Originally harking from Hawkes Bay, Jane Shaw grew up accustomed to the bounty of New Zealand produce. Well-rounded farmers markets providing a direct farm-to-table link for locals have been a part of that region for years, showcasing the interesting ways growers found to pair and extend their offerings into innovative gourmet products. So, when Jane moved down to the Queenstown Lakes district, she was surprised that so few people were really capitalizing on the abundance of this region's produce, such as the amazing Pinot crop for instance, or pairing local cherries with other Otago-grown ingredients. This opportunity fired up Jane's creative, entrepreneurial spirit. She'd been cooking her way around the world for a while before coming to work for Destination Queenstown (in marketing and sales), an experience that gave her exposure to a broader look at the region - who was visiting and where they were coming from (places like The Rocks Farmers Market in Sydney). This, in turn, inspired Jane to enhance the region's produce offering by starting a thriving farmers market and developing tasty new combinations of South Island ingredients. The results: the Central Otago Farmers' Market as well as the condiments business Provisions.
Starting up the regions finest farmers market gave Jane exposure to a cool bunch of eccentric and talented growers, men and women who had wrestled an impressive array of crops out of the outwardly barren landscape. Greengage plums and Clutha Sun Apricots were presented to the public along side Lapin cherries, gorgeously plump White Pearl nectarines and, of course, some of New Zealand's best wines. These items soon became the core ingredients for Provision's jams, chutneys, jellies, vinegars and sauces. The farmers market became the melting pot for Jane's preserves.
A natural collaborator and instigator, Jane insists that coming up with fruity ideas like her Plum Paste and Star Anise jam or her Apricot Ginger Marmalade was the easy part. These ideas - and, looking at Provisions product line, there are heaps of them - came naturally for this cook-come-entrepreneur. The hard part was developing a business in the midst of the regions bursting orchards, in a newly developing NZ food culture. But, like many people who've come to call Central Otago home, Jane loved the possibilities of the almost naive food scene and saw what it was becoming. Provisions, then, was the next move. Jane came up with the original brand one day while looking at some of the old buildings in Cromwell where "Provisions" was literally written on one of the ancient walls. This matched her intuitive sensibility that her new business should be a mix of the old and the new, where the historical pioneers of the district would have taken their local abundance and pickled, jammed and otherwise jarred up their produce for a long winter or a long trek through the hills.
The new side of this coin came from Jane's adventurous attitude towards life. Like the trailblazers before her, experimentation and the constant search for better ways to make a zingy jam or a rich mustard spurred her on. Jane loves roasted anything so when her nectarine jam wasn't quite coming out like she wanted, she decided to roast the stonefruit making the now hugely popular Roasted Nectarine Chutney packed with lemon, rosemary, cumin and fennel flavours, all caramelized during roasting. Provisions went on to develop a Sweet Apple Jelly made with rosemary, fresh chilies and chili flakes, along with other wonders like the Strawberry and Green Peppercorn jam. Each new product became an extension of Central Otago's own bounty and Jane's flare for mixing spices, traditional cooking styles and pushing flavour boundaries - all the while, honouring the core features of a good pinot or a fresh apple.
Once Provisions found their way into local stores, like the Mediterranean Market, Jane wanted to find a way to present her jams and chutneys as though they were coming out of her own beautiful kitchen. She started a cafe in Arrowtown (also called Provisions) and The Boat Shed near Frankton. These lovely cozy spots give Jane a platform to share her love for baking combined with the fruits of her preserving skills. You'll find the best sticky buns I've ever tasted or great glazed ham sandwiches lashed with Provisions' Wild Thyme Mustard and Plum & Sumac Relish or Provisions Maple Glazed Ham with poached eggs, hollandaise and that stunning Roasted Cherry Chutney on the side. In fact, if you want some great recipe ideas to use Provisions' gear with, pop into the Mediterranean Market cafe or to Provisions in Arrowtown to see what you can make with these goodies at home yourself.
