Archive for the ‘Fresh Produce’ Category

Salmon is fast becoming the new chicken. Once an occasional treat, salmon is now a regular item on restaurant menus, a favourite at dinner parties and a necessary part of the canapé platter. Its popularity is partly due to the fact New Zealand farmed salmon is a high quality product, so much better than the flabby farmed salmon I’ve encountered in Europe and, I think, better than the Atlantic salmon from Tasmania.

In NZ we farm the chinook or king salmon. It was introduced in the early 1900’s and has thrived in an environment that’s free of the parasites specific to the species. That means we don’t have to dose our farmed salmon with antibiotics. We are also lucky in that we have an extensive coastline with deep sheltered waterways and good tidal flows – perfect conditions for aquaculture.

New Zealand has also pioneered the raising of salmon in fresh-water hydro canals. Our alpine salmon is superb, apparently because the fish are constantly exercising their muscles by swimming against the fast flowing glacial currents in the canals. There is nothing flabby about these fish. 

Alpine king salmon is the fish used by Sealord in its new range of hot smoked salmon. Unlike cold-smoking, hot-smoking cooks and smokes the fish at the same time. Sealord, despite being the second biggest seafood company in the country, is using a traditional smokehouse with manuka wood chips to create a more artisinal product that is very good. Its Manuka Smoked Salmon took out the Supreme Award at the NZ Food Awards 2014. I’ve used Sealord’s Peri Peri Hot Smoked Salmon in the following recipe for kedgeree, its mild chilli flavour goes well with the spices that flavour this Anglo/Indian dish. If you want more  of a kick, add more cayenne.

Salmon Kedgeree

Salmon Kedgeree

Hot Smoked Salmon Kedgeree

200g (1 cup) basmati rice

375ml (1 ½ cups) water

2 free range eggs

2 tablespoons neutral oil

½ onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 teaspoon grated ginger

½ teaspoon turmeric

½ teaspoon ground coriander

pinch cayenne

25g butter

1 x155g pack Sealord Peri Peri Hot Smoked Salmon, skinned and flaked

½ cup cream

salt and pepper to taste

2 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander and a few leaves for garnish

Rinse the rice and place in a pot with the water. Bring to a boil then immediately lower heat to a slow simmer. Cover the pot with a lid and allow rice to cook for 12 minutes without removing the lid. Remove from heat and keep covered for a further 10 minutes until all the liquid is absorbed.

Soft-boil the eggs for 6 minutes and set aside to cool before peeling off shells.

Heat the oil in a high sided frying pan and cook onion, garlic and ginger over med-low heat until softened but not browned, about 3 minutes. Stir in  turmeric, coriander and cayenne and cook for a further minute. Add butter and when melted, add cooked rice, flaked salmon and cream. Stir to combine and heat through. Add fresh coriander and season to taste.

Serve topped with a soft boiled egg and a scattering of coriander leaves.

Makes 2 main servings or 4 small plates (as pictured).

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I’ve just read yet another once-over-lightly article about eating and buying produce that’s seasonal and local.

This one in the NZ Herald is hooked on the suggestion that TV cooking shows and food magazines encourage people to buy “fancy” out-of-season ingredients that must be flown in from other parts of the world. Hort NZ comes out on the side of buying local (as you’d expect) and Turners and Growers say they only import to supply customer demand.

The subtext to this debate is Hort NZ’s campaign to introduce Country of Origin Labelling. Now, I fully support the campaign. I can see no reason why we can’t know where our food is produced. Personally I always do buy in season, which most of the time means local as opposed to imported. But things are never that simple.

For instance, when I buy snowpeas from Zambia it’s true I’m contributing to global warming (via food miles) and failing to support our local growers (by omission) but it’s also true that I’m helping the economy of a country that’s not as fortunate as my own. I think that’s a mitigating factor.

The other thing to consider is the double standard that’s rarely mentioned in articles like this one, ie, food writers like me encourage people to buy ‘in season and local’ but we don’t really want other countries to apply the same criteria to New Zealand.  As an out-of-season supplier in many overseas markets, this country would be in serious trouble if everyone decided to be a locavore.

