Hello from Mount Gnomon Farm, Penguin, Tasmania!

Eliza Wood and Guy Robertson raise old-fashioned breeds of livestock so you can experience meat as it used to taste.

Our animals live true free range lives, and are respected from paddock to plate.

You can share our journey here, on facebook and twitter, at farmers' markets, and at your dining table.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Why not come and visit us?

If you've been looking at our blog expectantly over the past few months, you probably think we've fallen into Bass Strait, overwhelmed by Christmas hams and thousands of tacos served at The Taste Festival.

Fortunately, that's not the case - because neither Guy or I are great swimmers. We have had a little bit of recuperation time at the beach though, at Temma on the west coast. It's an amazing, ruggedly beautiful spot, a few minutes south of Arthur River.

Things haven't quietened down much since December. We've been attending the farmers' markets in Burnie, Ulverstone, Turners Beach, Launceston and Hobart (details at the bottom of this post) and we've served food at Festivale and Smithton's Twilight on the Duck. Taste the Harvest is coming up on March 9 on the Devonport foreshore, and then Taste of the North-West at Sheffield on April 26.

The building of our "Mount Gnomon food and farming centre" (as I'm currently calling it, it might be something different next week...) is coming along well. There's a big sturdy slab, a coolroom, drains and power lines, big lengths of timber in the roof space, and framing and door holes around the rooms. It's going to be used for all sorts of things: from our day-to-day butchering (not killing) and smoking, to being a cafe, cooking school, farming education centre, teaching garden, "live at the sty" music venue, and a really great place for us all to get together to eat locally, ethically, to celebrate our producers, and to dream and act on ideas to make the most of this wonderful place called Tasmania.

More immediately though, we've got our annual Rare Day Out coming up on March 16, 2014. It's our big event of the year, and we'd love you to bring your friends and families and have a really nice day among the animals eating and drinking fantastic fare and dancing along to the bands.

All the details are here, and it's also the spot to RSVP.

Mount Gnomon Farm markets and events:Taste the Harvest, Devonport - Sunday March 9Harvest Launceston farmers’ market – every Saturday 8.30 – 12.30Farm Gate Market, Hobart – 2nd and 4th Sundays of the month 9 – 1Cradle Coast Farmers' Market, Ulverstone wharf - every Sunday 8.30 - 12.30Burnie Farmers’ Market – 1st and 3rd Saturdays of the month 8.30 – 12Terrylands Butchery, 12 Terrylands St, Burnie – drop in to see us on a Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday.

Monday, December 9, 2013

A little Christmas party

What are you doing on Thursday evening? Come and join us for an apéro* at our new little butchery in Burnie.

We'll have a drink and a nibble, talk about nice things like pigs and gardening, and you can select a few goodies to put under the tree (or hide in the fridge).

Our friends from Red Cow Dairies, Blue Penguin Wines, and Pickled Sisters are coming too to share their wares. We're really looking forward to catching up with our customers and producer friends.

In the new year we're planning to open the butchery regularly on Thursday afternoons/evenings.

*a new word in my vocab that explains that wonderful time of day when you sit down with friends, share a little drink, some good food and forget about your worries.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Milking sheep in Millau

Ever wondered how a sheep is milked? As you watch, imagine going through this process twice a day - both the farmer and the sheep!

These Lacaune sheep were on the Cassan family farm where we stayed at Millau, southern France. Their milk is used to make the famous Roquefort cheese.

Footage shot by Mount Gnomon's Eliza Wood. Editing by Bronwyn Purvis.  

Thank you to the fabulous Chiara and Diodorim Saviola (you met them in Italy at the Agritourismo Casa Nouva). They are not just farmers and agritourismo operators, they are also very talented musicians. On this film you hear their track "Miniature, Andante". Chiara is playing flute, and Diodorim the harpsichord.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Please don't let me be misunderstood

Suzanne introduces me to blood sausage - boudin noir - from Christophe's butchery.

Before I went overseas, people asked how I was going to cope in Europe without speaking another language. I shrugged it off, convinced I’d be able to communicate via my hands and google translate. On the most part, that has sufficed, as long as my hands aren’t full and there’s WiFi available.

Isn’t it funny how quickly you adopt an accent? The first time I rang Guy from Italy he laughed at the way I was talking. I was dropping out all the little, unnecessary words, and sounding very exotic – I thought.

Italy was an easy place to start the trip. Almost everyone we met spoke some English, and many were fluent. It hit me pretty quickly how easy it is to get away with speaking just one language when you’re Australian. It’s embarrassing.

We met a black pig farmer, Aldo, with a great set-up near Parma: lots of free range pigs, some cattle, and an on-farm butchery where he makes fantastic charcuterie, including prosciutto. While we were there, one of his regulars turned up to buy a chicken, and he happened to speak a few words of English.  We walked around the farm all together, pointing, laughing, and nodding when we thought we understood each other. I didn’t, however, find out exactly how many pigs he had and whether he sold all of them through the farm shop.

In Roquefort, France, we stayed with the lovely Suzanne Marques – a widow with grandchildren spread about the country, and a house on the hillside of the village. As soon as we arrived it was clear this was going to be a google translate situation. We tried to connect to WiFi, but the password wouldn’t work. Suzanne, who had her hair set beautifully by the way, picked up her mobile and called one of the grandchildren (we’d mistaken an O for an 0). After that, and showing Suzanne how to type on the iPad, the conversation flowed. At breakfast the next morning, Suzanne greeted us with, ‘Good morning. How are you?’ with a big grin on her face. We saw a book-marked French-English dictionary on the dining table. She’d been up late.

