Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula – How Did I Miss This?

by Amanda McInerney on 25/11/2013

Sunny Ridge Farm, Mornington Peninsula

I’m a frequent visitor to Melbourne. I used to live there and enjoy catching up with old friends when I can, all of whom live north of the river, so my trips south of the Yarra are infrequent. All that changed a few weeks back when I spent a few days on the Mornington Peninsula – leaving me wondering why I didn’t know about this glorious food basket. While the food scene in Melbourne is wonderful, it is well worth the short drive down the expressway to the lush, rolling paddocks and orchards and breathtaking coastline of this region. They have a wealth of goodies there to tempt you.

Red Gum BBQ -organic, free range and ethically produced.

My visit began with a barbecue lunch among  fruit trees and strawberry fields at Main Ridge. Sitting in an orchard chowing down on a barbecue of locally grown organic and free-range meats from Red Gum BBQ was a perfect introduction to the region.  A moveable feast, Red Gum BBQ is a pop-up caterer that can be found at events and markets all around the region and in Melbourne too. A wonderfully happy marriage of the long, slow American barbecue traditions, but using Australian native hardwoods, they accompany their meats with some traditional US favourites. Their rich, smokey baked beans, creamy fresh slaw and range of traditional sauces added a flavour punch to their pulled pork, ribs and slowcooked brisket that reduced our table of babbling journos to blissed out silence interspersed with murmurs of happy appreciation.

Strawberries, Sunny Ridge Farm

Strawberries and real Belgian chocolate

The aforementioned orchard is part of Sunny Ridge Farm, owned by Mick and Anne Gallace who have been here for over 30 years. The region was traditionally an apple and cherry growing area, both of which take a while to produce, so they put in some strawberries as a quick cash crop for short-term income. It soon became clear that the strawberries were very popular and it wasn’t long before the cherry trees were pulled to make more room. That quick cash crop has now turned into a landmark business with a wholesale and retail arm, a hugely popular pick-your-own option, as well as a thriving farmgate store selling berries, berry products and the most wickedly indulgent desserts I’ve ever had.

Strawberry Eton Mess & strawberry sundae

Mick and Anne had been making small amounts of strawberry wine for themselves and to sell and , when they encouraged their kids to pick an aspect of the family business to make their own, it was this area that caught the eye of son Matt and his wife Ruth. Christening their business Rebello Wines, Matt and Ruth have grown an outrageously successful business producing their internationally award-winning strawberry sparkling wines and Australia’s only 100% real fruit blended cider – Cheeky Rascal Cider.

Hand blended, often in small, seasonal batches, the sophisticated, totally fruit-based Cheeky Rascal Ciders have taken Australia by storm and their signature strawberry sparkling, Strawbellini – an innovative blend of strawberry wine and moscato, is smashing down doors internationally. After winning all the only Australian wine show categories it was eligible for, Matt and Ruth entered it in the San Francisco International Wine Competition where it was awarded a double gold medal, along with heavyweights like France’s renowned Veuve Cliquot and Americ’s Piper Sonoma!

 Mornington's Matt & Ruth Gallace

Mornington Peninsula’s proximity to the sea means that it’s food production is not limited to the land and the region is a source of some beautiful, fresh seafood. I found this out as I sat in a tinnie making my way out to the mussel lease of Dromana Bay Mussels. For reasons that I can’t explain, I’ve never eaten mussels and knew next to nothing about them. They’ve been grown off Safety Beach for more than 20 years and I was fascinated to discover just how utterly sustainable this excellent form of protein is. These shellfish will grow wherever they can find somewhere to latch on to and Geoff Newing of Dromana Bay Mussels provides just that. The intensity of the farm has no effect on the water quality, which is tested with frequent regularity and I was thrilled to have my first ever taste of mussels fresh from the ocean – and loved it.

Dromana Bay mussels, Mornington

While Geoff goes down to the sea in ships (well, in a tinnie actually) his wife Tamara Newing has found comfort, fulfillment and several awards at home. Seeking diversion after the sudden, tragic loss of her 14 year old son Tamara turned her chef-trained skills to artisan cheesemaking and after only 15 months her Boatshed Cheese has already won regional, Victorian and national awards. She produces a wide range of both cow and goat milk cheeses, sourcing all of her milk locally and also runs classes in cheese making in her compact premises in the front of her home. Tamara’s beautiful cheeses are all handmade and her eye-catching and award-winning Black Pearl cheese, made from goat milk and dusted in vine ash, is a tribute to her skill and eye for detail.

