Northern Victoria is known as the state’s food bowl for a reason. Stretching from Swan Hill to Shepparton, the Goulburn Murray region is famous for producing everything from fruit and vegetables to nuts, dairy and livestock.
Some of Australia’s biggest food brands have their home here, such as SPC Ardmona and Goulburn Valley Fruits. Then there are all the small, family-run farms and wineries with their boutique offerings.
With the region pumping out such a wide variety of produce it’s no wonder the place is a magnet for foodies. Locals flock to farmers’ markets and chefs love using the freshest ingredients.
The Sun Country Food and Wine Festival celebrates everything foodie along the Murray. Running from 16–25 March, it’s a proud partner to the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival and living proof that you don’t need to be in the city to sample the very best gourmet delights.
Festival-goers are encouraged to roam the countryside with events everywhere from Yarrawonga to Numurkah. You can go right to the source to find out how the sausage is made – or the olives, almonds and strawberry jam!
What better way to get to know the area than through your tastebuds? Here are some of the highlights from this year’s festival.
Jam on at the Big Strawberry
The Big Strawberry is one of the latest additions to Australia’s Big Things list, having been installed at Michael and Lorraine Hayes’ farm in Koonoomoo. Located at 7034 Goulburn Valley Highway, it’s a short drive from Tocumwal and Cobram and a favourite spot for locals to pick delicious, juicy strawberries. It also has a cafe where you can try their strawberry pancakes and strawberry milkshakes – yum!
Fruit fanatics can visit the Big Strawberry during this year’s festival to sample boutique strawberry specialties including jam, dip and strawberry wine. This sweet event is sure to put a big, red smile on your face!
Garlic under the spotlight
Often treated as a simple seasoning while other flavours get all the attention, garlic will take centre stage at Grazing on Garlic in the Garden. Hosted by Katamatite Garlic at their organic farm, a garlic-focused feast will be accompanied by live music, farm tours, garlic planting and garlic braiding demonstrations.
Katamatite Garlic are multi-award winners at the Royal Melbourne Show Fine Food Awards for their fresh and pickled garlic. A local chef will be preparing their finest garlic for the garden feast!
Have a bite on a bike
A bicycle ride in the countryside and a picnic under an olive tree – how delightful!
The good folks at Rich Glen Olive Estate in Yarrawonga have thought of everything for their Pedal and Picnic in the Olive Grove. All you have to do is rock up to their farm gate store to collect your bike and pre-packed picnic basket, and you’re off! Wheel away to find a nice spot in the sunshine and get comfy in the grass where you can sample some of the region’s best local produce.
Chomp into some fresh bread, pickled garlic from Katamatite, Boosey Creek cheese and, of course, everything olive-related – estate-grown olives, verjuice spritzers and olive leaf tea.
On your way back, don’t forget to drop in to the store to pick up some olive oil soaps and skin care products.
Sausages on a steamboat
Lake Mulwala’s iconic steam engine paddle steamer, the PS Cumberoona, is hosting a BBQ cruise in Yarrawonga with gourmet sausages on the grill from Lambtastic.
Brothers Ryan and Ruston Donovan from Lambtastic graze their sheep on an Australian native called old man saltbush. Their late father, Trevor, started growing the saltbush about 20 years ago to beat the drought and make more economical use of his land.
The saltbush also gives a unique vitamin and mineral-dense flavour to the meat. Sustainable and delicious!
A taste of Mexico on the border
Okay, it’s not quite on the border, but it’s close! Strathmerton’s prickliest attraction, Cactus Country, will be hosting a succulent three-course Mexican feast starting with tapas in the desert garden and followed by a Mexican-inspired main course and dessert.
The garden was once a peach orchard, but you’ll be more likely to find prickly pears among the 4,000 varieties of cactus and succulents owners Jim and Julie Hall have collected over the decades. For something a bit different, try the cactus cake and cactus ice cream!
An Indigenous degustation
The Butlers Pantry in Numurkah is known for its fresh, modern food and great coffee. Now they are taking their passion for local produce to the Dubuque historic homestead for an Indigenous culinary experience.
Guests will be able to sample traditional and modern delicacies from a central grazing table, while enjoying live music and roaming the historic gardens.
The farm gate trail – like a festival all year round
Can’t make it to the festival this year? You can take a peek behind the scenes and sample scrumptious local goodies around Yarrawonga any time of year. Visit the region’s orchards, wineries and boutique farms any time on the Sun Country on the Murray Farm Gate Trail.
On the Farm Gate Trail you will meet primary producers and hear their stories, as well as purchase produce directly from the source.
Remember, though, that these are working farms, so it’s often a good idea to call ahead to make sure someone is available to show you around. Some farms require a booking.
Here are some suggested stops for your itinerary:
- Aintree Organic Farm and Apiary in Strathmerton, where you can snack on locally-grown almonds and honey products
- Manto Produce in Cobram, famous for their yellow clingstone peaches but don’t forget their other stone fruit as well as their apples, pears and nashis
- Monichino Wines in Katunga, a family affair with Italian roots
- Byramine Homestead Brewery and Cider House, built in 1842 by explorer Hamilton Hume and serving traditional Devonshire teas and ploughman’s platters
- Boosey Creek Cheese, award-winning cheesemakers on Katamatite-Yarrawonga Road
One thing’s for sure – this is a region that takes its food very seriously. Visit the Sun Country Food and Wine Festival to take a taste test.