Similarly, we need to be careful with the assumption that local will be fresher – I’ve seen some very sad looking local vegetables for sale, especially outside the main urban areas. And if it is true that most imported fresh produce is “fumigated, irradiated or put in cool storage”, then I’d like to know how we keep our own exported produce fresh during long journeys.

There are no easy answers, I just wish reporters would take their stories a bit further than the obvious.

As to the Masterchef hook in this particular story, I’m not sure that cooking shows do drive a demand for out-of-season fruit and vegetables. If so, it can only be that they are being screened out of season. But I am sure about recipes in magazines and I strongly disagree with the man from Turners and Growers who says food magazines often feature certain products that people expect to be able to buy in New Zealand (and, presumably, can’t). I read the food sections of almost every NZ food and lifestyle magazine including the one I write for (NZ Life & Leisure) and the recipe writers are all really careful to stay in season, even ‘though the finished food shots may have been styled weeks before publication. There is also a notable effort to use products that are readily available.

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Crazy Fish

_1TJ6448I love this fish. I found it at the City Market in Rachel Taulelei’s fish chiller. Her company Yellow Brick Road has a reputation for great tasting seafood: live oysters, whole flounder, line-caught snapper, all beautifully fresh. The day’s catch was laid out on ice – surf clams, whole terakihi, said fish and a row of pearly white fillets. I had been thinking snapper for lunch but this crazy looking fish stole the show in the cabinet. No contest. I thought it was gorgeous and I had to find out if it tasted as good as it looked.

Rachel told me it was a Japanese gurnard – a type not often seen in fish shops – and she very kindly gave it to me. I took it home and had a hell of a job filleting it. Its skin was almost impenetrable, its head armour-plated and the spines on its back (lying  flat in my photo) were  dangerously sharp. But the flesh – once I’d got to it – was beautifully textured. It was silky but firm and whiter than the common gurnard I’m used to.

When it comes to cooking fish, I’m a purist. A delicate white fish like gurnard needs very little flavouring. I panfried the fillets in butter and made a beurre blanc sauce – part of the classic repertoire I’ve been practicing at Le Cordon Bleu in Wellington (more of that later).


It was excellent. As Al Brown would say, it ate very well. So keep an eye out for this fish, you can’t miss it.


Gurnard Fillets with Beurre Blanc


2 serving size fillets of gurnard (or similar white fish)

flour to dust and salt to season

neutral oil to fry

squeeze of lemon

scattering of chopped parsley


1 shallot, very finely diced

½ cup white wine

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

6 peppercorns

1 bay leaf

150g butter in cubes

2 tablespoons cream

salt to taste

pinch of cayenne (optional)


Place diced shallot, wine, vinegar, peppercorns and bayleaf in a small saucepan over medium heat and reduce to about 3 tablespoons. Strain off solids and pour liquid back into saucepan. Place back on heat and whisk in cream then butter, one cube at a time, until you have a slightly thickened sauce. Add salt to taste and a pinch of cayenne. Remove from heat but keep warm.

Season fillets with salt then dust in a little flour. Heat oil in frypan and fry on both sides until flesh is just cooked through. Squeeze lemon juice over the top of each fillet and serve on warm plates with sauce and a scattering of parsley.

Serves 2

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I’m a sucker for lemons. Lemon sorbet, lemons with gin, lemon juice on fresh snapper, lemon roasted chicken, lemon mayonnaise, lemon syrup cake. You get my drift. Lemons go with just about everything; they are an essentlal ingredient. I once got stranded on a North Island beach with no money and no transport. My friend and I had a tent and a bag of lemons. For two days we ate tuatuas: mostly raw. The lemons made all the difference.

My friend Mary Biggs is of the same mind. She’s a great cook (Cordon Bleu trained) and she loves lemons so much she’s created an entire range of products around that one essential ingredient. Her brand Lavender’s Green includes lemon cordials, lemon jelly, preserves pickles, mustard, chutneys and curds. My favourite is the roasted lemon chutney. I’ve recently written it into a recipe for Moroccan lamb sliders – my little burgers would be nothing without it.

