Tag Archive for: Top Tastes

Support your local hospitality businesses

We all know a lot can happen in a very short time and things have changed significantly for people I wrote about in the last two weeks; firstly I spoke to a number of winery owners to find out what was happening with this year’s vintage and they were all very happy but said they didn’t need too much rain!

It just shows that when you a working in the horticulture sector and relying on Mother Nature to play nicely, she doesn’t always get the message. Ex-cyclone Dovi has delivered a huge amount of rain and warm air that will have an impact on the grape harvest this year, the quality of which is going to be determined by how much bright sunshine and drying wind we get in the next few weeks. Fingers crossed!

Water played a big part on the day my article about The General Grocery Store in St Vincent St was published too, this time it was a burst waterpipe that saw thousands of litres of water flood the premises stopping them from trading for a few days just as I told you to go and check them out.

Things are back to normal this week so make sure you stop in support this fantastic local store.

In recent weeks I have also stayed in touch with a few restaurants, café’s and retail stores in the region to see how they are fairing now summer holiday visitors have returned home, the answer from everyone has been the same; things are very quiet and because of concern about the appearance of Omicron locals are just staying home.

I certainly don’t want to minimise the impact of the Omicron variant of Covid, it does have the potential to put a huge amount of pressure on our health systems, but I firmly believe we need to get on with our normal lives as much as possible.

It is still safe to go out for a meal or a drink, it’s safe to visit retail stores and you can certainly buy your lunch from one of the many food outlets in the region. You just need to be sensible and go to places that have good Covid practices in place.

We have some fantastic restaurants, bars and cafes in this region and if we don’t support them some, if not many, will be laying off staff, reducing opening hours or simply close permanently and that would be a huge loss for the region.

There are a few hospitality venues that I’m sure will get through these tough times, simply because they are outstanding at what they do, but it won’t be easy. That was reinforced last week when the Cuisine Good Food Awards were announced.

In this region three businesses were highlighted as outstanding examples, Urban Eatery Restaurant & Bar, Hawker House & Bar, and Hopgood’s & Co made the exclusive Chefs Hats list. The Chefs Hats are New Zealand’s version of Michelin Stars, they shine a light on businesses that deliver a high quality hospitality experience consistently, that means these are places you can rely on to be great every time you visit.

You can read about the Cuisine Good Food Awards at www.cuisine.co.nz/awards and when you do you will see that Urban Eatery Restaurant & Bar and Hawker House & Bar earned One Chefs Hat once again while Hopgood’s & Co not only retained their Two Hat status but also won a category award, the Pead. sponsored Food Legend/Long-Term Player Award.

Hopgood’s & Co chefs Aaron Ballantyne, left, and Kevin Hopgood

The judges said “Familiarity breeds contentment in the long-term partnership of owner Kevin Hopgood and head chef Aaron Ballantyne. They’ve been working together for 15 years and the harmony is reflected in what they produce. Consider the finish, for starters: a dessert of 70% chocolate mousse with cherry, amaretto and caramelised milk gelato. Flavour and texture explode from each component and with all the colours of a Chardin painting it’s an illustration of something particularly fabulous. The predecessors are equally impressive, such as our fish of the day – hake – which Kevin had brined on arrival to help it keep its form. Sautéed artichoke and crisp cauliflower made a great counterpoint. Everything is taken into account, from the sparkling glassware to the gracious oversight of the dining room. Hopgood’s has that magic capacity to make you feel that dining out is something to delight in.”

The Food Legend/Long-Term Player Award recognises the commitment they have made to the food and hospitality industry over many years, they lead by example. Kevin Hopgood, Head Chef, Aaron Ballantyne, and all their staff go to work every day to create dining magic and this award is something they can be immensely proud of.

The same can be said about the owners and staff at Urban Eatery Restaurant & Bar, Hawker House & Bar and every other hospitality business in the region. These are people who go to work every day to make tasty food for you and me to enjoy. Many hospitality and retail operators I have spoken with in the last couple of weeks tell me it has been the quietest weeks since they have been in business, some for 20 years plus.

As I said earlier, we need to support every business in the region or many will close. All you need to get on with your life is a vaccine pass (I note 95% of Nelsonians are eligible for it) and take sensible precautions. You don’t need to hide away, but if you’re not comfortable going out for any reason then make sure you do your on-line shopping with Nelson businesses. Also keep an eye out for click & collect offerings from food retailers, restaurants and cafes.

Shopping local has never been more important.

Published in the Nelson Mail 16.02.22

Foxy Boxy

As we get very close to Christmas and the annual struggle to find the perfect gifts for people we care about, there are lots of local options, be it wine or gourmet treats to enjoy over a few days I think a food and beverage gift is a lot better than a trinket that will never be used.

If you’re not sure what to buy the local gift box business Foxy Boxy is here to help. Last week I caught up with owners Melissa and Charlie Evans to find out just what they can do to help you find the perfect gift for everyone this Christmas that showcases local Nelson products.

As Charlie says “we cater to a wide range of gift givers, from businesses who want to give something to staff or clients as well as individuals looking for something special”, but a big part of their business right now is people sending gifts to family and friends in Auckland. “With Covid and families not being able to visit one another people are sending lots of gifts, people want to stay connected so there’s lots of ‘keep your chin up’ type messages.”