Like the Mediterranean Market, most restaurants around the region are now using Provisions Cherry Vanilla Jam, or their sensational Cherries in Pinot Noir Syrup. The old idea of heading to the town market and storing up provisions for the winter - or these days, for your 4-star restaurant kitchen - is making a comeback thanks to Jane (and her talented, hard working crew).
In a world of sickly sweet fruit drinks made with too many additives, or, from concentrated old fruit, it's a real pleasure to twist open a bottle from Alpine Gold and taste the real thing - fresh fruit picked and pressed like you made it yourself. It's so good, you'd think every juice manufacturer would be taking local and abundant fruit and pressing them straight into fresh juice. For many companies, the need to bulk out their product or make it last forever on the grocery store shelf, means they have to use extra ingredients that dilute the whole experience. For boutique producers like Alpine Gold however, keeping it simple, fresh and local is an artisanal and natural approach.
The company started when Bruce McGregor, an apple farmer in Ettrick (near Dumbarton, which is near Roxburgh, which is near Alexandra... which is near Queenstown) noticed how many of his apples were being wasted when they didn't match the beauty grades required for the supermarket. He decided to start pressing his own juice but needed a good supply of water for the process. Bruce got in contact Tony Butson who had the natural spring water he required and they formed a company together. Tony later bought the company and moved it up to Cromwell - surrounded by fruit orchards - where Wayne Noble now runs the day to day juice creation. Tony also introduced Alpine Gold to Angela and Nathan at the Mediterranean Market.
Wayne works with local farmers in the Cromwell region to get fruit straight from their harvest into his juices. Loads of tasty apricots, nectarines, raspberries, boysenberries and feijoas all make their way into the special blends Alpine is known for. Along with a great range of fruit juices, Wayne has also created a lovely cider made in the more traditional English style - which really stands out amongst the sweeter commercial ciders presently flooding back into popularity. Amongst his other innovations, he's also come up with a unique bottling process which Alpine's web site describes as follows:
The bottling process utilises a plate heat exchanger that pasteurises the juice prior to filling. The juice is filtered and then heated to 90° Celsius before bottling. The bottles are then filled with the hot juice, which in turn sterilises the bottle and cap. It is the heating of the juice and "hot-bottling" that allows us to produce quality juices with no preservatives and a shelf life of 18 months.
Another thing worth mentioning about Alpine's local plant is that all of the pomace left over from their fruits go to a local worm farm (Wormworx) where they are recycled back into the region's agriculture. There's a redemptive cycle going on at Alpine and it's encouraging to see. Wayne likes to talk about his products as "nature made it" and instead of calling the drinks 'fruit juices', Alpine thinks of them more as juiced fruits. This distinction is a nice nod to the straightforward approach resulting in a distinct experience for each purchaser. Each bottle kinda hits you with how pure and, well, fruity the juices are. To describe this better, I'm going to take a sip of each one and try and tell you what my palate tells me:
A cloudy juice with lovely suspended bits of apple floating like stars in the bottle. The taste - a sweet smooth flavour of summer apples sans the crunch, like when you visited your grandma's and sat under her tree sucking the juices off an apple that just fell next to you. The sweetness hits you but has a crisp note to finish. A top quality apple juice, outstanding and pure.
Benger Apple & Feijoa
The creamy look of this blend has an opaque promise of the pulpy feijoa about to surprise you. Feijoa's can be a strong, almost sour flavour but this blend is just right. The apple balancing the unique feijoa tang. A kiwi twist on apple juice, with that surprising and unusual nature.
A lovely cloudy golden yellow color like the inside flesh the nectarine itself. More like a nectar in mouth feel, it's just fruit and mineral water. Silky but not sickly sweet. The back of your throat get's that nectarine punch as it goes down.
A beautiful light orange color, rich but smooth. A puree & mineral water, a perfect mix of texture. More flavour dimensions than the other juices (so far) with notes of the stonefruit coming through strongly but mixed with a light hint of grape, bright.
