Good Food and Wine Show
Melbourne Exhibition Centre
Held annually in June
This weekend I headed to the Good Food and Wine Show in Melbourne, a yearly tradition for my family and I. As we all know, our city has a passionate love affair with its food and there are many festivals throughout the year to celebrate this. Each is different however, and when I was explaining where I was going on Friday to a friend who had never attended, it got me thinking about the different ‘styles’ of food events we have on offer.
The Melbourne Food and Wine Festival is a huge event that goes for just under a fortnight, consisting of dining, classes, exhibitions and other culinary presentations in various locations throughout Melbourne and the state. These events are at different times of day and night with significantly varying prices and focuses, and as such there is likely to be something for everyone, whether it’s a small intimate dinner, a cooking class or a large-scale and expertly organised event like the Longest Lunch.
An event such as Taste of Melbourne is presented in a similar format to the GFWS, in that everything is in one place, in a large exhibition type space. Whilst they do have exhibitors showing their products, and there still is that celebrity chef drawcard, the focus is more on restaurant stalls with ready to eat meals from each venue, allowing patrons to sample a range of high quality food and many different varieties of cuisines and cooking styles, from restaurants they may never have thought to try or couldn’t afford to dine at.
GFWS, on the other hand, is largely a showcase of new food and food related products. It’s where companies go to get the word out about their new products, and when consumers go to try the very latest and be given an abundance of free samples. You’ll find many ‘package’ type deals here, with stalls doing deals or making up special showbags to give you a selections of their wares at a cheaper price than you’d pay at the supermarket. There is also a big focus on the celebrity chef aspect, with shows in the Celebrity Theatre every hour or so – this is at an additional cost to your $30 ticket. You can see a list of the exhibitors here.
We were lucky enough to be invited to the Fisher & Paykel VIP lounge, a lovely little getaway from the crowds outside. The lounge backs onto the Celebrity Theatre, so guests get to mingle with the likes of Manu Feildel, Gary and George and Alastar McLeod before and after the shows – always amusing to watch these boys muck around.
The sexy dim lighting and iPhone camera didn’t make for the best quality photos in the VIP lounge, but here you can see a selection of the morning tea we enjoyed: fresh scones, muffins and pastries, prepared out the back by culinary students and delivered to us still deliciously warm.
At 12pm we ventured out of the main exhibition space and upstairs for the Cheese Matters Discovery Session, a 45 minute ‘masterclass’ that allows you to try a range of beautiful cheeses matched with various fruit, nuts, breads and crackers, as well as drinks, for $30.
Naomi Crisante was our host, a charming food educator, writer and television presenter with about twenty years experience in the dairy industry. With her guidance and that of the ‘Cheese Wheel’ placemat we were all given, we explored a variety of cheeses and learned not only which wines go well with them but also – new to the program this year – which beers make a good match.
We sat down to our table to find these big, beautiful slabs of cheese just waiting to be eaten. Below is a selection of the seven cheeses we ate, and a demonstration of me making a mess of my plate and resisting the urge to lick it clean.
South Cape Persian fetta was matched with their own brand of crispbreads, Gourmet Morsels dukkah and a Croser NV Sparkling.
Tasmanian Heritage Signature Camembert with dried apple, (what was meant to be fruit bread but I picked up the) walnut bread, and the Croser NV Sparkling.
My deliciously messy plate at the end of the event, covered in various cheeses, beetroot relish, truffle honey and mango chutney. This was the King Island Dairy Roaring Forties Blue, with smoked almonds (regular seen here because sadly they ran out of the smoked variety) and James Squire Porter.
A somewhat less tidy table than when we began and a few diligent note takers. There was no shortage of cheese which was fantastic, as we were expecting to be given a couple of morsels but nowhere near the amount we got. There were even a few sneaky, and very well prepared, guests at our table who whipped out chinese takeaway containers and chucked big slabs of leftover cheese in at the end, which left me wishing I was as smart. The 45 minutes went extremely fast, and we were urged to leave as quickly as we could to cater for the quick turnover. We each received a signed copy of Naomi’s book and a Cheese Matters DVD; it was a very good value class over all.
After a long, hard day of eating and drinking, it was lovely to come back to the VIP lounge and relax on the comfy sofas. By this stage the sweets from morning tea had been cleared away and we were treated to big platters of juicy fruit, fresh ham and cheese croissants and simple, elegant little bread rolls with rocket, ham and parmesan.
As my dad said, I had a major iPhone/life fail as my beloved smart phone sat on about 20% battery as we walked into the show. For those who are more organised than I and manage a basic task such as charging their phone, the show can be a really fun interactive experience with many food bloggers and other attendees discussing their experiences on Twitter as they go along.
So, a quick run down on my experience at the show:
It was great coming to the show on the first day – we normally attend on Saturday, but it was good to be there at the start when everyone was fresh-faced and excited and the crowds were significantly less than we’ve experienced on the weekend.
We went back for more samples of big fresh prawns cooked in peri peri sauce from Nandos; the always popular roast duck from Luv a Duck; stopped by Thomas Chipman, always good for an interesting alternative to regular chips; we tried some really interesting avocado oil; yummy hot mustards from Yarra Valley Gourmet Foods; there’s just too much to mention. This paragraph was an attempt at the ‘highlights’ but you do so many laps and try so many different things, it’s impossible to list them all. As usual the Innocent Bystander moscato stall was a hit and in the rest of the wine section we found a moscato at just about every other stall; it’s obvious how much its popularity keeps growing especially amongst the young female market. Sake Japan had some beautiful refreshing drinks to try and Bondi Chai and Daiquiri King are always good for something sweet.
The great thing about this show is being able to try all the new products in one place. Sometimes you may not really agree with the ideas – Always Fresh, for example, is a company who has some interesting ideas that don’t always appeal to me but I like that they’re always coming up with something new and always making their presence felt at the festival. It’s a great day to sample products you might never normally try; as we passed the Chop Chop Chicken stand – a product that has been on the market for a while now but one that I have never tried because for some reason I can deal with canned fish but not canned chicken – I decided it was time I gave it a shot, while I could for free anyway, and was pleasantly surprised with the quality of the chicken.
There are plenty of blog posts already from my fellow Melbourne food bloggers, and it’s really interesting to see how each of us went to the same festival and had different experiences. Al at Almost Always Ravenous had plenty of samples; Adrian of Food Rehab spent some time with Adam Liaw at the Malaysia Kitchen stand. I got to see a different side of the festival and spent time watching shows or learning and experiencing in classes. Despite the bad rap the festival occasionally gets – for being too ‘celeb’ focused or being just a big advertisement for the stallholders – I think if you know the kind of food show you’re going to and aren’t expecting that real restaurant or even chef specific focus, there are a whole range of experiences and something to suit everyone. Tickets are extremely reasonably priced and its one of the few events I can think of where the samples you get are so generous and just keep coming. We’ll be back next year for sure.