Weaving our way through the laneways, and statues of Bendigo, our tour guide Anne tells us stories of local history and legends, combined with visits to carefully chosen foodie destinations where delicious treats are sampled and stashed into our very own take-home goodie bags. This is the Food Fossickers Tour of Bendigo…
(Ticket provided by Bendigo Tourism. Words & photography from my own experience of the tour)
In the midst of a bright Saturday morning, the warmth of activity in Bendigo Wholefoods unfolds organically around us…customers being greeted with hearty smiles and a knack for helping track down even the most obscure ingredients. Our cosy group of food fossickers gather around Darren and listen to him tell the story of a store that enthusiastically focuses on organic & local produce. His cheerful smile punctuates conversation that ranges from the excitement of cherry season to the specifics of the tasting platter before us. Answering questions from the group as we sample from a selection of fruits, nuts, cheeses and breads, he then helps us stock our bags with complimentary goodies before sending us on our way to meet Steve from Favourite Flavours.
Another favourite with the locals, Steve professes to love his range of gourmet ice creams almost as much as his grandchildren. It’s impossible not to get caught up in his joy as he talks about getting to work with many of Bendigo’s renowned chefs. He is known for inventing uniquely flavoured ice creams to compliment their ever-changing array of desserts…currently tweaking a delicious honey ice cream destined for a nostalgic laden deconstructed honey-joy recipe. We not only sample the classics, but Steve brings an un-named creation to the group and challenges us to guess the herb and citrus combination. We leave his store with a gourmet addition to our goodie bag and a cup of our own favourite flavoured ice cream to savour on the walk.
It isn’t long before we’re seated on an eclectic collection of chairs, gathered around Cheryl of The Good Loaf . She passes a tasting platter of different breads around the group as the explains how a sourdough bakery found its way to this curious circular iconic building. As she leads us past the front counter into the actual bakery where the magic is made, we meet Laurie the other half of the partnership. Surrounded by racks of still warm loaves, towering ovens, we hear of pumpkin roasted daily for a particular favourite local loaf. We get a peek of the leavens that form the basis of almost everything that happens here…described as the babies of the bakery…carefully protected and much loved. Our goodie bags start to bulge at the seams with the addition of miniature loaves and housemade granola.
After only a short walk we find ourselves meeting Hayley of Indulge Fine Belgian Chocolates…the creator of an ever-changing artisan collection of sweet treats. Clearly showing a love for her craft, she explains the start to finish process of her range beginning with only the finest Callebaut Belgian chocolate. Our taste buds explore the ever-popular combination of salted chocolate from a platter handed around the group, as stories of chocolate making courses and the addition of regional ingredients are exchanged. In addition to coffees and Belgian hot chocolates, we are also leaving with a sample of a Shiraz ganache, and honey cinnamon milk chocolates.
Our final stop on the tour is a light lunch at Masons of Bendigo, a beautiful restaurant housed in a building steeped in local history. Seated comfortably at a large communal table with a view of the open kitchen, our wine glasses are filled as Sonia explains that their ethos is very much focused on a tasting plate style of dining that showcases the very best local suppliers. We’re sampling stuffed zucchini flowers picked that very morning by Nick, as we watch him prepare a platter of lamb for our next course. An interactive conversation is encouraged, not just for today, but for every meal at Masons…so for that reason their menu expands into details of the families and farms that contribute to the dishes.
It is here that we notice that Steve’s honey ice cream is featured in their dessert selection…a perfect example of the deliciously intertwined nature of Bendigo’s highly regarded (and much loved) dining culture that the Food Fossickers tour explores so well.