Lara Food & Wine Festival, Pirra Homestead, Sunday March 25, 2012
As a Lara Food & Wine Festival newbie, the first thing that strikes me as I pull into the dusty paddocks that are serving as carparks just a tick after noon is the sheer number of cars already in place.
Obviously, this is a much bigger and sexier operation than I had perhaps envisaged.
Inside the grounds of Pirra Homestead, I find the festival is set up with stalls swinging in a big semi-circle away from the lovely buildings and back, with more stalls in the middle.
On the homestead veranda, local musos do their thing at a suitable volume.
Somehow the endless parade of cover versions of such ditties as Sweet Home Alabama and the like seems just right.
The place is crowded in a companionable way and a long way short of discomfort.
The only queues of any magnitude are for prawns, calamari and Twistto Potatoes (“Korean spiral potato on skewers, with a choice of dipping flavours”).
At the other end of the festival set-up, a big crowd looks on as Matt Preston presides over the Ultimate Chef Challenge – basically cooking displays featuring locals chefs such as Leonie Mills from Jack & Jill Restaurant.
Despite the fact that MasterChef and the like make me grind my teeth, Preston impresses as charmer and it’s quite a lot of fun hearing him and the various chefs do their thing and tell their stories in the process.
I wish he was still doing the Unexplored Territory column in The Age.
I’d been warned by Kristine – long-time Consider The Sauce friend, American-born Melbourne resident, foodie and all-round good gal – to keep my expectations in check regarding the festival’s barbecue stall.
Nevertheless, I pretty much make a beeline for Smokin’ Barry’s Barbeque.
I expect to be able to spend some serious money on a plate of ribs and sides … or something similar.
So I am disappointed to discover they only have available beef and pork rolls and something called BBQ nachos, all for $10.
Verdict: Kristine is 100 per cent correct.
My pork roll is so bland it’s fast approaching tasteless.
I don’t know which is more surreal – that I paid $10 for this or that this outfit uses terms such as taste, flavour and succulent on its website.
I do oh-so-much better with a rabbit pie from the folks at Western Plains.
This is very yummy indeed and well worth the $7.50 I pay for it.
There’s quite a high bunny quotient, aided and abetted by chunks of sweet, tender, beaut carrot.
I stop and talk with Vanessa and Jonathan, who are manning the Cobram Estate olive oil stand.
I tell them that in our household their products have become the default setting when it comes to olive oil – fine products well-priced and widely available.
And if that’s the case for us, it must be so for many others, too.
How have they achieved such notable depth and breadth of market penetration?
A lot of hard work over a sustained period of time right throughout the company and with various assisting agencies, they tell me.
Along with substantial investment levels.
And the rapid growth of consumer awareness regarding the dubious nature of many imported oils has helped, too!
No such festival as this would be complete without at least one outfit doing the vego thing in the long and venerable traditions of the Hare Krishnas sustaining happy punters the world over.
Here that happy chore feels to adherents of Supreme Master Ching Hai.
They’re doing good business, too, with what appears to be simple noodles and the like, but as I’m full of rabbit and dodgy BBQ, I make do with a simple piece of tempura seaweed.
Oily but good!
I am given a show bag by a nice fella. It’s full of literature about the groups and its aims.
On the outside, the bag is printed with slogans promoting vegetarianism – “change your life” and the like – and a chook that proudly boasts that “we pray for you”.
Under “Be a vegetarian like them” are name-dropped a whole of host of celebrities and historical figures.
I tell the bag man that advocating the vego way by using the name of Gwyneth Paltrow makes me feel like heading straight out and tucking into a great big juicy steak.
A very rare great big juicy steak.
He thinks I’m joking.
Like all festivals, there’s an element of hit and miss about which tucker to select, while the festival scenario itself seems to restrict or compromise in some ways the available selections.
But the prices are good.
As well, there are plenty of stall offering samples of breads, relishes, olive oil and much more.
Entry to the Lara Food & Wine Festival is by gold coin donation.
The carparking is free.
Stallholders pay a little over $200, a price that is actually subsidised by the festival in terms of provisions of tents, tables and so on.
That latter information comes courtesy of the festival’s media person, Tara Iacovella, who I phone the next day for the lowdown.
This a purebred community event – there’s not a single person involved who is on any sort of payroll, and that includes the musicians and the likes of Matt Preston.
Oh, OK – yes the local scouts get paid for their clean-up efforts.
But nor is the festival in any way amateurish.
But really … all-round this is a brilliant event, one that shows nothing but contempt for the hard-bitten cynicism of this journo/blogger.
And for that, I love them!