I’ve just eaten that same chutney with Mark Limacher’s potted rabbit. It was part of a five-course Wellington on a Plate lunch in which Mary’s products added depth or zing to every dish on the menu at the Ortega Fish Shack.

Roast Duck and Smoked Warehou Salad

A beetroot and feta combination was spiked with a lively lemon pickle and the lemon mustard was a great addition to the salsa that accompanied the beef. My favourite course combined duck and softly smoked warehou on a crunchy juliened salad with tamarind and preserved lemon dressing.

We finished with lemon tarts that were good because they were simple – just fresh lemon curd spooned into individual pastry cases. Unfortunately they were accompanied by the only thing I really don’t like – liquorice. It looked great – whipped into ice cream and served with mini allsorts – but taste is such a personal thing. I’ve tried but I can’t do it. I know I’ll never learn to like liquorice, not even when it’s partnered with lemons.


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Having just come back from China, where I saw one or two things that would make your eyes water (see my last post), I’m once again having to defend my position on the relatively harmless farming of ducks and geese for foie gras.

The activists who continue to picket Le Canard restaurant in Wellington are now projecting videos into the restaurant in an effort to harass customers while they enjoy an evening out, which may or may not include eating foie gras at a restaurant that specialises in the cuisine of South-West France – cuisine in which ducks, geese and foie gras have a starring role.

The reason I’m writing what is now my third blog post on this issue is that the activists are being very selective about the information they choose to present. I’d like to redress the balance on behalf of Pascal the chef, who is simply too stressed-out to do so himself, and I’d like to apologise to our long-suffering and loyal customers who are being treated as collateral damage in this campaign. Yes, the activists have a democratic right to protest but they have no moral right to harass our customers.

The videos they are projecting through the windows of the restaurant have been taken from the internet. You can goggle them on YouTube. They were filmed nearly 10 years ago, (before individual battery cages were banned by the EU) and they show the very worst of factory farming – practices and conditions that Le Canard has never condoned. This is like showing images of factory pig farming – sow crates and all – to people who buy ethically-raised pork.

They get away with it because so little is known about foie gras in this country. Indeed, the activists admit they have never seen the gavage (force-feeding) process themselves.

The fact is, there are good and bad farmers. Le Canard buy its foie gras from Rougié, a producer in the Dordogne that sources its foie gras from farms like the one shown in this video.


I believe we should be supporting farmers like these in the same way we support free-range egg farmers. Good farmers like these hate to be associated with the sort of industrial scale farms depicted in the videos selected by the activists. There is a huge difference.

I’ve visited foie gras farms myself and seen the gavage. The photo below shows the geese on a farm near Sorge. They free-range on grass with plenty of food, grain, walnuts and shade. When the farmer comes into the field they run up to greet him.

Foie Gras Farm, Dordogne

The last 20 days of their lives are spent in a barn where they are kept in family groups and fed maize porridge(3 times a day) from a pipe that’s inserted down their necks into the crop where digestion takes place. The whole process takes less than 5 seconds and the geese remain perfectly calm throughout. Unlike humans they have no gag reflex.

La Gavage, Dordogne

This is a good farm run by good farmers and it produces good foie gras. Farms that maltreat their birds do not.

But back to the activists who continue to say they are not picking on Le Canard. How else do you explain the fact that Le Canard is the only business they are targeting when there are many others who import, sell or serve foie gras and the associated products of force-fed ducks. (Those imported tins of duck confit contain the legs and thighs of guess what? force-fed ducks.) Where is the consistency in this protest action?

It’s strange too that the activists have taken their protest to the City Market in Wellington, not because the market sells foie gras (it doesn’t) but because Le Canard has an occasional stall there. They would force Pascal out of the market even though the terrines and rillettes he sells are made from New Zealand farmed ducks, which are not force-fed. Work that one out.

