poached pears and organic cereal. It’s these sort of collaborations that we’d all love to see more of. Another Kyneton favourite, Piper St Food Co, run workshops on how to make salami, sausages and pies. Visitors and locals can then not only buy regional produce, but champion it in their cooking too.
The reality is that many of us are time poor. Taking a few days off to learn how to make sausages might not be on the top of your to do list. But just as our state goes largely unnoticed, so do the restorative qualities of such activities. “Engaging in an experience of learning new skills stays with us,” says Wearne. “It is not only practical but increases self-esteem and a feeling of well-being.” So without sounding too much like your Sunday horoscopes; perhaps it’s time to reconnect with the world around you. Victoria’s waiting with open arms.