Friday, April 19, 2024

Route vegetables: a four-day, vegetarian-friendly road trip through Mudgee and Orange

The central west region of NSW is known for its fine wines and excellent food. But if you do not…

By Chan , in Travel , at March 20, 2024

The central west region of NSW is known for its fine wines and excellent food. But if you do not eat meat, will its reputation still hold?

Working from home is the best thing to come out of 2020. By extension, realizing that you can do it anywhere with an internet connection has become a reality.

Many have noticed: Infrastructure Australia reported in December that net migration to regional areas from capital cities had increased by 200% in the past year. The report identified an upcoming “regional revival” with many investment opportunities. People are moving, or at least thinking about moving to the country.

There’s just one problem – I am a vegetarian. Running out of options to eat is a concern after too many road-trip pub meals consisting of margaritas and mushroom risotto.

Recent trips to Mudgee, Orange, and Orange put this fear to rest. I also discovered something else. I find that small towns are a problem because everyone knows each other’s business. But in regional centers like these, it’s actually a positive thing.

Store owners are not afraid to recommend local boutiques that sell hard-to-find products. In this area, the community is strong and real. This is another benefit of country living.

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Day 1: Sydney to Mudgee via Rylstone

After a relaxing drive through the New South Wales countryside, we arrive at Rylstone Olive Press. Jayne and Peter Bentivoglio purchased their olive farm in 1997 after falling in love. Both were nurses and wanted to get away from the stress of their jobs. The couple was also convinced by the health benefits that extra virgin olive oils provide, so they decided to produce their own. They planted hundreds of trees and built an on-site press. They’ve also won several awards for being the best in the show.

Jayne has now become a certified olive oil sommelier. We sit down for the unique experience of tasting olive oil. As I swirl the four blends on my palate, I try to discern the different notes. Although I still have a lot to learn, I am convinced that dipping freshly baked bread in fruity olive oils is a simple and enjoyable experience.

Next, we’ll visit one of the culinary highlights in the region: the Zin House. The restaurant gets almost all its fresh produce from the organic and biodynamic gardens. Chef Nathaniel Destefano collaborates with Corolla Kay each day to create a seasonal menu. We settle down for five lazy courses as rain sprinkles on the gardens outside.

Here, the vegetarian menu is not a lesser cousin. It features spring flavors like chargrilled asparagus and lemon jam and bright fettuccine topped with leeks braised in chili, mint, and pesto.

Zin House is a part of Lowe Wines’ sprawling gardens, so it’s no surprise that the wine pairing is perfect.

Local tip: The heritage town of Rylstone has 19th-century sandstone shops and cottages, as well as locals’ favorite 29 Nine 99 yum-cha and teahouse where chef Na Lan prepares delicate, handcrafted dumplings that are as good as those in the city.

Stay at Birches B&B, Mudgee. David and Pam Stewart converted their beautiful home into a bed and breakfast, with three elegant rooms overlooking rose gardens. The lounge has a fireplace for the winter and a swimming pool in summer.

Day Two: Mudgee

Ingrid Roth, owner of the Roth Family Cherry Orchard, is a hardy farmer. She has seen the orchard go through many unpredictable events, as she explained on a Mudgee Fine Foods farm walk where visitors can meet farmers and learn more about the provenance of food.

After a delicious coffee at Alby & Esters, we walk along the Lawson Park Sculpture Walk, which runs along the Cudgegong River. The walk was established in 2013 and features a collection of metal art that ranges from quirky to intriguing. Next, we visit the Warakirri Bush Tucker Cafe, which Sharon Winsor founded. She is a Ngemba Weilwan from Western NSW. The cafe is also the retail outlet of Indigiearth, an Aboriginal-owned business.

Only a small percentage of the native and bush food businesses in Australia are owned or managed by Indigenous Australians. Sharon works with members of the community who source bush food using traditional land management techniques. She uses these foods to make skincare, spices, and other products such as tea, coffee, chocolate, and scented candles.

