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Cheesemaker and thorn-in-the-side of the food safety bureaucrats, Biddy Fraser-Davies, is hopeful her experience with officialdom will improve the lot of her fellow artisan cheesemakers. Having been threatened with closure for insufficient record keeping she is now filling in a ridiculous amount of forms for each cheese and complying with a testing regime that’s costing a small fortune (see last post). However, her undoubted frustration is tempered by the knowledge that she is proving her point: the food safety authority’s one-size fits all policy is unecessarily onerous and needs to be re-jigged to fit the needs of the country’s small cheesemakers.

The information she is collecting, in the form of a steadily increasing pile of folders and lab reports, will be used by the Ministry of Agriculture (MAF now incorporates the NZFSA) to help design a pared down Risk Management Programme (RMP) for micro cheesemakers who milk their own animals, produce less than 1000 litres of milk per week and only make hard cheese.

Don’t hold your breath – the wheels of officialdom are moving ever so slowly – but the following letter, elicited from the Minister for Food Safety, Kate Wilkinson, gives Biddy some hope.

“…….I understand that this situation exists in accord with an agreement that you have made with MAF for the purpose of undertaking a trial to determine the feasibility of a micro cheesemakers RMP template which has the potential to substantially reduce your operating costs, and those in a similar situation to yourself…………. I trust that you will be able to successfully complete the trial and that the micro cheesemakers template will indeed prove to be advantageous to you and your business”. (2/5/2011)

And if her dogged persistence pays off in that regard, Biddy intends taking her campaign to the next stage. She’d like to see the Risk Management Programme extended to include artisanal cheeses made from raw milk. I’ll keep you posted.

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Edible Garden

I just had to post a photograph of the new vegetarian dish at Le Canard, the Wellington restaurant of which I am a silent but hungry partner.

Chef Pascal Bedel has taken inspiration from René Redzepi’s stunning book, Noma. Named after his highly acclaimed restaurant in Copenhagen, the book showcases Redzepi’s interpretation of Nordic cuisine with dishes that redefine those overused words, seasonal and local.

At Le Canard his ‘vegetable field’ becomes ‘le jardin potager’ – a garden of vegetables served in a flowerpot, complete with edible ‘dirt’. The flavours are intriguing, the presentation, fabulous.

A vegetarian friend of mine from New York was the first customer to order the dish. She dug into her flower pot with great gusto, devouring the whole garden from the tops of the carrots to the pomme purée at the base. She recognised a hint of horseradish in the mash but couldn’t figure out what gave the soil its tasty crunch.

Ask the chef.

 

 

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Muchas Gracias

Muchas gracias to Logan Brown and St Vincent’s Cave for a fabulous lunch on Monday. It was a collaborative effort in which chef Shaun Clouston prepared a five-course, degustation lunch using Spanish wine and ingredients from the Auckland-based importer.

It wasn’t about showcasing Spanish dishes; rather, the idea was to enhance local New Zealand produce with a light Spanish touch.

We began with slivers of paprika-cured kingfish sprinkled with crystallised orange. Subtly flavoured and gorgeously textured, the fish was partnered with a chilled Catalonian vermouth. It was the perfect apéritif; I can imagine serving it alongside a dish of the fruity little Arbequina olives from the same region. These were really, really good and I intend buying some from Ontrays, the company’s Wellington stockist. (more…)

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Christchurch

I spent last week scouting out local produce in Christchurch and beyond. I met some wonderful people: farmers raising ducks, organic chickens and pheasants; a goat cheese maker with a happy herd of goats and a great range of cheese, a walnut grower, a veggie grower and a traditional market gardener with glasshouses on the hill behind Lyttelton.

I’m back at my desk in Wellington and I’ve been writing up my research notes wondering if those glasshouses are still standing. Most of the food heroes I met spoke of the tough trading conditions following the last quake; most of them had suffered damage to their homes. All were hopeful they’d been through the worst.

I found a wonderful café and coffee roaster in Lyttelton. The coffee was good and the staff were friendly. I ordered bacon and eggs and took a couple of photos before I left. Does anyone know if  The Lyttelton Coffee Company survived the shaking that reportedly destroyed or damaged 60% of London St?