It seem clear to me that they are seeking media publicity for their cause by forcing a small French restaurant out of business. So far they’ve managed to attract three newspaper stories in which they vow to continue their bullying until the chef bows to their demands and takes foie gras off the menu.

What should worry fair-minded New Zealanders is that they have picked on such an easy target – a 30 seater restaurant in the middle of a recession. Will they be cheering when they put six people out of work?  I’m sure they will.

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I’ve just finished writing a travel feature on Shanghai. As usual, the hardest part is deciding what goes in and what stays out of the story; there’s too much good material and you can’t write about everything.

So, I didn’t write about knock-off handbags, I went light on the restaurants and I left out the bit where I come home with dysentery. It seemed unfair to leave readers with the bad taste of that one over-priced greasy dumpling which I’d foolishly bought from a tourist trap restaurant.

And I left out the gory bits. I didn’t want to put readers off with stuff that’s really offensive so I hinted a bit here and there and I saved the ghastly stuff for my blog.

Vegetarians, read no further.

The wet market on Taikang Rd was an off-the-itinerary discovery made while souvenir shopping in the former French Concession. I’d got lost in the maze of allleyways that is the Tai Kang Art Centre and, when I finally got back on the main street, I found myself right outside a really wonderful produce market. It wasn’t a big market but it had a great selection of shiny looking vegetables, all sorts of tofu, stinky hundred year old eggs, fresh noodles and lots of seafood, including tanks of live shellfish and turtles.

Taikang Rd Wet Market, Shanghai

Right at the back I saw a big poster showing free range hens dotted around an emerald green field. I hadn’t expected to find free-range hens in China so I fought my way to the back for a closer look. Directly underneath the happy hen picture was a double row of cages stuffed full of them.

Poultry Section, Taikang Rd Market

I had to laugh but the irony was lost on the man behind the counter. He was attending to a fussy female customer who insisted on feeling the birds’ breasts to assess their worth. The vendor was kept busy for some time, pulling hens out of cages until she was satisfied she had the most buxom bird of the lot.

Purchasing Poultry, Taikang Rd Market

The chosen one was weighed on the scales. A price was calculated and then the vendor stretched out the hen’s neck and slit its throat. Blood started spurting and he immediately threw it into a large plastic drum and closed the lid. The bird, still half alive, went ballistic. It thumped around, rocking the drum and presumably making a hell of a mess inside while the vendor and customer talked about this and that until the fuss died down. At that stage, the poor creature was pulled out and thrust into another drum of hot water to loosen its feathers. Finally it was gutted, plucked, packed into a plastic bag and handed to the woman in exchange for some money.

Why was it so shocking? I think it was the noise, the casual way in which it was done, and the fact the other hens were watching and listening from behind the bars of their cages. I’d seen animals killed for food before but something about this made me feel a bit sick so I turned my back on it and wandered over to look at the fish section, where someone else was buying a turtle.

Seafood at Taikang Rd Wet Market

Turtles are farmed in China, which I figure makes it alright to eat them. I got in a bit closer as one was lifted out of the tank and then I saw what I can hardly believe I saw – the fishmonger, with a pair of scissors, calmly snipping off the turtle’s shell while it was still alive, its short little legs waving helplessly in the most horrible way.

I’d photographed the hens in their cages but I couldn’t take pictures of this. I left the market feeling slightly stunned. There was no way this was going in my story. To be honest, it didn’t even make it into my notebook. I censored myself, because of all the things I saw in Shanghai the one thing I wish I hadn’t seen was this.

My Shanghai story will appear in the Sept/Oct issue of NZ Life & Leisure.

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I’m driven to write this post because the restaurant in which I have a share is being subjected to a bullying protest action by a group of animal welfare activists. Every weekend night for the past six months they have been outside Le Canard restaurant in Wellington accosting passers-by and restaurant diners with leaflets demanding they “Say No to Foie Gras”.

Le Canard (The Duck) specialises in the cuisine of South West France, specifically the Pèrigord region which is home to truffles, cèpes, duck and foie gras. Its customers dine at the restaurant because they like the style of food and the authentic ambiance it offers. No one has to order foie gras; those who do, know exactly what it is: the fattened liver of a force-fed (gavaged) duck or goose.

