Thu, Aug 11, 2022 4:12 PM

A fresh way to shop


Tessa Jaine

More and more Marlburians are taking to rural shopping and markets to get their fix of the fresh, extraordinary array of produce and artisan food items that are now being produced here. Adrienne Matthews meets some of those makers.

Photos: Sarah Brown/Supplied

Hellene Lamb, Cranky Goat

While Covid has caused havoc to communities in so many ways, there is a silver lining. It has heightened people’s determination to buy local as much as possible and Marlborough’s artisan food producers are seeing an increase in demand for their products as a result. It helps that the region is a magnificent food bowl with prime soils and growing conditions and has many creative souls who have been willing to step outside of more traditional roles and establish food businesses based on their passion for developing wholesome and exciting taste experiences that are an example to the rest of the country. There are few places that can have such an interesting mixture of gourmet delights being produced.

The brand Manaaki evolved six years ago as a social enterprise of Omaka Marae. Responsible for sales and marketing, Wendy Rogerson explains, “It evolved from the idea of Manaakitanga, the showing of care and generosity toward guests. Our Aunties are famous for keeping the pantry full, a tradition from the old days, and this is an extension of that.” One of the first products to be made was their national medal-winning Kamokamo Pickle. Many relationships exist between local growers and producers in the region and Stephen Harnett from Golden Mile Produce grows many of the Kamokamo for Manaaki. “Our famous ambassadors, the Aunties, come into their own when we are busy preparing the produce. They are always there to support,” says Wendy. From small beginnings the brand is now available nationally; showcasing how traditional Maori ingredients can be infused with modern day cuisine.

Many of Marlborough’s growers and producers can be seen at the weekly Sunday Farmer’s Market. Managed by a committee, the market operates year round. Its marketing manager, Sigrun Steinhagen, loves the variety of produce sold. “The market has really come back now that Covid restrictions are gone,” she says. “The atmosphere is fantastic and it is good to see friends and family catching up again and supporting our local growers. It is a great opportunity for people who are discerning about the food they eat to talk to the people who grow or make it,” she continues. “It provides an entry point for producers to test their products and get an immediate response and it is gratifying to see some of the businesses represented here now selling throughout New Zealand.”

Cranky Goat is such a brand. Owners Simon and Hellene Lamb began making goat’s milk cheese as a hobby in 2011, eventually converting their carport into a cheese room. The onset of Covid was a shock and overnight they lost ninety per cent of their business because they couldn’t go to markets and many restaurants they supplied were closed. “We took the business online and it grew like crazy,” says Hellene. Despite their products now being sold nationally, they remain stalwarts at the Farmer’s Market. “Large numbers are coming through and as well as our loyal customer base we are seeing many visitors,” she says. “It really is an incredible market and a great opportunity to show what we do.” Cranky Goat has become so successful that it is about to move from the family home to factory premises. “Previously we were making three hundred kilos of cheese a month but now it is one and a half tonne.”

No farmer’s market can exist without a cohort of local vegetable growers. Golden Mile Produce grow most of their vegetables and fruit hydroponically. “It enables us to have longer seasons,” says owner Stephen Harnett who is popularly known as ‘Mr Onion’ thanks to his lifelong association with the crop. With highly efficient tunnel houses and enough Marlborough sun, he can even grow zucchinis from October until July. He and wife Sally grow a wide range of more gourmet-type vegetables including Asian greens and seven varieties of eggplant. “We don’t like to stick to the mainstay crops and are finding added interest these days in more unusual varieties,” he says.

Fran Nolan, Boom - Sauce, Spice + BBQ

After growing vegetables for twenty years, Spudz ‘n Greens owners Alistair and Kathryn Dawson branched out during Covid and began to sell their goods online. “We had loads of produce and nowhere to sell it, so we had to get innovative,” says Alistair. “It’s good to be back at the market though because people like to come and talk with us and choose what they want.”

“Drop the Beet” owner Kate Faith is into her third year of making and selling nutritious juices in Marlborough. “It makes me so happy that there is a growing demand for what I do and that children as well as adults are really enjoying and benefitting from the preservative-free juices I make,” she says. “Increasingly popular are the ones that contain turmeric that helps to reduce inflammation,” she says. When she is not at the Farmer’s Market and making her concoctions, she is busy delivering them around the region.

Kate Faith, Drop the Beet

Fran Nolan of “Boom” is another Farmer’s Market artisan producer whose legendary hot sauces such as ‘Habanero Ketchup’, ‘Fermented Chilli Hot Sauce’ and ‘Boom Spice Rub’ are now finding their way to all corners of New Zealand thanks to his development of an online store. “The market is great,” he says, “and it complements the other side of my business which is a BBQ catering one.”

Nuts are big in Marlborough thanks to growers such as Keith Hair and Georgina Ponder of Nutt Ranch who are the custodians of 1700 hazelnut trees. “There is a real trend toward people buying nuts and the cold-pressed oil,” says Keith. “Nuts are a healthy and nutritious food source and we even cater for their canine friends with our hazelnut dog treats.”

Debbie Whiteside and Alan Crawford are the proud owners of Uncle Joe’s, a walnut and hazelnut orchard that produces a range of nut and seed products, including gluten-free flours. “It is important to us that buyers can experience really fresh nut products,” says Alan. “People are often amazed at the difference in taste and freshness in our nuts from what they have previously purchased from the supermarket.”

Uncle Joes nut and seed oils

Another company that is blossoming is The Mush Room Co. Husband and wife team Adam Kubrock and Raffaella Dragani are fungi enthusiasts extraordinaire who have developed a mushroom cottage industry that is bringing a unique range of fungi varieties to the region. “This is pioneering territory in New Zealand,” says Adam. “Until recently people were mostly only familiar with your standard field and button mushrooms. It is really exciting to be able to grow varieties such as Shitake, Pink Oyster, and Enoki among many other, even endemic New Zealand ones such as NZ Coral Tooth and Tawaka. We are excited about passing on our knowledge about their amazing tastes and health benefits.”

At seventy-two, Margaret Duggan of Traditional Country Preserves has been part of the Marlborough producer’s family for over fifteen years. She is the epitome of what artisan food production is all about; making delicious products while also helping others (she helped Manaaki develop their first recipes). “I love making preserves and developing new recipes,” she says. “Because I make small batches I am also able make ones that are sugar-free, while everything I produce is gluten-free.” In winter months her marmalades fly off the shelves while her Maharajah Chutney is a favourite all year round along with her gold medal-winning Black Doris Plum Conserve.

Spudz n Greens

While Marlborough is well-known for its excellent wine, it is also brimming over with a multitude of artisan food producers and growers that really are putting the region on the map and creating a special destination for lovers of fine foods.

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