My car door swings open and I’m met with a chorus of Wattlebirds, geese, kookaburras and goats- greeting me with a cacophony of country charm. They confirm I’m out of central Hobart, but only by 45 minutes of pleasant driving.
I’ve heard much about the Agrarian Kitchen- so much so that I’ve been desperately looking forward to wearing my own Agrarian apron. In many respects this seems at odds for someone who only recently ‘googled’ how long it takes to hard-boil an egg.
Yet, I was determined to find out if a day with Rodney Dunn might tip me into the realm of serving up something special. It certainly did. You see before my class, I never saw ricotta as much more than a tub-purchase at the supermarket.
I’d never dreamt of making my own. Nor had I tinkered with the idea of milking a goat to make it. My, did Rodney have plans for me…
You could call the Agrarian experience hands on, but it’s more than that. It’s better described as ‘get your gumboots on, come pull some heirloom goodness from the earth, tug on a goats teat and let’s have some fun.’
It’s an education, and a full immersion of all that’s paddock-to-plate. I found this particularly special- a cooking school housed in the original schoolhouse of Lachlan. Built in 1887, the beautiful building is still true to its earlier form and breathes a sense of learning, long engrained in her walls.
But, where schoolbooks were awaiting those little Lachlan locals, today we are met with a warm Rodney welcome complete with coffee or tea, flavoured with delights from beyond the backdoor. My new friend opts for a ‘surprise tea from the garden.’
Next, there’s goats like Pretty Girl to meet, peas that go by the name of Lacy Ladies and 50 varieties of heirloom tomato to decide between. There’s garlic from Bulgaria, three vibrant colours of sage, a marshmallow plant and Hyssop- a meat herb that rates a mention or two in the bible.
But our first stop is the goat’s milk. In a perfect play on history, the four-legged ‘kids’ hang out in the front paddock that used to serve as a playground for those little Lachlan kids mentioned back in the 1900s.
Oaks and Elm trees planted here were done so by the youngsters, marking Federation Day back in 1901. It seems the new kids are equally delighted with their lot, right next door to the wallowing Wessex pigs.
Our baskets swell as we make our way through the garden, collecting lovage (a relative of celery) for a salad, plucking radishes from lush soil, tasting far too many berries, collecting eggs from gaggling chickens as well as red and yellow chard for our exciting three-course meal.
Back inside, we’re encouraged to join with a partner and pick one of four menu items. My very eager and lovely partner opts for the ‘pancetta, goat’s milk ricotta and baby chard rotolo.’ My eyes grow big. The name alone spells kitchen disaster for someone who struggles with an egg. I smile politely and agree it’s an excellent choice. And so it begins.
I read through the steps. Chop an onion. I can cope with that. Finely chop some garlic, yes, that’s doable. And before I know it, I’m separating curds from whey, pressing ricotta through a fine sieve and partaking in the creation of what’s to be one of the tastiest treats I’ve had.
There’s pasta to make, chard to blanch, rosemary and garlic butter to prepare….but so far it’s coming together nicely. Between my more than capable comrade and the calm, wisdom-filled words of Rodney it all runs smoothly.
After a good three hours in the kitchen and nearly two in the garden, we sit down to our first course, our ricotta rotolo creation. I’ve never had such a charming response to anything I’ve had a kitchen-hand in. It is worthy of the hug we share!
Through the entire meal, Rodney’s delightful wife Severine hovers in the background, ensuring your water never drops below the full mark, clearing plates and making you feel like you’re in a private home while Rodney serves meticulously-matched Tasmanian wines.
Next on the menu is chargrilled quail with nettle and lovage sauce. The quail, cooking away on the outdoor barbecue fuelled by large logs, sends wafts of deliciousness through the back door. And in Agrarian style the quail comes from just up the road.
Served alongside quinoa with roast root vegetables and tahini yoghurt as well as pea, roasted shallot and asparagus salad it took all our effort to leave room for dessert. Those who were able were well rewarded.
The ‘oooohs and ahhhhs’ coming from around the table could easily be translated into a delectable ‘yes’ from all 8 judges. This was no Masterchef competition, but most found it deep in themselves to enjoy the generously-sized rhubarb, elderflower and frangipane tartlet in full.
I sit back with a baffled half-smile, wondering how I pulled off something delicious in the kitchen. It might have been my ‘other half’ and her kitchen rigour, or that lingering ability to learn like those 1900s school children of Lachlan.
After all, on the trip home speaking to my father, it turns out my great grandfather was the Headmaster of the school. So, for now I will credit him with my brief kitchen flair. And I’ll serve this fact up with a good dose of Rodney’s superb advice along the way.
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Your launch pad for exploring Tasmania like a local.