Warakirri has an enticing lunch menu: classic cafe dishes with a twist of native ingredients. This includes a ham-and-cheese toastie, kangaroo hamburgers, and salt and Pepper squid made from saltbush leaf and pepper berry. I chose the bush tomato pie – creamy and with a subtle hint of tang. Also, a rosella sparkling tea.

The next few hours are spent in the tasting room of Gilbert Family Wine. The Cellar by Gilbert, a sandstone cellar door that looks more like a wine bar than a traditional cellar, is designed to be more of a wine bar.

Will Gilbert and Simon Gilbert, father and son, have been producing wine for six generations. Will Gilbert, who trained in Burgundy, Canada, and the United States, returned home to experiment with natural, fashionable styles such as pet-nat, Orange, and other wines.

Local tip: Mudgee Brewing Company is a great option if you are thirsty but have had enough of wine. This microbrewery, located in an old wool store dating back 100 years, produces a variety of beers, including the locally famous 8.5% ABV Mudgee Mud.

Day 3: Mudgee to Orange

As we drive into Orange, our first impression is of the wide streets, the federation-style homes, and then the window of a real estate agency. As we look at the real estate prices and see that they are very affordable, our Escape to the Country fantasy comes true.

We enjoy it at Parrot Gin Distillery in the industrial area of town. Ben Cochrane is a fourth-generation local hotelier who has turned to distilling. “Every gin tastes different,” says the founder. Red Silk Gin, made with a hibiscus tea tisane, has a delicate taste that catches my attention. Maybe there is something to the trend for gin after all?

Dinner at the former Sizzler, now known as Charred. The cheese toast was traded in for food and wine of exceptional quality, the majority from local producers. The restaurant is known for its charcoal oven, which is called Lucifer.

Many people associate flame-cooking with red meat. However, vegetables can be just as tasty – such as a spice-rubbed, smoked, and fire-roasted cauliflower or a beetroot with goat cheese on top.

Local tip: Ferment Wine Center offers a good place to sample the wines of the region and create a list for vineyard-hopping. The Ferment Wine Centre hosts wine tastings and events but is also open to those who are just looking for an after-hours glass.

Day four of Orange

Borrodell estate is an expansive 75-acre farm outside Orange. We bump into Borry Gartrelle after parking. He and his partner Gaye Stewart-Nairne founded the farm. He explains, “I’ve grown things my whole life,” as we sit down for lunch in the Sister’s Rock Restaurant overlooking the valley. The fruits of his labor are visible as far as one can see.

In 1965, he bought the land for a bargain. He spent time rejuvenating the soil, which was in a terrible state due to overfarming. He began by growing cherries and apples, then planted the estate vineyards. He and Gaye started growing black Perigord Truffles in 2003. Now, they are among the leading truffle producers in the region. They produce truffle butter, truffle honey, and truffle salt during the season.

The crisp sauvignon Blanc from the estate pairs well with my roasted kohlrabi.

We detour on the way back to the Mount Canobolas Lookout. It’s 1,395m above sea level and has views that match its height.

We drive out of town for dinner to Tonic restaurant for a multicourse meal, including a main course of pumpkin and pinenut pithivier. Dessert is the highlight of this meal – a creamy Vanilla Bean Bavarois with ginger and rhubarb, followed by an energizing lime tart.

Day five – Orange to Sydney

We have just enough time on our final day to visit some local boutiques. Jumbled occupies an old Masonic Hall and is filled with vibrantly colored fashion, art, and housewares. This includes several pieces that were made specifically for the store in collaboration with Australian brands like Robert Gordon and Kip and Co.

We take a detour to Carcoar on the way back to Sydney. This tiny town proudly calls itself “the Town Time Forgot.” The view of the village is best seen by driving up to the old railway station.

The town is not just a throwback to the past: new additions are the Instagram-ready Tomolly store for homewares and the slow-food Italian restaurant Antica.