Red Hill Estate
Peninsula Hot Springs
The Long Table
Red Hill Brewery
Mornington Pier and Beach
This first part I shall call food producers, although I could have also called it "deliciousness producers".
Mornington Peninsula Chocolates
I believe that chocolates are something that most people would love, and at Mornington Peninsula Chocolates, there's a huge variety for you to choose from. They pride themselves on their award winning filled chocolates but also sell a selection of pure dark chocolates for connoisseurs.
Milton Laycock, Isilda and Cass Caldwell run this family owned business and on the day I was welcomed by Cass, who explained that the shop was started after Milton and Isilda saw the movie "Chocolat" and loved it. I for one can say that like the movie Chocolat, chocolates brings joy to me. I sampled some of their filled chocolates and the award winning lime chocolate is definitely excellent. I also really loved the single origin dark chocolate as I prefer my chocolates by itself or with nuts in them.
Other items that really caught my eyes were the chocolate sculptures and objects. You can buy beautifully decorated high heel shoes, animals, lolly pop shaped chocolate and even the letters of your name. They would make awesome gifts for friends and family and would also work well for corporate functions.
Main Ridge Dairy
Main Ridge Dairy, run by Bess and Damien Noxon, was my favourite stop of the weekend. I started off my visit there by sampling all ten of the Main Ridge goat cheeses. I tried soft cheeses, rind cheeses, hard cheeses and marinated cheeses. While all the cheeses were good, a few were standouts for me. I loved the Cilia, which was a soft Camembert style cheese. I also loved the Chevre, especially the award winning marintated Chevre which I adored.
The cheese tasting was really good but the part I loved most was the Goat Milking Tour. Bess took a group of us around and we saw the whole paddock to plate process of the Main Ridge farm. I couldn't help but giggle like a little kid when the goats were rubbing their heads up against me and trying to bite my shorts, shirt and camera. I just managed to save my DSLR camera from one inquisitive goat.
The 200 or so goats on the farm are milked daily and produce on average about a litre of milk each. The goats were trained really well and showed themselves into the milking shed and out. The whole milking process is still quite a manual labour intensive task, with the bottle feeding of the kids being a manual task personally handled by Bess before the current bottle feeding machine was introduced. When you think that 10 litres of milk is used to make the cheese, you can appreciate the cost.
Pure Peninsula Honey
"Hello, I'm the Pure Peninsula Honey Beeswax Bee". You can meet all the real bees of Pure Peninsula Honey close up as you watch them scurry around in their hives gathering the pollen to make honey. You might be lucky to see the bees do their "dance" to tell the other bees how far to fly for the pollen. If you're really lucky, you might even see the queen bee.
At Pure Peninsula Honey, you can get an in-depth explanation about all aspects of bees and honey from owner and apiarist John Winkles. John will be able to answer all your questions as well as tell you about the dozens of beautiful honey and their flavours. You can sample all of them and decide which is your favourite and buy it to take home. I really liked the lighter flavoured honeys, each extremely individual in taste.
The Mornington Peninsula offers a variety of dining options, from simple fare to fine dining at hatted restaurants. I was lucky enough to sample both the simple and more complex food. You can read about the simple fare in this post first.
Red Hill Bakery
For lunch on the first day, I went to Red Hill Bakery to meet Ray and Jill Johns. It was such a pleasure to talk with both of them, as they were down to Earth people. Ray is the chief baker at this second branch of their bakery. They make their breads using slow traditional methods to ensure the most flavour is imparted to the bread. Ray admits that his own failed career as a musician (trumpeter) was what led him to try his hand at baking. Thankfully for us, Ray did take up baking. However, you can still get a sense of Ray's musical stylings when his jazz group play at the bakery every Sunday.
If food is more your style, you can taste Ray's award winning pies any day of the week. I sampled a Duck Pie and a Rabbit Pie and I declare them to be the best pies I've tasted ever. The fillings were so good, especially the rabbit one. As Ray explained, he stews his meats for a long time to achieve maximum tenderness. The pastry was also flaky and light up top while sturdy enough to hold the filling on the base. I also sampled some of the regions cured meats, cheeses and pickled vegetables with Ray's signature Wine Bread. The wine bread did have a slight flavour of wine and was a nice dense sourdough.