Foie Gras prepared mi-cuit for sale at a French market

It is not – as the protestors would have us believe – a liver that is diseased/infected with hepatic lipidosis. Can you imagine the health authorities of France or New Zealand allowing a diseased avian product to be sold or exported?  The gavage process is not done to make the animal as “sick as possible”, and “many birds” do not “asphyxiate to death” during the process. The highly emotive leaflet circulated by the protestors takes the very worst instances of factory-farmed cruelty and presents it as the status quo. Let me redress the balance.

I have worked as an agricultural journalist; I am now a food writer. I have lived in France, I’ve visited foie gras farms, I’ve seen the gavage in action, I’ve discussed the issue with practically every French person I’ve met and I’ve researched foie gras production for a feature I made for Radio New Zealand in 2006. This is what I’ve learned.

There are good and bad farmers. Just as New Zealand has farmers who mistreat their animals, so it is in France. Both countries have regulations to keep the worst operators in check; sometimes – as in the case of the Crafar farms – it can take some time for the authorities to act.

It is also true that both countries sanction questionable farming practices by law. These laws enable us to farm on an intensive scale and produce the food we like to eat. In New Zealand it is perfectly legal to keep sows in farrowing crates and layer hens in cages where they have little room to move. In France it’s legal to force-feed ducks and geese for the production of foie gras.

Both countries set minimum standards and both countries have farmers who choose to farm at a much higher standard. These people farm less intensively, often free ranging their livestock and opting to take less profit for a more natural or artisan operation. So it is with foie gras. Some foie gras is produced intensively; some of it is produced by artisans.

In Périgord the producers have formed a regionally defined association to distance themselves from the practices of some factory produced foie gras that has become big business in parts of France but especially in Eastern European countries that have lower standards.

The duck and geese farms in Périgord tend to be small scale. The birds are hatched and raised free-range on pasture until the last 2 or 3 weeks of their lives when they go into a barn that’s separated into pens. They are gavaged 2 or 3 times a day in a process that takes less than two seconds per animal (farms are equipped with pumping equipment that delivers a measured dose, quickly and gently) I’ve read about birds lining up to be fed; in my experience this is an exaggeration but they are certainly not perturbed and I’ve seen geese walk off with tails wagging after the gavage.

Sheep in shearing pens are handled much more roughly than these birds. The farmers know they won’t get a good liver if the bird is stressed; it’s in their interests to treat them gently. It’s certainly not in their interests to grow the liver as big as possible so the birds can’t stand up. Despite what the activists say about farmers wanting to maximise profits by getting the biggest livers, the premium fresh duck foie gras (classified ‘extra’) is close to 500g; if it gets much bigger than that, the fat simply melts out during the cooking process leaving an inferior product.

Cruel and unnatural?

Some people will tell you it’s natural for a goose or duck to load up on food; it helps them prepare for a long migration. That’s true but not to the extent that it’s done for foie gras. One farmer summed it up for me when I asked if she didn’t think it was cruel to stuff food down a goose’s neck. She agreed it wasn’t natural but said it wasn’t cruel. She genuinely liked her geese and explained that there was a real art to gavaging a bird gently with just the right amount of corn mash.

Another farmer who said much the same, also added that it is hypocritical for a New Zealander (me) to suggest the gavage is unnatural when the New Zealand economy depends on forcing cows to produce hundreds of litres of milk when naturally it would only produce enough for its calf. Point taken. In the end we agreed that most, if not all, animal farming is based on pushing natural behaviours beyond what is natural.

Now for the bad farmers. You need only search YouTube to find some horrific examples of ducks kept in single cages with necks protruding, ready for the next gavage. The pipe is administered twice a day for two weeks with no kind words or gentle stroking – they may as well be on a conveyor belt. This is undoubtedly the shameful side of foie gras farming but is it any worse than battery egg production? Layer hens may not be subjected to force feeding but they do live in those tiny cages for their entire laying lives – an awful lot longer than two weeks.