Charlie and Melissa met in Auckland and, as all young Kiwis do, headed off to explore the world, travel and have adventures overseas. While living in Canada, Melissa was looking for something to send to her mother in New Zealand, “I wanted to buy a gift for my mum that was just a wee bit special with something that was a real treat for her but I couldn’t find a gift box suitable for her at the quality I wanted.”

This is how the idea for Foxy Boxy was born. “Because I couldn’t find anything that ticked the quality and presentation boxes, we saw an exciting business opportunity which we could do really well when we returned to New Zealand. With our backgrounds in graphic design, e-commerce and marketing, we knew we had the skillset to create an awesome business.”

When they set up Foxy Boxy they knew that to be successful in a competitive gift-giving market they had to focus on three key things; firstly the quality of the product had to be excellent, without compromise. Secondly the design of the products and gift packaging had to be both enticing and scream quality and finally their service had to be exceptional.

Melissa says it’s important to have premium products that also looked stunning when the box was opened. “The look of every product is important and how it’s presented it is vital. ”

Melissa told me one part of their success is that they are really fast on delivering gifts, “We use our courier partner’s express overnight service which enables our gifts to be delivered as fast as possible throughout NZ, this is really important.”

Hogarth’s Chocolate is just one of the many tasty treats packed into some of the gift boxes on offer.

Many of their gift box options have local products as well as premium products from other regions. “We test all our products and we only select products that wow us. If they don’t wow us they won’t wow the gift recipient and we want people to be really excited when they receive the gift.

“A lot of thought goes into preparing the gifts, we think of it as a curated gift box rather than filling a box with void-fill (tissue paper) with some stuff from the supermarket, our boxes are full of product. We don’t use any box fillers and have between three & twelve products in each box. When people receive it they keep finding more the deeper they dig. We make sure it’s a fun experience for people.”

“A lot of our customers in Auckland love the fact we stock premium South Island products. Many of them have visited the Nelson region so it’s also a reminder of places they have enjoyed visiting. We are perfectly positioned in Nelson to be able to source fantastic products that can be delivered to us quickly by our suppliers and for us to ship around the country.”

McCashin’s Single Malt Whisky

Melissa and Charlie think their suppliers are the best in New Zealand and they work with a range of fantastic local suppliers like Hogarth’s Chocolate, Eddyline Brewery, Yum Granola, Dancing Sands Gin and Living Light Candles. (check the suppliers page on their website).

One really important local product for Foxy Boxy is a Royce McGlashen mug with a heart on the side, “they make it exclusively for us and we sell heaps of them” says Charlie. “Royce loves working with people who want something special and it’s always a pleasure to go and see them.”

Some of their most popular gift boxes are the wine and nibbles gift and the gin tasting gift box but they also create a range of special seasonal boxes. Melissa told me “Our Christmas Eve gift boxes are really popular. They are designed to open on Christmas Eve rather than Christmas Day, if you have a family of kids this is the anticipation gift for them.”

Last year people in Dubai bought them as gifts for family in New Zealand and asked us to make sure we have them this year because they are one of the best things they bought.”

The youngest members of the Foxy Boxy team are Melissa and Charlie’s 2 kids, Sophia (12) and Nicky (9). “We love getting the kids involved and teaching them about running a business. Box folding and ribbon cutting make a great holiday job, but their favourite part is definitely taste testing our delicious products”.

To find out more and give the perfect gift as a thank you, get well or celebration check out www.foxyboxy.nz

Published in the Nelson Mail 03-11-2021

Street Food on Washington

A couple of years ago I wrote about a couple who relocated from Auckland to Nelson, chef Ben Smith and his wife Bridget have since taken over the old store in Washington Valley and set about turning it into a real community food spot; Street Food on Washington is a lot more than just a place for quick takeaways at lunchtime, but you can do that too if you want to.

Last week I sat down with Ben and Bridget to find out a bit more about the food and why they chose this little out-of-the-way former dairy to open a restaurant and café. I say restaurant because the business has been so popular with locals, and people who have already discovered them, that they are now open for dinner on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings.

Ben told me they had this vision to create a cool local community space that isn’t in the city, “we wanted to bring restaurant quality food to a local community and to become part of a community, not just another place to pick up lunch on the go.”

And they have done that with remarkable success, not only have they been welcomed with open arms into the local community but many people from around the region have discovered their food, be it a cheese scone for morning tea, a wrap to grab-and-go for lunch or a meal cooked fresh for you to enjoy in the relaxed, yet very cool space they have created.

The idea of making street food the core of their business came about because they didn’t want to be in a box of ‘we make this’, “we want to make exciting, flavoursome food and our food is a bit eclectic” says Ben. “We can take street food from anywhere in the world and reinvent the dish in so many ways, innovating every day keeps us excited and gives our loyal customers something new from somewhere around the world to try.”

Of course, they have regular menu items but they have a twist too. Things like an Onion Bhaji Burger with mango chutney, a Korean hot dog with crispy potato batter, Loaded Fries smothered with caramelized onions, jalapenos, cheese sauce and bacon.

