Tasmania an epicurean dream Down Under
The tiny island state of Tasmania is attracting a growing number of Australians and foreigners who want to pursue a richer culinary culture.
More than a decade ago, during a long, tough drought, a young Victorian couple packed up their belongings and moved across Bass Strait to rainy north-west Tasmania.
Andy and Matt Jackman took clothing and furniture – and 300 cows to establish a dairy business on 155 hectares of rich Tasmanian soil.
“The drought had transformed our Victorian farm into a dust bowl,” recalls Mrs Jackman.
“We studied rainfall averages across the country in search of decent, regular falls and fertile soil. We also wanted to practise more conventional farming techniques,” she explains. “Tasmania ticked all the boxes.”
The Jackmans’ artisan cheese is now stocked around the state and on the mainland; they are also producing veal, free-range pork, milk and honey, and fielding calls from potential stockists from as far away as Singapore, Japan and America.
Like many other food producers, they have benefitted from Tasmania’s nose-to-tail, paddock-to-plate eating habits.
Some of the world’s cleanest rainwater, combined with pristine marine environments and chemical-free pastures are attracting interstate and international food and wine producers to Australia’s smallest and wettest state.
Production scales remain modest but Tasmania has a vibrant organic farming sector, much of its beef is antibiotic and hormone free, and the animals are grass-fed rather than grain-fed.
Salmon and wild abalone are major exports and there is a growing market for delicacies such as wild truffles that can be supplied outside of the traditional European seasons.
Entrepreneurial locals have even had a stab at growing Japanese wasabi and are now a major producer of fresh wasabi in the Southern Hemisphere.
According to the Tasmanian government, the state grows nearly 10% of Australia’s vegetable exports and 60% of Australia’s apple exports. It is also world competitive in milk production.
It’s not all plain sailing, however.
An industry report published in April by agricultural banking specialist Rabobank said producers and suppliers needed to co-operate and co-ordinate more, and identify export opportunities ahead of regional competitors.
Others have complained that Tasmania’s distance from overseas markets is a major barrier to growth.
But none of those factors have been enough to deter people like Kate Hill, who moved to Tasmania in 2006 to make wine.
Having worked in vineyards across the country, the Melburnian bought land south of the state capital, Hobart, to start her own vineyard.
“I’ve met lots of people who have moved to Tasmania for the opportunity to make a real start on their food journey,” Ms Hill told the BBC.
“Tasmanians are incredibly supportive of anyone willing to create a new food or wine product in their state,” she says.
She’s not alone in pursuing her dream in Tasmania, says general manager for Trade and International Relations at Tasmania’s Department of State Growth, Mark Bowles.
More than 10,000 people migrated to Tasmania from interstate in 2013 and a further 2,000 arrived on the island from overseas – not bad for a population of half a million.
The majority were students or skilled migrants but anecdotal evidence shows there has been a steady rise too in the number of food producers turning up on Tasmania’s doorstep, says Mr Bowles.
“Certainly, for those attracted by Tasmania’s growing food scene, it’s primarily the clean, pristine and scenic environment, Tasmania’s strong brand, its reputation for safety and friendliness – all helped by affordable accommodation and minimal traffic,” he says.
Terry and Nicky Noonan traded in their well-paid but dull corporate roles on the mainland back in 1989.
“We put the Royal Doulton collection in the car and caught the ferry over [from Victoria], putting the rest of our belongings on a removalist’s truck and hoped for the best,” says Mrs Noonan.
The couple imported saffron corms (bulb-like, starch-storing organs) from the Northern Hemisphere and were the first to produce a saffron flower on Australian soil.
Although saffron is grown in places with warmer temperatures than Tasmania’s, such as Iran, India and Spain, it is usually grown in the snow line.
The Noonans now have a network of 50 saffron growers across Australia.
Mrs Noonan says saffron production has financially sustained her family but it’s been far more work than they had anticipated.
“We live in a beautiful part of the world. I just wish we could look at the view a little more often, that’s all,” she says.
“The business side has been an incredible challenge.”
The couple don’t see Tasmania as a giant food bowl, rather more of a “gourmet hamper” of the future.
“There are literally hundreds of things that aren’t being done here that could be done,” says Mr Noonan.