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The Fork Lift on StarChefs The Fork Lift on StarChefs Ripe grapes in March in the Barossa Valley -The Barossa Valley - The Fork Lift on StarChefs Ripe grapes in March in the Barossa Valley -The Barossa Valley - The Fork Lift on StarChefs Ripe grapes in March in the Barossa Valley -The Barossa Valley - The Fork Lift on StarChefs Australian Wine Country: The Barossa Valley - The Fork Lift on StarChefs Australian Wine Country -The Barossa Valley - The Fork Lift on StarChefs
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and the tomatoes ripen in February.
Plus: Notes on where to eat in Adelaide.
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A Word About Adelaide
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It was November. The days were getting longer, the weather hotter. Asparagus was in the market. And the buds on the grape vines were just starting to leaf. This was my first trip to Australia, and although I had expected the water whirpools in the drain to spin the other way and the cars to drive on the wrong side of the road, I hadn't expected to hear phrases like, "We pick the grapes when they are ripe in March." I was in the Barossa Valley, Australia's premier wine country. If the opportunity arises, you should go.

The picturesque vineyards of Australia's Barossa ValleyThe state of South Australia was settled in the 1830s, the only "free" state on the continent--meaning it was the only section of Australia not settled by British convicts. The land was granted to George Fife Angas in 1836, founder and chairman of the South Australian Company. He needed help to make it fruitful. Word got to Lutherans fleeing Europe because of religious persecution that they could settle in South Australia, where they could buy land at a good price in exchange for planting and tending the fields. The first ship set sail in 1841 carrying immigrants from Posen, Brandenburg, and Selesia. Those that survived the trip arrived in Adelaide and headed over the hills on foot to Barossa. They settled in Bethany, where they planted gardens for sustenance and commerce, and grapes for fortified wines. Several of these grape plantings, which date from the 1840s, still produce formidable wines--in fact these old-vine Shirazes were my favorite in the valley.

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The population's German ancestry is still evident throughout the Barossa. It's in the town names and the foods. Smoked pork sausage and sauerkraut are everyday foods. Mettwurst is the best of the wurst, and the distinction of having produced the best mettwurst in South Australia in 2002 (which ostensibly means the best in Australia), according to the National Meat Association, went to Lyndoch Valley Meats (38 Barossa Way, Lyndoch; 8524-4078). Their handmade mettwurst is redolent of garlic and smoke. German-style breads are made from local wheat and baked in a century-old wood-burning oven at Apex Bakery in Tanunda (4 Bilyara Road;8563-2483), much as they have been since the bakery was founded in 1924. Pickles are proudly proffered at grocery stores throughout the valley. I was intrigued by a homey looking jar of GC's Home Style Hot Pickled Onions on sale at Lyndoch Meats. When I opened them back in New York, I was sorry I hadn't schlepped more than two bottles of the crunchy, spicy, sweet pickled onions home with me on the plane.

But these days, of course, the real reason to come to the Barossa Valley is the wine-it's recognized as the premier region of Australia, though nearby McLaren Vale and Adelaide Hills winemaking regions are gaining ground. Equally compelling is the welcoming winemaking community in Barossa that makes for a lovely weekend side-trip from Melbourne or Sydney, or a day trip from Adelaide.

To get around in style, hire a car. But not just any car. John Baldwin is a charming, chatty man with an impressive handlebar mustache and an even more impressive fleet of three rare, black, 8-seat 1962 Majestic Major Daimler limousines. They are his babies. He fashions the parts for them by hand and every time he parks one, he gives the body a once over to be sure there are no dings before he leaves it. We toured the valley in the car that was built in 1962 for the Commonwealth tour of H.R.H. the Duke of Edinburgh, and then used again in 1964 to drive Princess Margaret around. No doubt due to the fear of hitting anything and because he spends most of his time facing the rear while he recounts fascinating stories about the valley and the people in it, Baldwin drives very slowly through the valley. It is time well spent.

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Most wineries are open to the public. They call their tasting rooms "cellar doors," and all but the rarest wines can be tasted for free. They are also all for sale--bargains in U.S. dollars. It's quickly apparent that Australian wineries will make anything that sells, and the vast selection of different blends of grapes at any one winery can be a little dizzying. It also makes comparisons across wineries difficult. Australian Shiraz (a.k.a. Syrah outside of Australia) is vinified to produce a typical style of wine--big, bold, heavily oaked, fruity, forward. It reminds me of a red version of California Chardonnay. I don't much like either of them. But hidden between the Grenache-Shiraz-Mourvèdre's and the Cabernet-Shiraz-Grenaches are some truly superb wines, many of which offer excellent value.

As I've already said, I found that my favorite Shirazes happen to come from 100-year-old-plus vines. Take for instance, "The Freedom" Shiraz produced by Langmeil. The settling Auricht family planted the vines in the 1840s. The wine is lush and rich and displays what in my opinion is the true joy of Shiraz. "Centurion" by Peter Lehmann is another special old-vine Shiraz that made me sit up and take notice. (Their Stonewall Shiraz was also memorable.) My advice to anyone touring the region is to find the special blend/cuvée that suits your taste and then look for the "reserve," "special label," or "private stock" designations. Don't miss the "stickies" (what we would call dessert or sweet wines). Some of Australia's true wine treasures are to be found in the after-dinner category. And while your there, try a sparkling Shiraz. It's a local curiosity that I can't quite decide if I like or dislike. It's dark red, not sweet, and mildly effervescent. (The Black Queen by Peter Lehmann is a benchmark of sorts.) I was first served sparkling Shiraz with Tim Tams, the Australian equivalent to Oreos (but much better in my opinion), and they went together rather well.