As Ben says, “No one can travel at the moment so we are bringing a taste of various countries to Washington Valley and any dish, with the exception of two, can be altered to suit any dietary requirement.”

Each week they have a special dish and some regulars now just ring up and order ‘the special please’ without asking what it is, “they get to try something new and interesting every week” says Ben.
“It’s so good to have the freedom to create great food however I like and have earnt the trust of my loyal regulars.”

Some recent specials of the week include Texan bbq pork ribs w pineapple salsa and peanut slaw,
Polish pierogi dumplings w saurkraut caramelized onion and bacon with sour cream, Mexican sopes with grilled steak, cactus with crema and salsa as well as Karaage chicken burger with Korean bbq sauce and Japanese mayo

Street Food on Washington also has a strong family ethos. Bridget told me “We’re in a busy local community, a community full of families and we want to encourage our kids to be part of a community business and understand what it takes to run a successful business.”

The business is going from strength-to-strength and is soon to include a food truck so the whole family is entwined in the operation alongside long-time friend Joe Saywell who is their sous chef. Bridget deals with all of the admin, “everything from staying on top of the accounts, paying people, ordering food and managing the refurbishment of the former ambulance that is going to be the food truck, and she still works in the restaurant Thursday Friday and Saturday our busiest days” says Ben. “We make such a great team.”

“Our 17 year old son is a budding chef and runs the kitchen on Saturday during the day while I work front of house making coffee and chatting with customers. For us one of the highlights is it’s a family business, Connor (17) has been working for me for a few years, we treat him as a staff member and he has really stepped up to the mark.

“Our other kids Liam (13), Ethan (15) and Hannah (11) all work here at weekends and nights, you’ll find Hannah manning the till and taking orders on Saturday lunch.”

The development of the business has been everything they wished for, “customers drip-feed in all day, it’s nice regular business that is easy to manage with just a few people, nights are taking off and about 50% of our business comes from regulars, some people come in every day, and not just immediate locals, some come here from around the region to relax over a coffee and do some work away from the office.”

The food truck is being constructed at the moment and the intention is to launch it with a street food party in Washington Valley, then it will appear at lots of places like nightclubs in town and it’s designed so they can cook all sorts of food for functions and events, not just street food.

They are also in the early stages of applying for a liquor license and with an outdoor area planned for summer things are moving along fast.

Check out www.streetfoodonwashington.co.nz for their opening hours, menus and to pre-order your freshly cooked favourite taste from around the world to take home, have delivered to your door by Yummi or so it’s ready for you to enjoy in the street art themed premises.

Published in the Nelson Mail 07-07-2021

Salvito’s Pizza Bar

When John Esposito opened a pizza bar named after his two sons (Salvi and Vito) he was determined to bring authentic Italian flavours that reflect his family’s heritage and he has done exactly that with spectacular success. The pizzas at Salvito’s are wonderful.

The Esposito name will be familiar to many Nelsonians, the family is part of the ‘Little Italy’ group of immigrants who established market gardens on The Wood four generations ago and who made the successful transition to living life in New Zealand with shear hard work. It’s fair to say the strong work ethic has rubbed off on the latest generation of Esposito’s, even if they no longer grow tomatoes in The Wood.

I have known John for more years than I care to remember and have watched the various businesses he established and owned flourish, businesses that have brought a touch of Italy to Nelson. He was one of the original investors who set up Mediterranean Foods in the region some 20 year ago, starting with a store on Halifax St before expanding into supplying Mediterranean food products to cafes and restaurants across the top of the South Island.

After selling the retail shop (now Prego and Comida) he and his business partner focused on growing the wholesale and distribution side before he eventually sold his shares to focus on his involvement in the tourism industry in Christchurch. We all know that when Covid hit last year, tourism was significantly affected across the whole country and as John says “we had to do something else to make a living – and fast.”

However this isn’t his first stint making pizzas, he was instrumental in establishing a wood fired pizza oven at the Italian Club in lower Trafalgar St and cooked up traditional food for their Friday night pizza nights where he worked as a volunteer for a loyal following of locals for some 12 years.

With his background in Mediterranean foods, his Italian heritage and pizza making experience it’s no wonder he and his sons have got the perfect recipe for tasty food at Salvito’s.

And it’s the food that people keep going back for. As testament to what people think of the pizza’s at Salvito’s just look at the five-star reviews they have on Google, Trip Advisor and Facebook – a perfect five-star record across all three platforms. “We don’t take these wonderful reviews for granted and do everything we can to maintain this standard” says John.

I wanted to know why the food is so good, “it starts with the very best ingredients we can source and then we take time to use traditional methods to make the pizzas.

“For example, we use Italian Caputto 00 flour from Naples and it takes a two-day slow rise to get the dough ready for baking. It has a 60% water hydration, and proves for 24 hours before we shape it into balls, and prove again for another 24 hours before its ready. It’s been a steep learning curve because water content, yeast, humidity, and oven temperature all play a part and we want to make it perfect, every time.

