Friday, 26 October 2012

Goats On The Hill - FROM PADDOCK to plate!

My ducklings, I'm going to tell you about one of the most intensely amazing days I've ever had in Melbourne.
Last Sunday, I had the marvellous opportunity to spend the whole day at a sustainable goat farm. Woof, what a sentence! I'd been invited by Chef Matt Baker of Whe-Eat to join them for their first ever paddock-to-plate event at Seven Hills Tallarook.

I'm talking waking up at 6:30am, in the car with Shiv (of course!) at 8:15am and on our merry 1.5 hour way to Tallarook up north of Melbourne.

Seven Hills Tallarook is a wonderful patch of greenery (and by patch, I mean over 600 acres!) that boasts advantageous views of Seymour, Puckapunyal, Broadford and the Tallarook State Forest. We were welcomed by Seven Hills' own Megan, Taylan (see photo below) and the Atar boys, along with Chef Matt.
Goats On The Hill, Part 2
Goats On The Hill, Part 3

Greeted by a warm fire to ward off the chilly morning air, we happily settled ourselves with the rest of the group.

The Goats On The Hill event is run to offer insight into where our food truly comes from - between the producers, chefs and final consumers, Megan, Taylan and Chef Matt want to break down any barriers and open conversation. We have the chance to learn about the farm, the goats, the benefits of fresh and organic produce, the true meaning of sustainability, and so much more.

We're talking living entirely off the land with little to no wastage and very low mileage. It's a great message to put across - that you are personally responsible for what you consume! I appreciate this so deeply!

Not only that, the day rounds off with a magnificent 3-course dinner by a Melbourne executive chef. We had the luck of being in the capable hands of Chef Salvatore Caccioppoli, executive chef of Scopri in Carlton. It was a serendipitous joining of passions for the Atars, Chef Matt and Chef Salvatore - good wholesome produce, education, and of course, top notch food!
Ready for the day! Camera slung across me, flower pants on, and my pink (bien sûr!) notebook in hand!
We started with some morning coffee and tea, then a quick lesson on how to make damper, a very simple Australian 'bush' bread that is often baked using the hot coals of a campfire.
Ingredients are a simple list of self-raising flour, milk, buttermilk, butter, bit of salt and sugar if you like, and more flour to knead with. The amounts vary depending on the weather, humidity, and such, as it's not as strict as a normal bread. All you have to do is adjust with more milk or more flour.
We cooked the bread in two ways, one ball of dough just wrapped in foil and covered with the hot coals, and the other ball (also wrapped in foil) inside a Dutch oven.

Notice that there is no actual flame in the campfire anymore, as you want the internal heat to cook the bread instead of a blaze. You'll know the bread is nice and ready by the characteristically hollow sound when you tap it.
We also got to make butter! Megan told us about how when they were younger, they would take a jar almost full with cream, drop in a few marbles and just SHAKE! After a while, they'd get butter! And so shake we did.
Since the bread takes around half an hour to cook, Megan, Taylan and Chef Matt then took us to see the farm's fodder shed. Seven Hills Tallarook proudly uses genetically unmodified crops on a large scale, and are amongst only 3-4 grand scale operations that do so in Australia.
(Photo above: Estelle Judah, a photographer who is working with Seven Hills Tallarook and Whe-Eat. Check out her amazing work here.)

Aside from letting their goats roam the hills freely within an organised paddock system (you'll see in photos later on! Super cool!), they use the fodder and barley to feed them as well. Fodder production is quite eco-friendly due to the lower amounts of water required.
Barley is not only a key fodder source, but it actually sweetens the goat meat too! Win-win-win!

(Notice we're still shaking!)
When the family had first settled into the property, they said that it was so bare that there wasn't even bird life! But everything was rejuvenated slowly from then on. There's a great balance that exists now, a give-and-take between produce and producer.

After the fodder shed, we went to catch yabbies! Yabbies are an Australian freshwater crustacean that's eaten similarly to crayfish. It was one of the two feature ingredients of our dinner later that evening, along with goat.

Megan (see the pretty blonde woman in the right-hand photo below) showed us how it all worked.
You catch them by putting some bait in a net, leaving it submerged, then coming to check on it later on! Voilà! What's great about the yabbies is that they also eat a lot of the leaves and foliage that just happen to wash into the pond - not too high maintenance creatures, and the Atars have been breeding yabbies since they established the farm in 2007.
We moved location once more to one of the cottages on the property that you can rent for a visit! It was time to have some snacks, definitely. In the photo below, you can see Chef Matt preparing the damper that we'd made earlier.
Fresh damper with the butter we made and some granny smith apple jelly.
We continued to roam the farm, and to our delight saw more than just goats!
Seven Hills Tallarook breed South African Boers, Kalahari Reds and Boer infused commercial breeding does, amongst many other animals.

The goats you'll see below are South African Boers, and are bred for their meat more than their by-products (e.g. milk and cheese). This is because this particular breed of goat has a greater meat yield thanks to a considerably bigger rump!

The goat's name comes from the Dutch word "boer" which means farmer. All goats had originally come from abroad before becoming a mainstream meat in Australia.
Seven Hills Tallarook also breed these sweet little black pigs; quite a rare breed, I was told, that had almost gone extinct. I was also told that it's this breed that the best salami and ham in the world comes from! Not too bad living off the land, hey?
We got a chance to meet and feed a lot of the goats as well. Taylan showed us their on-site hospital paddock, where they nurse ill or injured goats. It's great to know how well these guys really care about their livestock.
Interesting fact about goats; their bodies aren't actually made for eating off the ground, as they have a different arc to their back. They have great ease in rearing up on their hind legs. One of them eagerly jumped on Taylan to get some food, just like a dog would to his owner!
One reason that goats are one of the most sustainable red meats around is their light foot. Unlike cattle or horses who have a heavy step and rough the land up quite a bit, goats tread much more delicately, keeping the land in much better condition!
Isn't it all just so beautiful? The work that Megan, Taylan and their boys do around the farm is so beyond amazing. I'm so happy that the opportunity to discover more about this industry exists.

We hadn't even had lunch at this point, and had seen and learnt so much already!

Til next time, folks! Look out for the next couple of posts to come :)
Love and the freshest air,
Seven Hills Tallarook
160 Scotts Road,
Tallarook, VIC 3659
1300 7 HILLS
+61 411 110 107 (International Number)

+61 414 567 910

(All photos of me in this post c/o Shiv Nandwani).

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