The pick of the bunch, a real find among juices.
Benger Apple & Raspberry
A magical pinky red potion with an initial slight sour bite as a fresh raspberry is likely to give you, quickly followed with sweet bursts of the fruit. More like a juice than a nectar and really refreshing. The most revitalizing of the bunch.
Benger Apple & Boysenberry
A dark red claret, a blend of boysenberries and fresh apples, a fuller taste (than the raspberry) which is gentle and well rounded. Plump fruit, ripe and sumptuous, the kind of drink you want to linger over to ponder those rich notes of cherry and oak and autumn.
Clear and slightly golden in colour, a crispy, almost cider vinegar hit followed by the subtle alcohol (5.5% or 1.2 standard drinks). The apple packs a punch, wild as it says. You know you're drinking this one, not like the sweeter versions that may go well with a meat pie, this one will wake you up and put you back to work sheering sheep or building houses or some manly endeavor..
So those are my experiences. I suggest you pop into the Mediterranean Market and take a sip for yourself.
While visiting Steve and Anna Clark at Cairnmuir Olives last week, Anna served up a lovely home made white rustic loaf which we used to dip into their olive oils for our tastings. A light, soft white loaf is the best way to get the distinct flavours of an olive oil as it provides a subtle backdrop. Once we'd had a good tasting of the Cairnmuir Olives oil varieties themselves, Anna's home grown heirloom tomatoes made a lovely compliment to our afternoon snack, along with some fresh basil and a bit of cheese. Some balsamic vinegar poured on top of the oil in the tasting dish, topped with salt and freshly ground black pepper, was our other tasting pleasure and makes a strikingly simple variation for dipping a rustic loaf into.
I asked Anna to share her bread recipe with us, which she kindly has below. She also included another favourite of hers - a delicious mushroom and tarragon dip - which features Cairnmuir's award winning olive oil.
Anna Clark's rustic white loaf
1 kg of hard flour
1 sachet of powdered yeast
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp salt
900ml very warm water
• Mix all dry ingredients and add water stirring briskly until mixture is smooth. Cover and leave in fridge over night. The mixture should be sticky. Make 4 small loaves in tins lined with greased baking paper.
• Put into a cold oven, fan bake at 190˚C for approx 40 minutes.
1 garlic clove
4 tbsp Cairnmuir olive oil
1/4 cup white wine
1 pottle sour cream
salt and pepper as you like
fresh tarragon, thyme or oregano [optional]
• Warm the crushed garlic in the oil over low heat, add sliced mushrooms and cook until they soften slightly. Add the wine and simmer until the mushrooms are soft. Stir in the sour cream and season to taste. If using fresh herbs, then add them either with the mushrooms at the start to the oil, or add them chopped fresh at end.
• Serve with fresh bread or toasted ciabatta.
A great olive oil, the kind that wins awards, has a balanced profile of fruity, bitter and peppery flavours. Exceptional (and pricey) olive oils are not made from one particular olive variety or another, but rather from a complex combination of different varieties, picked at just the right time and processed in small batches to maintain the right mix of notes. All this has as much to do with the size of the grove as it does with the mix of tree varieties, as it does with the amount of time the grower has to patiently (and sometimes nail bitingly) harvest their olives in competition with the weather.
Cairnmuir Olives consistently produce award wining olive oils for all the reasons above - but with a Central Otago advantage. Stephen and Anna Clark have figured out a way to grow Tuscan olives (the Frantoio, Leccino and Pendolino varieties) in what seems like an inhospitable inland South Island climate. Like many other Queenstown Lakes region pioneers, they have cleverly adapted to the environment in such a way as to produce something perfectly unusual. I mean, who would have thought that a great olive oil could come from a place with winters as cold as -18˚C? Certainly not the North Island growers who have a much warmer climate, but who also have to spray their olive trees to deal with fungal pests. Not so in Bannockburn, where Cairnmuir has the 'blessing' of colder weather to keep tree diseases at bay.