“We are committed to our food being authentic, introducing recipes and flavours we grew up with and are based on traditions that came from Italy 100 years ago. The flavours we have today might not be so common in modern Italy for example, but more based on our family heritage from those early immigrants.”

Lisa Molnar, (John’s cousin who helped a lot in the establishment) says it’s the simple things that last the test of time, for example “the pork sausage we make is made the same way our great grandfather would have made it and begins with a whole shoulder of pork that is hand cut on the premises, then ground, and mixed with spices. Some of the ingredients you can get on the banks of the Maitai River like our grandparents did, we aren’t allowed to do that now because of food regulations but the essence of using traditional ingredients is paramount.

“The flavour is the same as it was when being cooked when we were kids, we had tomato gardens and tomatoes were always being cooked and bottled. Like then, we add extra virgin olive oil to give our tomato real sauce depth, then garlic, basil and traditional seasoning.”

John says “the focus is on sourcing the very best ingredients including, oils, tomatoes, and specialty products. Lisa helped us experiment with various combinations to match the flavours of toppings for each different pizza, then add specially chosen cheeses to match.

“Our importer brought a mountain of ingredients to Nelson specifically to trial and we spent four days playing with old familiar flavours. Things like Truffle paste, Nduja paste, Gorgonzola and Taleggio cheeses, Friarelli, and Mortadella; it was amazing.

“We even grate our own parmesan cheese; we buy Italian Parmesan wedges that have been cut from a wheel and grate it ourselves rather than buying a standard pre-grated product that you might find in the supermarket. These touches make a real difference to flavour.”

And working with his two sons Salvi and Vito on this project has been the silver lining for John. “it’s like the fun and adventures we had when the kids were young have just continued on, morphing into a new and exciting era that we are enjoying together. But it can stretch them too and that’s a good thing. My job is to expose them to new challenges and pressure within the business, raising the bar gradually so they can more readily take on things that life throws at them. It’s a wonderful family experience for all of us.”

For me, the pizzas at Salvito’s Pizza Bar are the best in town, totally authentic flavours of Italy but made right here in Nelson.

Published in the Nelson Mail 05.05.2021

Little Nessie Cafe – The Wee Coffee Monster

I love positive people and I don’t think anyone who opens a new café in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic could be described as anything but positive. Gareth and Hayley Lewis decided to do just that and opened Little Nessie Café at the Black Cat shops on Annesbrook Drive in August 2020.

Anyone would think that opening a business during Covid-19 Level 2 would pose the biggest hurdle for their new business; but this was not the case. What they hadn’t counted on was six months of significant road works resulting in road closures right outside their business just four weeks after they opened the doors.

When I caught up with them last week their great attitude and the support from locals means this little business is still on the right track despite the challenges so far. Hayley says “we are surprised and incredibly humbled at the support we have had from so many people but especially our local and regular customers.”

 

This small café appears to have been a very welcome addition to the neighbourhood. Hayley and Gareth offer specialty coffee, a small but mighty menu that that you can enjoy inside, on the small deck or take away. One thing that really struck me about Little Nessie café is the cozy, welcoming atmosphere, it is a place you can just pop into for a quick coffee or linger over a meal or pot of tea.

Little Nessie cafe is an evolution of the food truck the couple ran in Brisbane until the Covid-19 Pandemic hit in March 2020. As Covid cases began to rise in Queensland, the couple decided it was time to come home with their family and just 12 days later they landed in Auckland, arriving two days into level 4 lockdown where they completed two weeks of self isolation before continuing on to Wellington and finally Nelson.

Reflecting on their journey, Hayley says “Having the food truck was great because we got a feel for who we are as a business. In many ways we are grateful for the opportunity Covid-19 allowed us – we were able to take our learnings from the food truck in Brisbane and start over with a more refined offering.”

“We have the staples that reflect who we are, particularly the Scottish Brekky Burger which is the most popular thing on the menu. It includes our homemade Lorne sausage which is like a cultural icon in Scotland, everyone’s mum or nana makes it. You can get a slice in a roll almost everywhere. It has been so popular with our customers people are coming from all over the region asking for ‘square sausage’ or Lorne, so we now sell it packaged for customers to take home.”

Having worked in the corporate world for several years they decided to use the marketing and business skills they have developed over the years to establish their own business. In 2019 Hayley was nearing the end of her maternity leave after having their first child Maisy while Gareth was working as an insurance broker. Feeling uninspired by his day-to-day work and after a particularly tough day in the office, they finally decided to buy their food truck and find something that would make them both excited to go work everyday.

Gareth says “We have always known we wanted to own our own business. We figured a small café would be a great place to start and allow us to spend more time together as a family which we couldn’t in our old roles.”

When it comes to the food they make Hayley says “We know what we like and hope others like it too, we want to be part of the great café culture here.”

“So far the feedback from customers has been great. We are sort of waiting for the negative, hopefully it will never happen, but we have been surprised at how positive everyone is about us and our little business.”

The original Little Nessie food truck has been back on the road in the last few months taking their delicious coffee & food to various events around the region and is available for private hire.

