Dandenong Ranges, Victoria: Producers and Produce Stores

By Michael Harden
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Dandenong Ranges National Park

Dandenong Ranges National Park

Misty Morning, cherry farm
Cherries

 

In many tourist brochures, the Dandenong Ranges are grouped together with the Yarra Valley as if they are a mountainous outpost of the glamorous winemaking area rather than a region in its own right. Subsequently, to find specific information about the area, it is a good idea to check out the literature on the Yarra Valley alongside anything you might find on the Ranges. The excellent and extensive Yarra Valley Food Trail map, for example, includes a number of Dandenong Ranges producers and produce stores in its extensive coverage of the food being grown and produced in the region.

Not surprisingly, most of the producing action in the region happens on the Yarra Valley side of the ranges around Silvan, Monbulk and Seville where the soil is rich, red and volcanic, the climate mostly mild and the rainfall almost dependable. Those who like the farm gate experience will find the pickings the best around Silvan where there is a number of pick your own fruit and berry farms. One of the best (and oldest) of these is R.L. Chapman and Sons on Parker Road where, during the summer berry season you can pick your own or simply pick up strawberries, cherries, raspberries, blackberries, youngberries and boysenberries. Just next door is Blue Hills Cherries and Berries where you can also pick your own berries in season or, in the off-season, pick up frozen fruit, jams and sauces.

Further up into the forests at the top of the hills there may be little evidence of farms but there is still good, fresh produce to be had.

At Olinda, the highest of the Dandenong Ranges villages and one of the prettiest, the small but bustling Olinda Village Produce Market is held every Saturday in a quaint square called Parsons Walk. Local honey and bread, organic and biodynamic food and free-range eggs are featured every week amongst a seasonally changing array of goods. Much of the produce is sourced in the Dandenongs and the Yarra Valley but the market is set up as much for locals as it is for tourists and so the emphasis is on the quality of the produce rather then where it came from.

Just above the Produce Market is the shop of one of the market’s movers and shakers Tricia Jonescu, Herbicious Delicious. It is a shop devoted to the glory of food and eating in all its many forms and stocks an eclectic and interesting array food related goods, homewares and an extensive range of herbs and spices. Tricia, who owns the shop with three friends, says that the eccentric nature of the business comes from the four partners each stocking what they like. “It’s always changing as we all go through our fads,” says Tricia. “The only rules are to keep it interesting and to celebrate the fun of eating and entertaining.”

Also in Olinda, on the Mount Dandenong Tourist Road, is the Dandenong Ranges best wine store, Olinda Cellars. Run by Ross Wilson, a former wine broker and a man obsessed by boutique and hard to get cult wines, the attractive shop with its wooden floors and cathedral ceilings, stocks mainly Australian wines and boutique beer from microbreweries across the state and country. There is a strong Yarra Valley focus in the store’s wine mix with a good showing from some of that region’ prestigious smaller wineries like Yarra Yering, Mount Mary and Yeringberg. Ross’s other specialty and source of pride is to be able to source “almost any wine” through his knowledge and contacts from six years as a wine broker. Ross is a local boy who dreamed about opening a shop like this in the area and has not only fulfilled his dream but has met with great approval in the Dandenongs too. Talk to any local wine buff about the arrival of Olinda Cellars in the area and the happiness and relief in their voice is palpable.

Folly Farm, also in Olinda, is a good place to soak up a bit of traditional Dandenongs atmosphere while also getting your hands on some very good blueberries (in summer). The B & B/Blueberry Farm also boasts superb gardens designed in 1936 by Edna Walling and the blueberries are amongst the sweetest and juiciest around.

Tea lovers should make the journey over to Sassafras, an achingly cute little village at the junction of the Mountain Highway and the Mount Dandenong Tourist Road. Tea Leaves is a wonderful treasure trove of a store that boasts “the largest range of teas and teapots in Melbourne”. Amongst all teapots great and small is a range of over 300 different teas, infusions and tisanes both from well known tea producing countries like China and India and from less obvious places like Papua New Guinea, Kenya and Vietnam. There are nearly 80 varieties of flavoured tea – from coconut to whiskey – organic and decaffeinated teas and a decent range of coffee for the java addicts. You can also pick up some handy tips on how to brew the perfect cuppa.

The best idea when trawling for food in the Dandenong Ranges is to keep your eyes peeled and to get chatting with the owners of the shops you like. That way the little roadside stall you missed that sells brilliant, warm roasted chestnuts or jars of excellent raspberry jam can become part of your food and wine experience and show you that there is more to the Dandenongs than Devonshire tea.

Five Dandenong Ranges Food Experiences

  • Picking chestnuts at Ruefleur Chestnuts, Olinda

  • Catching your own trout at the Australian Rainbow Trout Farm, Macclesfield

  • Picking raspberries and blackberries at The Big Berry U-Pick, Hoddles Creek

  • Tasting wine at the cellar door of Paternoster Wines, Emerald

  • Picking red currants at Emily Hill Farm, Emerald.

© Michael Harden 2006

First printed in Food and Wine Lovers’ Guide to Melbourne and Surrounds (2006)

Regions

  • Yarra Valley, Dandenongs and the Ranges (VIC)

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