Just as there are good and bad farmers there is good and bad foie gras. When my French friends buy foie gras in France they make the same distinction many ethical shoppers here make between battery and free-range eggs, or between conventionally raised pork and free range. They buy foie gras (fresh or prepared as a paté) from a local farmer whose reputation they trust. That way they know it will be good quality and that it’s come from a duck or goose that has been free-ranged and well treated during the gavage. Second best is to buy foie gras from one of the established reputable companies that process foie gras from their own contracted farmers in France.

Such a company is Rougié. Based in the Dordogne, it has been producing foie gras since 1875. Le Canard buys Rougié bloc foie-gras from a New Zealand importer.

A Cowardly Protest

People who feel strongly about foie gras would be better to aim their protest action at the governments of France and New Zealand: France for sanctioning the production of foie gras and New Zealand for allowing its importation. But instead of protesting outside parliament or the French Embassy, these activists choose to bully the little guy – a talented young chef who is trying to build a small business in recessionary times.  Pascal Bedel chose to settle his family in this country because it gave him a chance to start his own restaurant and because he admired the Kiwi spirit of equality and fair play. After 6 months of provocation from people I can only describe as bullies, I hope he still feels the same way.

By the Way…

Anyone who wants to avoid eating the product of a force-fed duck should also avoid eating  the readily available imported cans of confit de canard. The duck confit is made from the legs and thighs of fattened ducks. Which means if the protestors really knew what they were protesting against and wished to do it equably and intelligently they should be targeting every business in New Zealand selling imported duck products from France, not just the one small restaurant they’ve identified that serves foie gras.

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Startled Rabbit by Maddie Tait-Jamieson

I was back in Central Otago last week where every year is the Year of the Rabbit. The farmers here say there are so many rabbits that if you clap your hands loudly you can see the hills move. Believe it. Before I had a chance to put my hands together, I’d already trodden on one. We both got a fright but the farmer just shrugged and told me he’s facing costs of $30,000 to poison them this year – there are far too many to shoot.

Ironically, on this last trip I’d come to Central via Dunedin where a pie man was bemoaning the fact he couldn’t afford to make his Poacher’s Pie because the price of rabbits had gone through the roof. He was paying $16 a shot which gave him just 330g of meat. I’m not sure how much a hunter gets for a rabbit but I’m guessing the added cost must be in the processing.

Whatever the reason, it seems ridiculous that only the best restaurants can afford to serve up a pest that’s hit plague proportions in parts of the country. Having seen the problem at first hand, I figure the best thing you can do to a rabbit is give it a bullet, skin it, cook it and shred it into little pieces. Here’s my recipe for rabbit rilletes.


Rabbit and Pork Rilletes.

I used to make this in France where the rabbits are farmed. They’re plumper and meatier than our wild ones but they come with their heads still attached, which I always found a bit gross because without the fur their eyes are big and gollum like. NZ rabbits are skinnier so I use a higher proportion of fatty pork belly.


1 large rabbit, skinned

400g fatty pork belly

salt, pepper

2 cloves garlic, crushed

2 bay  leaves

2 sprigs of thyme or marjoram

rabbit rillettes ingredients

Joint the rabbit into 6 pieces and slice the pork belly into thick chunks. Rub salt, pepper, garlic and herbs all over the meat and leave in fridge overnight.

Preheat oven to 150°C. Place meat with seasonings in a heavy duty casserole with half a cup of water then cover with tight-fitting lid. Braise in oven for 2 ½ -3 hours until tender.(Check once or twice and add more water if it’s drying out.)

Remove from oven and leave until cool enough to handle. Pick out the bay leaves and herb twigs and strain off fatty juices. Pull meat off bones and place in large bowl. Using two forks, shred the meat finely, taste for seasoning and pack into a serving bowl. Pat down with a wooden spoon and pour a thin layer of the reserved fat over the top. Chill and serve with toasted bread and pickles.

Making rillettesRabbit Rillettes

If you’d rather leave the cooking to someone else, here’s what chef Pascal Bedel can do to a rabbit at Le Canard restaurant in Wellington.