So if you’re looking for a new place to try and want to support a local business that is facing the challenges of Covid-19, road works and whatever else can be thrown their way with a big dose of positivity then pop into Little Nessie Café for a visit. I know this hard-working couple will reap the rewards of self employment, they have a wonderful attitude and make great food. Open from 7.30am to 2pm Monday to Friday and 8am – 12.30pm on Saturdays.

Wine Pick

Neudorf Rosie’s Block Moutere Chardonnay 2019, RRP $45 – 5 stars

When I first tasted this wine I instantly recognised the Neudorf touch. This is a new label for Neudorf Vineyards, the wine is made from 21-year-old organically grown vines on their hillside block and it’s almost difficult to describe, it is simply elegant yet powerful – the classic iron fist in a velvet glove!

The underlying power of the subtle lemon citrus, white peach, softly toasted hazelnuts and delicate ginger spice flavours, the delicate use of oak, tight mineral characters and subtle intensity add up to make this a wine that delivers evolving flavours in the glass and on the palate. It’s a very impressive debut for Neudorf’s latest single vineyard wine. Due to be released next week this is one of the finest wines I have tried to date from the very good 2019 vintage.

Pic’s & Whittakers

A few of the key factors in the success of any business are being able to adapt, innovate and strive for continual improvement, even if you have the market sector cornered, and that is exactly what Pic Picot and his merry band of peanut butter wizards do at Pic’s Peanut Butter World.

The Pic’s story about making peanut butter at home because he thought the commercial stuff was simply awful is very well known but people often forget the risk, thoughtfulness and extensive planning required to build a business the size of Pic’s Peanut Butter into the enterprise it is today.

Let’s be honest, it is just peanut butter, damned fine peanut butter but just peanut butter none the less, it is the dedication to excellence, the branding and marketing that has made this one of New Zealand’s most trusted brands and has provided the springboard to expand the range of products produced by the enthusiastic Pic’s team that shares his dream to create a business that is important to New Zealand, and just happens to be based in the place he calls home, Nelson.

When a new Pic’s product arrives on the shelves everyone is more than happy to try it because we trust Pic and his brand but what we don’t see is the very careful market analysis and product testing that happens before you and I get to buy it.

Making products like almond butter and cashew butter seems like a simple thing to do but there is a lot of planning that goes into the production of these to ensure there’s no cross contamination with peanut products. Then there’s simple things like selling peanut butter ‘slugs’ so you can take the handy little plastic squeeze pouches with you anywhere or even selling it in buckets for those who just can’t get enough of his pure peanut butter – “we only add salt, nothing else”.

Because we live in a region where a large proportion of the world’s boysenberries are grown it seems like common sense to add boysenberry jelly to the range they produce, after all peanut butter and jelly is a classic blend to spread on your morning toast.

Honey is another product that was simple to add, just find a reliable source of premium honey and add the trusted Pic’s brand. Then there’s those who have created products like ice cream and chocolate using Pic’s peanut butter; however, creating a whole new product isn’t easy, especially when you have built a peanut butter brand on having nothing but peanuts and salt in each jar.

The latest product from Pic’s has been created in association with another trusted New Zealand brand, Whittaker’s Chocolate. Pic’s Peanut Chocolate Butter is like a Whittaker’s peanut slab in paste form, and it’s bloody delicious!

When I received a sample of this new product I phoned Pic and told him we needed to talk, the product is ridiculously good so I wanted to know what went in to creating it and getting it to market without compromising his trusted brand. We sat down over a coffee and he told me “it actually started about five years ago so it isn’t something we have jumped into on a whim.

“There had been mutterings in the firm about needing a chocolate peanut butter about 5 years ago so when a Dutch girl came to work for us as an intern and she needed a project we gave her the peanut chocolate butter as a project to research for us.

“She did some work on branding and label design and we made some trial batches and ran a public taste test at a Nelson City market day at the time, the public loved it but I was resistant because I’m a purist when it comes to peanut butter, it’s who we are as a company.

“But the team were keen to do something and kept pushing the idea to me, I just kept my thumb on the hold button for five years rather than pressing go however, I have a fantastic team and I know I need to support them as much as they support me, I trust them and their thoughts around these things and I can’t be autocratic all the time.”

Having Whittaker’s as a co-brand partner was an important part of the decision. “I love the fact they are manufacturers like us, not just a company marketing a product, I want to partner with people who make stuff rather than just selling a product, we also always want to make products that are going to be used rather than being tried once or twice then ending up being pushed to the back of the shelf in the pantry.”

That means a huge amount of effort went into creating the right peanut chocolate butter blend, “we are peanut butter makers first and foremost so it had to be a peanut butter product with a chocolate flavour rather than a chocolate product with a peanut flavour.”

When we talked about the risk of bringing a product like this to market he said of course it’s a risk, “but if we stop taking risks we become boring and that is worse than death. If you didn’t do something different you would never know what the outcome might be and just might miss the golden opportunity.”

As much as I like this new product Pic’s is first and foremost a peanut butter producer this country, and many others around the world, trust so Pic Picot would never let his company do something that will compromise the hard-earned trusted brand stamp.

A top tip from me is to try this delicious peanut chocolate butter spread on a warm croissant for a Sunday morning treat, outrageously decadent!

