Monday, July 9, 2012

Millthorpe and a visit to the egganic farm!

On our recent foodie road trip to the Central Tablelands of NSW, we stayed in the most gorgeous of small and historic country towns, Millthorpe. Millthorpe is three and a half hour drive from Sydney and Canberra, thirty minutes from Bathurst and twenty minutes from Orange, and makes for an ideal weekend getaway. The village boasts a legacy of grand buildings, heritage architecture and a streetscape that has remained largely unchanged since the early 1900’s. The entire village is classified by the National Trust and the village centre has cobbled, bluestone bordered streets.

It is home to award winning restaurants, arts and antiques, a museum, boutique shops, hotels, wine tasting and accommodation. Millthorpe is home to a community of about 700 people, it is located in the heart of a dynamic food and cool climate wine region, also a centre for truffle production. The town of Millthorpe is a living museum and comes alive on weekends with locals, visitors and tourists alike. Pretty much everything in Millthorpe is open only on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, with the odd shop or two and the hotels open Tuesdays and Wednesdays as well, so it is best to plan your visit over a weekend. We made Millthorpe our base for three days, with plans to also visit surrounding regions such as Canowindra, Orange and Mount Canobolas.
We stayed at Millthorpe 1911, a most delightful guesthouse, central to everything, and very warm and cosy. Being that it was lightly snowing on our arrival and the outside temperature remained around 3 deg C for most of our stay, a warm guesthouse, including freshly baked chocolate and hazelnut cake and plentiful breakfast supplies was a welcome relief.

We had such a lovely time browsing the Pym Street stores, particularly Galvanised at Millthorpe with their eclectic and quirky collection of art and furniture, a lovely picture window looking out to the garden and a large selection of sweets from the jar or by the bag, enough to keep any child or grown up enthused as you browse.

A visit to Tomolly home wares store, found me explaining to the owner, that I just had to come in and have a look as the name of her store, was a combination of our first two children's names Tom and Molly, of which she responded yes me too! That evening we enjoyed a lovely meal at one of the two hotels in town, Gerry's @ The Commercial Hotel, which serves up some really delicious pub food and had a very welcoming open fire in both the bar and restaurant areas. For more information on all the food and dining options, as well as all you need to know when visiting Millthorpe go to Millthorpe Village.

Just a scenic fifteen minute drive, further west from the town of Millthorpe, is the town called Forest Reefs, where egganic farm is located. I first saw the egganic eggs at Eveleigh Farmers' Market held on Saturdays in Sydney and more recently at The Beaches Market held on Fridays, a reasonably new farmers market, local to Sydney's Northern Beaches and just a few minutes walk from my place. Jacqui and Jim kindly agreed to us visiting the egganic farm and seeing first hand, what it is like to really have some chickens and fresh eggs on a larger scale, than what I have in our backyard! The egganic hens...

Jacqui says: "We have a small property consisting of 17 hectares in Forest Reefs, located 25kms south of Orange in New South Wales. With 4 hectares of vineyards bearing white wine grapes, we wanted to utilise the rest of the land for something other than running a few head of cattle.Frustrated and confused by labelling of eggs and the lack of truly fresh eggs when our six backyard chooks went off the lay, in 2007 we set about researching running chickens on a larger scale in a true “free range” existence. One night brainstorming we came up with the name egganic which reflected the egg idea and the organic standard in which we wanted to raise the chickens. We would source organic mash and allow the chickens to roam freely – just as our backyard chooks had always done! In early 2008 we re-fenced the entire property in order to fox proof it. Jim built custom mobile sheds to house our first flock of 500 birds, modified some sheep feeders to suit poultry, and built the water troughs. Our first pullets arrived in August 2008 – we were on a major learning curve and so were our birds! They needed to be taught how to perch. Some chooks are bred and raised on the ground in very large sheds so we spent nights putting them up on the perch until they got the message. Sadly they had lost that instinct but after much patience and perseverance they regained it. Within 6 weeks our first chooks began to lay fabulous, fresh eggs with yolks that were a deep, rich yellow. Truth be told, we hadn’t anticipated the quantity so it was time to market the eggs! We began locally in Orange and fortunately there were farmers markets which were a wonderful spring board to commence our sales. As the eggs kept coming we recognised the need to go further afield. So with tables and gazebo in hand we travelled to Sydney on a weekly basis and attended a number of Sydney farmers markets. The response was wonderful and we quickly gained many customers who still buy our eggs today. In February 2009, the Eveleigh Farmers market started. We got in on the ground floor and it was a wonderful experience. Because it was a weekly market, our eggs were completely fresh. We realised we had a premium product because we were so stringent about the freshness. We didn’t want to store an egg for anymore than 5 days – and less whenever possible. Since being at Eveleigh, egganic has blossomed! We have stayed true to our beliefs and our customers are wonderful people who in many cases have had the experience of chooks somewhere in their childhood and remember what a real egg tastes like. We currently have 2500 chickens, four dogs, 2 casual employees and any of our teenage girls who help when possible. We’re pretty happy with keeping egganic nice and small, ensuring that the welfare of our hens, the true free-range environment in which they roam and the quality of the eggs they lay comes above everything else."

Jacqui's daughter Gretel collecting the eggs...

It was wonderful to visit the farm and see these happy, healthy hens, who are laying an abundance of fresh eggs daily. To see the picturesque set up where the hens are free to range, protected from predators not only by the fencing, but also by the beautiful Mareema sheep dogs, who protect the hens from foxes, hawks and other predators.

It was our joy to help collect the dozens of eggs, which are collected by hand, producing buckets full daily, the eggs are then graded, packed and transported to the farmers' markets.

I don't think we were fast enough at the collecting task to be offered any casual work.... but it was a lot of fun to see the way it is done, how these eggs come from paddock, to egg carton, to market and ultimately to you, on your plate!

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