Stalls brimming with fresh produce, packets of organic vegetables, crisp Tasmanian apples, a variety of fresh mushrooms and herbs from local forests, fresh honey and mead, a variety of cheeses and bread freshly baked sourdough, single origin coffee, pork, beef and salmon with people lining up in front of stalls of aromatic coffee and kimchi. Expert dancers writhing to salsa music, mothers with babies in prams, children in raincoats and families – Harvest Launceston’s voluntary market held on Saturday in a large car park opposite Albert Hall in Launceston , Tasmania’s second largest city, is a heartwarming community scene with a cheerful vibe, where locals mingle, shop for their weekly groceries and savor the best of Tasmanian food and produce.
Stall owners and farmers are friendly and waiting to chat about how they make or buy their products and invite you to taste their products. The food trucks sell everything from bagels and rosti, to brekkie pancakes and kimchi and vegetables. I taste an Afghan samosa from a food truck, black garlic cashew cheese, vintage cheddar with wasabi and pickled ginger, Tasmanian hazelnut butter and leatherwood honey and I taste local gins as you browse the stalls.
Launceston (called Launnie by locals) with its Georgian, Victorian and Federation style architecture and rich flour mill history, is a valley town and has long been considered a gateway town to sites tourist attractions like Cradle Mountain, but in recent years Tasmania’s second city has become famous for its foodie culture and fresh produce, as well as its wines and gins. It has been designated by UNESCO as a City of Gastronomy in 2021, as part of its Creative Cities program.
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Today it’s a hotspot for farmers, creative chefs and paddock-to-table restaurants, wineries in the Tamar Valley near the town, and artisan producers making honey, butter , cheeses and meats. From Bass Strait abalone and Pacific oysters to wild wallaby, pork belly from Mount Gnomon to salt grass lamb from Flinders Island, it’s all about fresh, local produce. Launceston is also home to northern Tasmania’s largest food and wine festival, Festivale.
Our local Tasmanian guide, Anthony Cowles, says Launceston has always been a breadbasket and served to feed First Nations people long before Europeans arrived. Our first dinner is at the award-winning Stillwater Restaurant, housed in a rustic 1830s flour mill with roughly hewn wooden beams and delicate light fixtures, on the banks of the River Tamar, which serves what is billed as “Tasmanian cuisine. contemporary with an Asian touch” with a long list of drinks. The menu is seasonal and serves everything from Pacific oysters and black truffles to homemade gnocchi. From beef tartare to salmon to pork belly served with delicious pinots from the region, this is the best hyperlocal cuisine.
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I feast on steamed meatballs with a crisp chilli vinaigrette accompanied by a Bream Creek Riesling wine. The tapioca-crusted tofu served with udon noodles and picked bok choy is deliciously spicy and Asian-influenced, served with a Stoney Rise pinot. By the time we get to the dessert of Yuzu ice cream with raspberries accompanied by a Riesling, I am already under the spell of Launceston through its plates.
My days begin with hearty breakfasts of pancakes piled high with fruit, eggs and gourmet coffee at our hotel’s ‘Grain of the Silos’ restaurant the Peppers Silo, located in a heritage building that once stored grain in four large silos, transformed into a swish 9-story hotel with great views of the river from its windows.
Not far from Launceston is the Tamar Valley wine region, where fluffy sheep graze in pasture, with over 30 wineries producing some of Australia’s best cold climate wines – Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir as well than sparkling wines. For wine tasting we visit the award-winning Josef Chromy wines in Relbia, set in English gardens with old oak trees, just 10 minutes drive from town with its high-tech cellar and cellar door spanning 61 hectares, gardens dotted with benches, trees adorned with fall colors and a picturesque lake, where we hear the fascinating story of how Czech immigrant Josef Chromy rose from an emigrant without the penny to a famous winemaker.
The cellar door is located in the charming 1880s wooden farmhouse with a log fire and panoramic views from the windows. The winery offers a variety of experiences ranging from harvest brunches, a two-course lunch paired with wines to make your own sparkling wine and yoga with vineyard views and a two-course lunch. It is also a popular location for weddings with a gazebo by the lake and also hosts a popular comedy festival each year on its grounds. The cellar has been awarded one of the top 10 cellar doors in Australia. We feast on local oysters, a new potato and kunzea risotto with miso-glazed leeks and a roasted sweet potato and white onion galette with garden herbs and pickles accompanied by their red wines and white.
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Our last meal in the foodie town is at the charming Timbre Kitchen on the Tamar Valley highway, with floor-to-ceiling windows, a wood-burning oven, set in the vineyards of Velo wines, serving dishes made with ultra -locals feasting on fried cauliflower, Happy Place beer, wood-oven grilled cheese, sourdough breads and more. It has a cheerful, carefree vibe and simple decor and seems a fitting ending to our foodie adventures in Launceston.