Published in the Nelson Mail 03-02-2010

Blackenbrook Vineyards

A few weeks ago Ursula Schwarzenbach asked me if I would like to visit them to taste their 2020 vintage wines, of course I said yes (who wouldn’t!) so last week I met Ursula and her husband Daniel at their winery to talk about the 2020 vintage and taste some wines.

Ursula and Daniel Schwarzenbach in their vineyard at Tasman – Photo Martin de Ruyter STUFF

Over the years I have been mightily impressed by this couple and the wines they craft, as Daniel said to me last week “to be honest 80% of the winemaking happens in the vineyard, I just have to finish the process in the winery.”

This understates just how much effort the couple and their young family put into creating their delightful wines. Located on the sloping hills at Tasman, up the road behind the Tasman Store, the vineyards are managed with intense detail to ensure the fruit is in the best condition possible to turn into wine.

The 2020 vintage was notable for the Covid-19 lockdown during which the wine industry was granted essential services status to be able to harvest their once-a-year export crop. At Blackenbrook Vineyards however the final pick happened on the day before lockdown started, “we were due to finish on the Friday so by working longer hours for a few days we were able to get all the fruit picked and into the winery before lockdown”.

Ursula told me their assistant winemaker headed back to Germany early to beat lockdown restrictions but as school was also locked down their son Thomas was able to step in and help. “He has always been around the winery and helped in every aspect from the vineyards to the bottling line so he knows his way around the winery, it was just full time as assistant to Daniel for a week or so.”

The couple are also delighted with the quality of the vintage this year, “it was exceptional” says Daniel and I must say that based on the wines I tried last week I agree. For me the wines at Blackenbrook have a certain purity of flavour to them, it’s a character I find difficult to describe but the wines tend to have a perfect expression of the varietal flavours and I’m certain this comes from the meticulous vineyard management that means less intervention in the winemaking process in the winery.

“Some of the wines pretty much make themselves” says Daniel. Beautiful clean fruit equals beautiful clean flavours, “for wines like Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Blanc we didn’t do anything in the winery, we just need a good ferment to turn great, clean fruit into nice wine, we try and use very gentle processes so we don’t lose the flavours.”

I tasted seven new release wines in the hour and a half I spent at Blackenbrook and tasting notes for all of these are on my website www.toptastes.co.nz but one worth a special mention here is the 2020 Pinot Blanc (RRP$28 and Vegan certified). This is the second vintage for this variety at Blackenbrook and what a stunning wine it is!

The aromas are intense, bursting with rich cooked pear and stonefruit characters that are dusted with delightful floral notes in the background. The richness of the aromas is reflected in the weighty, delicious flavours, flavours that are balanced with a touch of freshness and deliver liquorice-like characters in the very long finish. This is a five star wine and one that will certainly find itself attached to my credit card and a place in our cellar.

Daylight saving starts on the 27th September so that means in just over a week we are going to be spending more time outside and for us that means more time cooking on the barbeque.

This week’s recipe is our favourite way to cook St Louis Babyback Pork Ribs, these are a long rack of small ribs that we buy from Raeward Fresh. To make it easier to fit on the barbeque we cut the long rack into two. For the sauce we just make enough to use fresh.

Barbeque, smoked St Louis Pork Ribs

Serves two to four people depending on whether or not you serve side dishes with it.

Ingredients

1 pack St Louis Pork Ribs

The dry rub lasts a long time when stored in a jar so we make a decent amount and use it as we need it. Just double or triple the recipe if you want to save some time next time.

Dry Rub

  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons Kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon celery salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Mix all ingredients in a bowl. Use a fork to crush any clumps of sugar or seasonings. Store in an airtight container for up to a month.

Method

Rub the dry mix into the ribs the day before, put them on a plate, cover  and leave in the fridge overnight.

  1. Fire up your favourite barbeque, preferably with some wet wood chips (manuka, cherry wood etc)
  2. Place the ribs in a foil tray and cook at about 120 C for three hours.
  3. Turn every hour and for the last hour baste the ribs several times with one of the many specialist meat sauces you will find in most good food stores.
  4. Cut into single ribs and serve with your favourite side dish.

We love these with an Italian coleslaw and the recipe for this is on my website www.toptastes.co.nz/recipes

Published in the Nelson Mail 16.09.20

Rustic Cuisine

Rustic Cuisine on Rutherford St is owned by my two favourite French people, Mylene and Greg Auphan who used to own La Gourmandise. Their latest venture is to develop a range of French style foods in jars ready for you to take home and enjoy.

It goes without saying that when you are developing a new concept you need to earn a living so they took over the building opposite Nelson College for Girls and are producing the wonderful crepes and galettes everyone enjoyed at La Gourmandise as well as making cabinet food for morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea.

Rustic Cuisine is a regular morning stop for me, the coffee is too good to go past, and I have noticed a large number of regulars doing the same thing. The fact they sell outstanding pastries doesn’t hurt their reputation for quality either.

However it is the food-in-a-jar that is the future for this young business, Greg told me they have invested in high quality equipment so they can produce enough to take to a much bigger New Zealand market. He also told me he is developing new recipes and has had to refine how he prepares his current recipes because the equipment cooks the food quite differently.