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One of the many advantages of having John Baldwin as your tour guide is that he doesn't know only about Daimler limousines and the Barossa Valley, he is passionate about wine, too. If you tell him your taste preferences, he can direct you to the wineries and the wines that will please you.

Maggie Beer, cookbook author and proprietor of Maggie Beer's Farm ShopAlong the way, you'll need some sustenance to soak up all of that fermented grape juice, and you'll find it at Maggie Beer's Farm Shop. Part gourmet shop, part café, the farm shop is a lovely place for lunch. It is set on a working pheasant farm, and the industrial approach doesn't let on that you'll overlook a serene duck pond while you enjoy the light, Mediterranean-inspired fare. You can purchase an impressive (and surprising) array of local products, including olives and olive oil, pâtés, and preserves. (I bought a hand-thrown mayonnaise bowl and some soap as souvenirs.) Beer has become somewhat of a celebrity in and champion of the Barossa. She has written a beautifully designed cookbook (as so many of Australia's cookbooks are), and has been featured in magazines around the globe (including our own Food & Wine).

The Jacobs Creek Retreat BarnShould you wish to stay over--which you really should consider--your options are limited to guesthouses--the equivalent of our bed and breakfasts. There are no large hotels nice enough to recommend. Of the guesthouses I visited, the Jacobs Creek Retreat, operated by Wyndham and Patricia House, is by far the most comfortable (Nitschke road, Tanunda; 08-8564-0422). The spacious rooms and suites are set in original ironstone buildings and surrounded by lovingly tended gardens. They are located alongside Jacobs Creek, a scraggly stream that is now known more for the huge, commercial winery that bears its name than anything else. Wyndham and Patricia seem shy, but it is evident that they direct their passions into cooking--they are both chefs--and gardening. A simple but sumptuous, seasonal dinner was served in my room. The local lamb, fresh tomatoes, asparagus, and greens were really one of the highlights of my trip. So was an early-morning jog among the vineyards.

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Unlike many other modern wine regions of the world, or of Australia, for that matter, there is a sense of rich culture and community that make the Barossa particularly appealing.



Barossa Pickled Onions
Adapted from Barossa Food by Angela Heuzenroeder (Wakefield Press, 1999)
  • 2 pounds pearl onions
  • 1/2 cup kosher salt
  • 2 quarts cider vinegar (5 % acidity)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 to 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons minced ginger
  • 2 teaspoons whole allspice
  • 6 whole cloves
  • 2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
  • 1/2 a nutmeg
  • 1 tablespoons hot red pepper flakes (optional)

To peel the onions, place them in a large bowl. Bring 5 or 6 cups of water to rapid boil and pour over the onions. Let sit about five minutes, until they are cool enough to handle. Drain. Trim the ends and the skins should lift off. Sprinkle the peeled onions with the salt and let sit at room tempeature overnight. Rinse the onions and pack into sterilized jars. Place the remaining ingredients in a non-reactive saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. While still very hot, strain the liquid into the jars to cover the onions. Let sit again overnight. The following day, cover the jars tightly and store for 2 weeks before eating.

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Apex Bakery's Horseshoe Pretzels
Adapted from Barossa Food by Angela Heuzenroeder (Wakefield Press, 1999)
  • 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • About 3/4 cup warm water (about 95 degrees F.)
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 egg beaten with 1 teaspoon water, for egg wash
  • Coarse salt
  • Caraway seeds

Dissolve the yeast in 1/2 cup warm water. Add the sugar and let proof until frothy, about 5 minutes. Into a large bowl, sift the flour and salt. Add the yeast mixture and enough warm water, about another 1/4 cup, to form a fairly firm dough. Knead for 10 minutes by hand. Place the dough in a greased bowl. Cover with a towel and let rise in a warm place for about 1 hour. Roll out the dough with a rolling pin to about 1/4 inch thick and cut into strips. Twist two strips together, cut into 8-inch lengths, and shape the lengths into horseshoes on parchment-line baking sheets, pinching the ends so they hold their shape. Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with salt and caraway. Bake at 425 degrees F. for about 10 minutes, until risen and browned.


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A Word about Adelaide

The city of Adelaide is like base camp for South Australia's wine region. It has all the buzz and excitement of Cleveland, but the food is miles ahead. In fact, surprising though it seems when you are walking around, Adelaide was the starting point for Australia's culinary revolution. You can eat well at fancy restaurants and at Asian holes-in-the-wall. Don't miss the lively central market. The following restaurants are good options if you are staying over in Adelaide on your way to the Barossa:

Bergerac @ The Botanic Dining Room
309 North Terrace, Adelaide
(08) 8232-0411
This is a new restaurant in a historic room with a modern design and very fresh, modern, Asian-inspired menu. We were the only people in it on a Friday night, which was weird. But chef Julie Ziukelis's food didn't suffer because of it.

Bridgewater Mill
Mount Barker Road, Bridgewater
(08) 8339-3422
Inside a picturesque old mill, you can find this restaurant just outside of town in Adelaide Hills. It is rightfully considered by some to be the best in the state. The setting is beautiful. The bulk of the building is actually used as the "cellar door" for Petaluma winery. Chef Lu Thai skillfully uses Asian flavors and techniques to produce modern food that is beautiful and delicious.

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Ying Chow Chinese Restaurant
114 Gouger Street
Adelaide SA 5000
Ph: (08) 8211-7998
Excellent Cantonese food is available at this clean, casual Chinatown restaurant. It's competes with T. Chow for the best Chinese restaurant in the city.

T-Chow
68 Moonta Street
(08) 8410-1413
Large tables, simple room. T-Chow offers excellent Cantonese cuisine with an emphasis on seafood.

Charlie's Shack
Chinatown (Wakefield side)
You would never expect it, but this hole-in-the-wall Vietnamese eatery serves really tasty pho, omelettes, and noodles at unbelievably cheap prices.


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