For desserts, the bakery does a range of simple baked cakes, slices and tarts. I went for a simple Flourless Orange Cake, which was really good, served with an awesome cream.
Somers General Store
For lunch on day two, I dined at Somers General store, owned by local glass artist Leisa Wharington. I wondered where the name of the cafe came from and was informed by Leisa that the building used to be the general store serving the surrounding suburbs. The petrol pumps outside are clear evidence of the building's former identity.
Nowadays, the shop serves as a relaxed cafe where locals can come dine, as well being a simplified general store in the adjoining space. It's fortunate that Leisa was committed to restoring the store when it fell into disrepair or else this great space could not be enjoyed. Sitting at the cafe and staring out at the bay is indeed very relaxing. A garden out the back is also a great space, but unfortunately liquor licensing laws means there is no drinking out in the garden.
For my lunch, I chose the Corn Fritters the instance I saw them on the menu. When the dish arrived, I thought they looked a lot like the Corn Fritters at Replete Provedore. After I found out head chef Emily Turnbull used to work there, it made a lot of sense. I thought these Fritters were better than the ones I had at Replete. The fritters were crispier and there was more salsa which helped cut through the sweetness of the sweet chili sauce. My friend Andy ordered the Paris Burger and that too was really good.
For dessert I had the simple Strawberries with Ice Cream. The fresh sweet strawberries were marinated in lemon syrup and served with an excellent vanilla ice cream. Andy had the Affogato with Frangelico, again really good.
As with the food options, the accommodation options in the Mornington Peninsula area is varied and runs the full gamut from simple to extravagant.
Rangers Run Country Retreat
A country retreat sounds like some hippie commune but I'm happy to report that isn't the case. There are no people wearing multi-coloured tie-dyed shirts running around talking about peace, love and harmony. Instead, I was greeted by the lovely Peter and Fiona Oram, who were having a swim and gardening respectively when I arrived. Peter and Fiona run the retreat consisting of three separate cottages. Those cottages used to be lived in by their kids, who have now moved along. Each cottage is slightly different and self contained. It's nicely decorated and has the modern necessities of TV, air-conditioning and fictional books. Yes, reading books are provide. And no, there is no wifi in your cottage. If you must use Internet, there is a computer in the main cottage but otherwise, you will enjoy the relaxing environment where the absence of sound was actually a bit strange at first.
The retreat offers a jacuzzi that you can relax in while absorbing the fresh air and the sounds of trees swaying in the wind. You can also visit the sheep, alpacas or geese in the surrounding area. I found the waddling of the geese rather entertaining and the sheep will rush up to you when you walk near them.
If you have a bit of a green thumb, you can take a stroll through Fiona's fruit and vegetable garden and look inside the large aluminum tanks at the healthy fruit and veg she has growing. The views around the retreat could be straight from a book and are very picturesque. All the elements help to induce a feeling of calm and make you forget about the worries of the world, just for a brief moment.
As you can see, I had an absolutely wonderful time on my weekend trip and met heaps of passionate and warm people. Each had a story to tell, all agreeing how much they love the region and the wonderful sites and foods of the area. As I mentioned to most of the people I met, it takes a bit more effort to organise a trip in the Mornington Peninsula as things are spread about and it's not as likely you will just stumble across everything. However, with the accessibility of the Internet, you can easily work out a great itinerary that will cater to your preferences. A great starting point is the Mornington Peninsula Tourism website, as well as a couple of publications of the region by the tourism board and Mornington Peninsula Gourmet which is targeted at food. Do yourself a favour and go down to the region for either a short day trip, a weekend or longer. Enjoy the scenery, food, accommodation and hospitality of the friendly locals.
I wish to thank all the people I met on the trip who fed and housed me at their expense and also spent some of their time to talk to me and answer my many questions.