“Because it’s quite a long cook at a high temperature I need to adjust recipes to make sure the food doesn’t break down in the jars, we are doing lots of small trials to refine everything before we go into full production.”

In the meantime you and I get to try the new recipes he is developing before he adjusts the cooking process for each one. Dishes like Coq au vin, Beef Bolognese, Lentil Dahl, Onion Soup and their wonderful Cassoulet are prepared and packaged in jars ready for us to take home, heat up and enjoy.

My top tip for your next visit to Rustic Cuisine – if you see some in the food cabinet don’t even try to resist the lemon meringue tarts, they are outstandingly tasty.

First published in the Nelson Mail 03.06.20

Gelato Roma

I first wrote about Gelato Roma back in March 2016 and a lot has happened with this exciting Nelson business in the intervening years, so I thought it was time to find out more and tell you about it.

Let’s start by having a quick look back at the history of Gelato Roma. The business was established in Nelson by Yuri Aristarco with a couple of business partners after he arrived here in 2011 from Genova, a seaside coastal city in Italy near the northern France border and not too far from Milan.

In Genova Yuri ran a restaurant that had a wine bar on ground floor with a 120 seat restaurant on first floor. He told me Gelato is part of the Italian food culture and a single town in Italy might have 200 gelato producers but people have their favourite producer, just like we have a favourite coffee shop or restaurant, and will travel to the other side of town to get the gelato they favour.

Yuri and Daniela Aristarco (photo: Braden Fastier Nelson Mail & Stuff)

When I had a coffee with Yuri and his wife Daniela, who now run the business by themselves, he told me “There are lots of really good producers in this region and I wanted to make something that reflects who we are while adding something really good to the region too.”

I asked them what makes their gelato special and what are the key differences between ice cream, gelato and sorbet because they do make sorbet as well.

Yuri says the real difference between premium ice cream and gelato is that ice cream has about 18% butterfat content while gelato has a lot less and sorbet has none.

Daniela says, “The fat coats your palate and can disguise the real flavours of the product, too much sugar can also mask the beautiful real flavours so we use a lot less sugar than you may find in similar products.”

Yuri said the second key difference is that gelato has less air infused as part of the churning process. If you let a scoop of ice cream and a scoop of gelato melt the ice cream will seem larger but if you take the air into account the servings are about the same size.”

Less air in gelato means the flavours also appear to be more intense and he said if you have a serving of gelato and ice cream side-by-side you can really taste the difference.

The third main difference is the serving temperature, “it’s tied to the butterfat and air content, ice cream needs to be served at between -18 degrees and -20 degrees while gelato is between -12 and -14. Because it’s not as cold your taste buds detect the flavour more easily.”

Daniela told me their product isn’t too sweet either, “we are very careful about amount and type of sugar we use. As a choice we don’t over-sugar, sugar can be like cream and cover the natural flavours and we want the fruit flavours and other raw ingredients to shine so we rely on the natural fruit sugars with as little added sugar as possible. Yuri is good at keeping the added sugar content as low as possible and we are quite proud of that, however, like any other frozen product it is a treat.”

Sorbets are sweeter than gelato because they are water based and the Gelato Roma berry sorbets have 45% fruit content, “get a scoop and almost half is fruit, zero fat because there is no milk and that makes it suitable for people with dairy intolerance and for vegans.”

Daniela said there are other little differences but these are the most important, “then you take into account the raw materials we use and the recipes Yuri develops that makes our gelato and sorbet a true artisan product.

“Because we’re a small artisan producer we love to work with other local, high quality, producers that are often artisan producers too. Our suppliers are important to us, for the quality of the product we make and also to our story when we are selling it to retailers.”

Yuri and Daniela Aristarco (photo: Braden Fastier Nelson Mail & Stuff)

At Gelato Roma all the berries they use are locally grown, as you would expect they use Pic’s peanut butter and they have just started to use Thorvald and Little River yoghurt. “We don’t want to import from overseas, our philosophy is to add value to ingredients and products already produced here, even though we are now a nationwide artisan business we have a focus on local products” says Yuri.

As expected there are a few things they can’t get locally, like coconut and mango because they simply aren’t produced here, but they do source everything from Nelson first, then New Zealand and overseas as a last resort.

It’s this dedication to using quality, fresh ingredients that I think makes their products special and it’s why they are now selling Nelson produced gelato and sorbet in 23 outlets around New Zealand.

“Our retail partners, who have our display freezers and scoop our gelato, and the three distributors we work with are important to us as we grow. As part of the artisan producer experience we want to provide we give them as much support as we can”

“In the top of the South we partner with five retailers as well as the truck and trailer that are franchised out to an independently owned business. Co-owners Colin Harrop and Barry Mitchell are set up in Tahuna at the beach and go to the markets, fairs, festivals and other events around the region” says Daniela.

Yuri told me they have the production capacity to grow further but they want to keep it as an artisan product, “we have everything in place with the capacity we have now, we can be bigger without compromising on the quality of the product and without using pre-made powders.”

