Absence makes the heart grow fonder: From local markets to online offerings, when remote locations create great Australian food products.
Posted by Jane De Graaff on March 15, 2011.
Food Guru talks to a couple of Australia’s gourmet food producers about how distance shaped their gourmet Aussie products.
If you’ve ever visited a local food market you’ll know what it feels like to be surrounded by the lush bounty of your local producers. In Victoria you might visit the Slow Food Farmers’ Market at the Abbotsford Convent where rainbows of homemade jams refract the morning light and boxes of bikkies create a crumbly sensation in wooden crates. If you’re in NSW chances are you might stop by the Eveleigh or Pyrmont Growers’ Markets to stumble on artisan relishes or unusual spice blends, and in SA you could be regular at Wilunga markets, spotting peppery dukkah and verdant fresh-pressed olive oil. It’s a luxurious pleasure, to be able to wander the stalls and umbrellas of local markets teeming with vibrant communities of producers inspired by their local areas, specialist skills or personal experiences with food. But the abundance of quality value-added Australian gourmet items wasn’t always so well represented. For some of the best their product ranges were born of frustration with local offerings, remoteness from the super-stocked supermarkets and a passion for quality that was not evident in the store bought products available.
As is often the case, this is when necessity becomes the mother of invention, and for some producers the need for better quality products lead to a change in the Australian food landscape.
When Nicky Bamford moved from Sydney to the Bega Valley a decade ago one of the first things she noticed was the lack of quality herbs and spices available for her love of homemade curries.
“Ten years ago it was really hard to find the spices that I was used to getting at grocers in Sydney.” Smiles the founder of The Saucy Spice Co. whose range includes spice blends for lamb Korma and seafood Laksa. “The [Saucy Spice] range we have today was really born of my own interests and needs. I was stocking up on the spices that I wanted access to and I ended up with an enormous range at home. My husband joked that I should package them up and sell them.”
What started as her ‘market hobby’ to earn a little extra income quickly became a popular product that holiday makers encountered at the local markets and demanded more of. Eight years later, the Saucy Spice Co. is a well respected all natural range of spice blends, shipping right across the country as well as internationally. Still functioning as small Australian company, Bamford's only regret is that it’s hard to find local spice producers to meet her needs.
“We get local produce when we can.” She says. “Bay and lime we get locally and dry ourselves, and lavender. But other things are simply not available. There’s just not enough money for local growers. It’s an unfortunate aspect, but we do use local where we can.”
It was a similar process for the hugely popular Doodles Creek range. When Sarah Ross moved from Sydney to Bowral, she and her husband were likewise frustrated by the lack of quality condiments available.
“Around 2002 my husband asked me why we had all these overseas brands of
mayonnaise and jam in fridge,” comments the founder of the Doodles Creek
condiments range. “All I could say was ‘because I can’t find any I like that
are Australian.’ Of course there are more options now, but at the time I
couldn’t find any. So he asked me if I thought I could make it instead.”
And with that friendly challenge, Doodles Creek was born.
The story from here is much the same, with Ross’ products selling out at local markets and ever growing demand for a continuously developing range.
Similarities in the stories don’t end there. Both founders attribute the support and enthusiasm of their local areas and food producing networks to the ultimate success of their gourmet ranges- and it’s this ongoing support that will encourage Australian gourmet products to expand and gain a footing in an otherwise over-wrought and tight market.
More importantly, as producers who were once frustrated by their lack of options in more remote areas, both are thrilled by the development of online supports like Food Guru for food lovers who may not have the chance to access local markets or the quality produce that they desire. Particularly with the groundswell of food lovers “looking for products that are new and true to their memories of food. Products that get as close to the raw ingredients as possible.” Says Ross.
For Bamford it was the increase in postal orders that finally prompted online offerings for Saucy Spice Co. And while Ross does not sell Doodles Creek products direct on line, she is pleased that online outlets make her products (and a range of products from other small Australian producers) more accessible.
It seems the dearth of gourmet product in far-flung rural areas has lead not only to the development of some well-respected Australian offerings, but the embracing of the means to get them out there.