Pascal's riilletes, confit and rack of rabbit


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This is Biddy Fraser-Davies, the celebrated cheese maker from Tararua with her three cow herd: Sally, Molly and Emily.

Biddy the Dairymaid by Maddie Tait-Jamieson

Between them, and notwithstanding the needs of their own offspring, the jersey girls provide just enough milk to support Biddy’s small cheese making business. She produces two naturally rinded farmhouse cheeses each day and sells them to people who like to come and pat the cow that produced the milk that made the cheese on Cwmglyn Farm.
And what’s wrong with that? Quite a lot, apparently. The food safety people seem to think Biddy is a potential menace. She may not look it, in her pink crocs and purple apron, but the woman is dangerous; her cheese may constitute a health hazard. Not because her practices are unsanitary – all agree her standards are exemplary – and not because her cheese is substandard – it passes all the tests with flying colours. No, officialdom has it in for her because she failed to fill out the forms.
The Food Safety Authority woke up to the fact after Country Calendar profiled her last year. They came down on her with a tonne of paperwork and have spend goodness knows how much tax-payer money checking her out. It would be funny if it wasn’t so tragic.

Biddy Fraser-Davies

I spent a few hours with her recently as she made a batch of cheese, and I watched her dutifully document every step in the process. There was a form to record the heat treatment of each batch of milk from each cow and another that covered the cheese making process. All up each cheese required 7 temperature readings, 6 ph tests and 14 time checks. And it didn’t stop there – the documentation followed each cheese through pressing, maturation and point of sale; all in the name of traceability. Now that’s probably quite a sensible precaution for a big factory but it doesn’t translate to a dairy the size of Biddy’s. She has to fill out these forms for every cheese she makes. The compliance cost so far, including lab testing offsite, has come in at $5,000 – a huge chunk of her $20,000 turnover.
It’s enough to drive you mad – or out of business, and you can’t help wondering if that’s the idea. Are artisan cheese makers really such a threat to our dairy industry? Biddy has been making her cheese without a problem for 8 years. Her equipment is spotless, her cows are well cared for, their milk is checked regularly. You would think risk management requirements could be tailored to suit the size of small dairies like Biddy’s – especially now we are seeing such a resurgence of small scale cheese making. Encourage compliance by all means but don’t let bureaucracy kill the artisan culture.

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In Christchurch, pre-earthquake, I visited Pete and Joy McLeod on their organic free range  poultry farm at West Melton.

Their home suffered structural damage in the September quake; this time the house was fine but their business may not survive. With restaurants like Jonny Schwass’s now in ruins and most of their other customers closed for business, the McLeods are desperately looking for customers outside Christchurch.

Moore Wilson Fresh in Wellington has come to the rescue; they’ve just started stocking Westwood Chicken’s free-range birds. I bought one this morning and, yes they’re expensive, but so is all free-range poultry and I can’t think of a better way to help Canterbury’s small producers right now. Besides, these birds taste great and I can vouch for the way they’re raised.

Westwood Organic Free Range Chickens

The one-day old chicks start out in converted shipping containers where they have food, water and plenty of space to run around. Their houses are heated and they have a transistor radio with music to keep them company. After a few days they’re encouraged to venture out into a netted run, then in the third week, when they’re sufficiently hardy, they’re moved into the fields.

At night they’re coaxed into their shadehouses, but during the day they prefer to peck around outside in the grass, or under the tree line where they can hide from the hawks – an  unfortunate reality for birds who free range.

Westwood Free Range Chicken House

I’m not sure how you’d know if they weren’t happy, but to me they seemed quite content.

Free-range doesn’t always mean what we’d like it to mean. Giving birds the ‘opportunity’ to go outside is not the same as encouraging them to do so. The McLeod’s really get this. When I visited the farm, their chickens were ranging so freely I found it hard to get a good photograph.

Of course, they aren’t the only producers whose business is suffering post-quake, their story is just one of many. Canterbury’s small farmers, growers and artisans really do need our support; we can help by supplying and buying their produce.

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