Gelato Roma products are also sought after by chefs who often ask for a custom gelato or sorbet, “a few weeks ago we made a sorbet for Tutu Cider For the Cider Festival, last year we made a sorbet for No1 Family Estate using their sparkling wines for them to serve at the Marlborough Wine and Food Festival, and we made many other sorbets using Sauvignon Blanc from White Heaven ,  Gewürztraminer from Framingham, Moa cider, beer from Golden Mile Brewery only to mention some.

“We love making these customised products and we can only do it because we are artisan producers. We can decide to make a new product one day and ship it the next day, we have the expertise to be able to do this, Yuri has to develop the recipe to make sure the product flavours are properly balanced and that is the real skill” says Daniela.

The success of Roma Gelato isn’t just limited to the demand they have for their tasty treats, at the New Zealand Ice Cream Awards in 2019 they were awarded five medals as well as the Best in Category for Gelato for their salted caramel gelato.

All this means if you visit one of their retailers you won’t only get a delicious treat you will be supporting a number of other producers in the Nelson region, and I love that.

Published in the Nelson Mail 22.01.20

by

2019 Vintage Wines in Nelson

At the risk of repeating myself I love this time of the year, everything in the garden is starting to sprout into life again after being dormant during the winter, the daylight hours are longer, daylight saving has started, the sun is warming us once again and most importantly the first of the 2019 vintage wines are on the shelves for you and me to buy.

A couple of week’s ago I went to the trade tasting session of the Wine Nelson annual new release tasting and with some 120 wines available for tasting, along with a few special bottles some producers had tucked under their tasting tables, I simply wasn’t going to be able to taste every wine in the two hours available.

To get a snapshot of the 2019 vintage across the region I tried a couple of new release wines from each producer and I have to say, my suspicions about a vintage of outstanding quality were confirmed, 2019 wine produced in this region are simply exceptional.

The highlight of the vintage was the severe drought that gripped the region, there was no rain at all between Christmas and when harvest was due to start in early March. This created a number of challenges in vineyards where the soil is stony and free-draining while well established vineyards located on clay based soils came through the drought without too many issues at all.

As happens when you are working with Mother Nature she usually does a few unexpected things so it was no real surprise when it rained just as harvest was due to start. Fortunately most vineyards were in pristine condition, fruit was ready to harvest a week or two earlier than normal and grape growers are getting used to a bit of rain in early autumn so were well set to manage the rain when it did arrive.

While growing conditions seemed to be exceptional the heat was maybe a little too much; warm, humid night-time conditions meant disease was always a risk but most importantly the lack of cool temperatures at night slowed flavour development in the grapes.

The result was grapes in excellent condition with natural sugar levels rising rapidly but grapes that could do with a bit more flavour. In many locations around the region the first burst of rain did a huge amount of good to the fruit, as long as the grapes weren’t too ripe with soft skins the extra water didn’t split the grapes and encourage rot, but it did dilute the sugars a little giving the fruit a chance to develop more flavour as the rains also brought slightly cooler evenings.

The day or two extra that grape growers were able to leave their fruit on the vines has resulted in exceptional flavours in all of the wines I have tasted from the 2019 vintage.

As you would expect, every vineyard is different with fruit ripening at slightly different times and this year was no exception, there were a couple of vineyards where the rain didn’t help some varieties and growers chose not to harvest a few tonne of fruit. A wise move indeed, better to leave compromised fruit behind than compromise your brand by producing substandard wines.

Despite a small amount of fruit not being harvested 2019 was the largest vintage on record in the Nelson region. Some 12,370 tonnes of wine grapes were harvested in the region, an increase of 36% on the small 2018 vintage. It was also 3.1% of the total New Zealand harvest for 2019 and made Nelson the 4th largest producer of wine grapes in the country.

While 3.1% may not seem much we need to remember that Marlborough produces 76.6% (305,467 tonnes in 2019) of grapes grown in New Zealand, Nelson moves ahead of Central Otago and is now only behind Hawke’s Bay and Gisborne in terms of production.

The other notable feature of the 2019 grape harvest in Nelson was how fast it was. In a perfect vintage grapes ripen at different time meaning winemakers can control the flow of wine production in the winery at a nice pace, this year the harvest was short and intense.

For smaller producers the vintage lasted a mere 10 to 14 days with every variety hitting the winery at the same time and while this did put winemakers and facilities under pressure there were also plenty of smiles on tired winemakers faces. The smiles were brought about because of the incredible quality of fruit being delivered from vineyards for them to work their magic with.

Again, it goes without saying some of the larger vineyards couldn’t be harvested before the long days of rain arrived and caused havoc with remaining fruit so imagine just how big the vintage could have been if Mother Nature didn’t have a little cry.

What do the wines 2019 vintage taste like? In a word, beautiful!

My picks for this year – 2019 wines like Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Blanc and Rosé from Nelson are packed with ripe fruit flavours with refreshing yet soft acidity making them irresistible.

Based on some barrel samples I had recently, when wines like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are released in about 12 months you simply have to buy them, there are some real treats slumbering away in barrels.

Most wineries open their cellar doors after a break for vintage and winter at Labour Weekend so head to www.winenelson.co.nz and download the regional wine map then spend a few days enjoying the beautiful wines on offer in this region.