Tamara Newing, Mornington's Boatshed Cheese

Mornington's Boatshed Cheeses

For a natural sweet high, you can pop in to Pure Peninsula Honey at Moorooduc. We should know by now how important bees are to our food security and Pure Peninsula’s apiarist, John Winkels has turned his hobby into a thriving business where he transports hives to pollinate orchards and crops, runs the farm shop where you can taste all his products and see the bees at work and makes a range of beeswax products. Just after my visit, Pure Peninsula Honey were granted a liquor license so you will now find honey cider on the shelves too.

Pure Peninsula Honey bees

There’s no shortage of gourmet outlets in the Mornington region where these and other regional treats can be enjoyed. Housed in an apple packing shed that dates from the 1920′s, Red Hill Epicurean is the regions newest gastronomic hotspot. Boasting a breathtaking refit, this vast space is now a multifunctional venue showcasing much of the local wine and produce. With a bakery, cafe, cheese larder, wine tasting area, function space, wood oven and stylish restaurant it is a destination in itself.

Red Hill Epicurean Mornington

Flinders Hotel in Cook Street, Flinders, offers both sophisticated dining options and luxurious, contemporary accommodation only a ten minute walk from the ocean. The hotel was burnt to the ground in 1926 and subsequently rebuilt, but has undergone quite a few renovations since then. The latest has resulted in the fresh, modern design of the new Quarters accommodation and three stunning separate dining experiences within the hotel at either The Deck, Peninsula or Terminus – the latter the winner this year of an Age Good Food Guide hat for the second year in a row.  All are under the watchful eye of Chef Pierre Khodja – himself awarded the Hotel Chef Award at the 2013 Hotel Management awards.

Quarters, at the Flinders Hotel

cocktails and cocktail food at Flinders Hotel

My visit to the Mornington Peninsula started with a splendid feed and finished in the same way. We were treated to a magnificent lunch at one of the peninsula’s oldest wineries, Crittenden Estate, in their much-admired restaurant Stillwater at Crittenden. Chef Zac Poulier, former chef to Russell Crowe, showed his respect for the local ingredients, many of which we had only recently been introduced to, in an astonishing spread that made our eyes pop. Zac’s commitment to excellence includes a sense of responsibility to the environment and the restaurant has recently declared itself totally palm oil free. After this amazing lunch, it came as no surprise to me to learn that Stillwater took out the RACV  Victorian tourism awards for best tourism restaurant.

Lambs’ Ears and Honey travelled as a (very well-fed) guest of Rebello Wines.

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Jennifer @ Delicieux November 25, 2013 at 3:48 pm

It looks like you had an absolutely amazing time Amanda! What a fabulous display of delicious treats. It’s been far too long since I visited the Mornington Peninsula. I definitely need to go back.

PS. Your photos are absolutely fabulous!!

Lizzy (Good Things) November 25, 2013 at 4:09 pm

Amanda, what a delicious destination… so many interesting venues and food producers that you have highlighted here. Bookmarking now for when Peter and I visit! Great post, thanks for sharing!

Kate November 26, 2013 at 12:58 pm

Sad to say Mornington Peninsula is on my doorstep and I have never visited any of these wonderful places, shame on me. I will have to rectify this.

Maureen | Orgasmic Chef November 26, 2013 at 1:02 pm

“Very well fed” indeed! I’m in love with this already. John and I have taken a drive through there but we obviously didn’t spend enough time seeing all the things you found! wow.

Hotly Spiced November 26, 2013 at 6:28 pm

I love your first image – the background is so pretty. What stunning scenery – so green! I love the sound of those drinks with the strawberries – so festive and hugely appropriate for this time of year. What a great ‘business trip’! xx

Jamie November 27, 2013 at 3:07 am

Wow does all that look and sound damn good! What a bounty of amazing products and I can see that I must put Australia back on my let’s-move-to list!

Amanda McInerney November 27, 2013 at 8:32 am

Moving here is probably a little extreme – but we are well worth a visit!

InTolerant Chef November 27, 2013 at 4:00 pm

So many yummies! What a wonderful place to visit! X

The Food Sage November 28, 2013 at 10:16 pm

It certainly was a lovely few days. A destination i’d return to, in a heart beat. Nicely captured in your lovely photographs, Amanda.

John Winkels December 3, 2013 at 11:56 pm

love the photos and stories, well done Amanda!

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