Suzanne took us to a specialist charcuterie butchery in the hills of Viala-du-Tarn. Christophe Fabre’s family had started the business in the village, but as it grew, they had to move to the outskirts. When I got there, they were expanding again, and about to treble their production. Remarkably though, they were able to sell it all within a radius of 200km – mostly at farmers’ markets. Christophe wanted to keep it that way to avoid more stringent export regulations.

We muddled through the conversation as Christophe remembered some English. At least pigs have the same body parts all around the world – they just have different names and different uses. Christophe was making air-dried ham, various sausages – including blood sausage – and lots of cooked pates and canned products. I could smell the cooked meat in the kitchen, and see the machines smeared with fresh, warm fat, but I couldn’t ask what they had been making, how long they’d cooked it for, how quickly they cooled it, what spices they put in, how it was served.

In a few days, Marion arrived. Guy met Marion when he was working in the Northern Territory, and she was there visiting the CSIRO studying ants. We heard about another family charcuterie business, this one near Camarès (from Annie, the sheep farmer). I can’t tell you the name of the family, because they were nervous about my blogging. This came about because of a miscommunication.

We’d spent a lovely couple of hours with Mr and his son. We sat around the kitchen table drinking coffee and munching on biscuits I’d got at the farmers’ market. With Marion translating, I learnt how their business had developed and diversified, and how they split their business into wholesale and direct. We toured the factory and it was fantastic: all the rooms were temperature controlled (to lengthen the meat’s shelf-life), there was absolutely no wastage of the pig, and I could see their products were created with care and love.

I really wanted to see the pigs. I hadn’t really thought much about them to this point – I think I knew they were indoors, and that efficient production was a priority for this business. We were given blue spacesuits and plastic shoe covers, and walked up the drive to the sheds.

The smell was mild and the pigs and their pens were incredibly clean. It was a big operation, and the whole area was air conditioned for the comfort and fast growth of the pigs. The sows and their piglets were in stalls, and Mr pointed enthusiastically for me to take a photo while the piglets were drinking. We talked about the production system, and Mr showed me the sow cards where the litters were recorded. While I could never be an indoors pig farmer, I thoroughly respected the care and science they were applying to their farm.

We got talking about sow stalls, and how they were being banned in France. Their business had got in early and moved to group housing for the sows (unfortunately, because they acted early, they missed out on government assistance - funny that). I started telling them about Australia and our rules. I told them about the media coverage of farmers’ not doing the right thing, and how extreme activists sometimes broke into piggeries to record footage.

This is when things started breaking down. I hadn’t kept things simple, and I’d got too confident now I had a translator with me. Suddenly, I think they thought that if I posted photos on my blog they’d be attacked. I flushed and my heart started racing. I shook my head vigorously and tried to explain.

Even though they said they understood, the rest of the tour was strained. I felt sick all the way home. I didn’t sleep and I was teary the next morning. It’s horrible being misunderstood, absolutely horrible.

I quickly made a card to post, thanking them for the visit and emphasising how professional I thought they were. A few days later I emailed a lovely portrait shot I took of Mr in among his hams. I hope they understand.

More photos from France on Flickr.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Annie's flock at Camarès


Annie Bernat has been welcoming the public to her sheep farm in France since long before it was trendy, and decades later she still loves it.

Annie and her brother's property is in between the narrow roads at Camarès, in central southern France. They've got about 600 Lacaune ewes - the sort of sheep that produce milk for Roquefort cheese.

The soil in this area looks really strange. It's red like ours, perhaps a bit more maroonish, but instead of being made up of soft lumps it's rocky and shard-like. (A bit of research tells me it's a clay saturated with iron oxide, and it's full of the skeletons of corals and marine critters from 250 million years ago).

The dirt seems to grow good grass though, because the ewes are excellent producers (350 litres per girl per season) and the barns are packed with giant fresh-smelling bales of hay.

When we got to the farm the school holiday crowd was taking off its blue shoe protectors after touring the sheep barns, and was headed towards the soft and squeezable animals.

As the mothers gathered up their young and the squishy protectors, Annie tossed grain about for the chooks who came running for the finish line from the ground floor of the stone farmhouse.

Around the corner we stopped to get out the rabbits, and once everyone under 10 had held one we poked our heads into the stable to say hello to the horses.

Then up we went past the tractor sheds, past the Jenny Craig Shetland pony pen, into a simply, but  rather nicely, restored barn.

Annie told me (through my translator and friend Marion) that she got some funding to help with the glass windows and doors, and also for the three-legged stools around the tables.

As the parents lifted the kids onto the stools, Annie rushed about putting baskets of bread on the tables and started sharing the cheese. The chunks of Roquefort were the size of lunch plates and had the ripe smell of room temperature. Jam was also passed around, and the weary parents welcomed the red wine that was poured for them.

There was a lovely feeling of chaos - a bit like a flurry of warm wind between us - but Annie had done this hundreds of times and knew what a lovely feeling it was.

After the families had paid up (a tiny five Euros per adult), Annie sat with us and the left-overs, talking about how she and a handful of women sheep farmers had got together to organise the farm tours. They got some help with printing brochures, and eventually convinced the cheese companies to let them sell Roquefort from their farms (albeit at a higher price than at the factories).

Annie makes barely anything from the tours, and she doesn't have a farm shop to divert the visitors through on their way to the car park, but you can see she just loves sharing her lifestyle and animals with families who are willing to drive out to Camarès and get a bit dirty.