Lyttelton Coffee Co.

This café was one of many Christchurch eateries profiled in the latest issue of Australian Gourmet Traveller. The upbeat feature by Kendall Hill is titled ‘Christchurch is Risen’. It’s heartbreaking.

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I’m not in the habit of photographing what I’m eating in restaurants but this bouillabaisse was so good it said ‘blog me’.

Bouillabaisse – the fish soup of Marseilles – is one of those regional dishes that evolved from what was available and is now the subject of much debate as to what should or shouldn’t be in it. The bouillabaisse I ordered at the Bay of Many Coves Resort in Queen Charlotte Sound wouldn’t have passed the authenticity test – it included squid, scallops, prawns and green lipped mussels – but it was deliciously flavoured with stock made from fish bones and crustaceans and it was served with the requisite rouille: a mayonnaise type emulsion loaded with garlic and flecked with threads of saffron. The idea is to slather the rouille on pieces of toast which are then dunked in the soup. As you work your way down through the bowl, losing bits of toast and globs of rouille on the way, the soup gets messier and the flavour deepens. It’s a gloriously greedy way to eat. (more…)

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Bloggging Afloat

You wouldn’t believe how hard it is to maintain a blog in the middle of the Marlborough Sounds on a boat with no electricity and no Wifi.

It was my New Year’s resolution to organize myself blogwise. I still have no blog roll, no links to my published material and it takes me ages to position a photograph. Truth be told, I’m not even sure why I’m doing it but I am determined to get my head around the blog thing because I do like posting my thoughts about food.

With that in mind – and knowing I was going to spend a few weeks afloat – I bought an Ipad and a wireless keyboard. I’ve spent most of my time since then trying to work out how to use it. The biggest hurdle has been trying to get photos from my camera into my blog – it seems I need a connector thing. However, today I think I’ve made a breakthrough by emailing myself a photo taken on my mobile phone, picking it up on my ipad and then posting it into my blog. Hopefully, it’s positioned below.

Taken from the shore, this is our boat, Rongotai. A Jack Cox designed sedan with kauri hull and mahogany topsides, she was launched in 1939 and saw service as a naval patrol boat during the Second World War. Rongotai is reputedly the only civilian boat in NZ to have dropped a depth charge during the war – an explosive event that nearly sank her.

We bought Rongotai in 1992 and we’ve spent every summer (bar one) on her since then. Always in the Marlborough Sounds.

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We have finished the Christmas ham. Which not only means an end to the ubiquitous ham salad/sandwich lunch but it also means we must be about a week into our annual boating holiday. Having lost track of time, I’ve been measuring the days by ham.

I love the whole ham thing at Christmas. Despite the collective sigh of relief as we pick the last scraps from the end of the ham bag, it’s a family tradition I intend to keep up. The ritual starts  when I collect my pre-ordered whole-ham-on-the-bone from Bill, the Gipp St butcher. He sells Murellan pork (no sow stalls) and he prepares hundreds of hams every year. I also buy Harriet’s Glaze. It seems lazy not to make my own but Harriet’s a friend, a fabulous cook, and I’ve been hooked on her marmalade/star anise mix since she gave me some from the very first batch she produced.

Harriet left Wellington for Perth a few weeks ago. She sold her recipe to another caterer but she left me her Sabatier ham knife. I used it to carve this year’s ham, which was served warm from the oven with jersey bennies, slow roasted tomatoes, green salad and a dollop of garlicky mayonnaise. It’s always the same. Our warm glazed ham on Christmas Eve marks the start of the festive season.

On Boxing Day I attack it again, cutting it off the bone in two or three pieces so it can be more easily packed into the small chest fridge on our boat. (Our neighbour’s jack russell gets the bone, which is at least as big as the dog.)

And then it’s ham every day in the Marlborough Sounds: either sandwiches on the deck or sliced and served with new potato salad; shredded into a creamy pasta sauce or combined with gruyere and cream as a filling for French toasted sandwiches – croque monsieur in the cockpit for lunch.

And then it’s all over – another year, another ham. Bon appétit and Happy New Year.

 

 

 

 

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