In fact, it's the challenging weather that has inspired the Clarks to come up with a range of innovations leading to their stellar product. Firstly, as the climate kept most olive oil producers to the North, there were no olive presses in Central Otago or Southland. So, Stephen and Anna bought the regions first 50kg-per-hour press even before their 960 olive trees (growing amidst the foothills of the Cairnmuir Mountains and the Kawarau Arm of Lake Dunstan) were producing fruit. They knew that the rich Cromwell silky loam soil was great for the trees but they also had to work around the areas surprising frosts, which could devastate a crop any time from March to July - right when their trees would be bearing fruit. However, instead of panicking at the first frost and harvesting the bitter early olives, Stephen and Anna learned to work their orchard in such a way as to pick the right mix of ripening fruit, and of the right varieties, to keep the overall balance in place.
The Clarks can afford to do this because they've set up their lives in such a way as to manage the entire process from planting and pruning, to hand harvesting individual trees, to pressing, bottling, labeling and distributing Cairnmuir Olive oils. Stephen and Anna take the time to ensure that each picking aides towards the blends they know will be the most flavoursome and the most healthy. For instance, their early harvested olives have a high amount of polyphenols along with the bitter flavour component that goes into their more peppery Leccino blend. This kind of attention to detail (like using special nets so the olives never touch the ground) allows them to focus on such a high level of quality that many of the top restaurants in the region have made their Leccino, Frantoio and Tuscan Blends their finishing oils of choice.
Central Otago isn't really that different to Tuscany in many ways. Not only do both regions produce exceptional olive oils but the winters in Northern Italy would also often cover the hearty olive tree in a meter or more of snow. Their summers are hot like here (though they usually last a bit longer than in Otago) and their soil is rugged. A hundred years ago, the Cairnmuir high country sheep station would have had tussock and a few introduced grasses to feed sheep herds and fight back the miners thyme.
The Clarks have worked for years to get their 4.4 hectare grove well fertilized, rummaging under the old sheep station's sheering shed for manure to get some much needed nutrients back into the soil (amongst other fertilising practices). As in Tuscany, it's the skill and craft of the growers that eek out a great oil from a seemingly harsh place. And like their Otago forbearers, the Clarks have figured out a way to find new gold in Cairnmuir, a liquid kind with a lovely flavour that adds a beautiful finish to pastas, steamed vegetables, or as a delicious dip with a rustic bread. Anna will share her bread recipe with us next week.
Nutritional advice from Kim Malcolm
Polyphenois - "What the?"
All the foods you eat have a significant effect on the long-term heath of your body and your moods. Polyphenols are an antioxidant from plant based foods. The amazing Extra Virgin Olive Oil that Cairnmuir produce contains a rich level of antioxidants, which are like warriors in your body that go around eliminating the free radicals come to do you harm via toxins. Toxins are things such as chemicals you may be exposed to through inorganic products, or pollution in the air you breathe, or UV rays from the sun, to name just a few. The body has a natural elimination system for toxins, of course, but in this day and age we need all the help we can get - so bring on the antioxidants to do their thing!
In a nutshell, polyphenols benefit your cardiovascular system. They have anti inflammatory and anti carcinogenic properties while providing protection against memory problems. They also also keep you looking younger through improved appearance in your skin. Over time, eating polyphenols will naturally improve skin tone and elasticity.
Lastly, with the winter months quickly approaching, we all like to protect ourselves agains colds, flus and viruses. These polyphenol antioxidants work to stop the virus from attaching to more cells in the body for sinister 'party time'. It's not ghost busters you're gonna call but polyphenols, because they will interfere with the ability of the virus to attach to your cells. This gives your body a better chance to eliminate the virus in a shorter time.
Some food for thought to consider because what we eat really does matter.
Who we are
This blog is written by Patrick Dodson and is a collaborative effort from the entire Raeward Fresh team of purchasers, chefs, nutritionists, butchers, grocers, baristas and other food creatives.
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