Recent Posts by Amanda McInerney

Beef Production in Feedlots – How we do it in Australia

Published by Friday, November 2, 2012 Permalink 0

by Amanda McInerney

I have no illusions. The majority of people do not think too hard about where their food comes from. There are lots of reasons for that – life can be a pretty distracting business for many and they just don’t need another thing on their plate (pardon my pun) to cause anxiety and emotional or financial stress. What concerns me, though, is that those who find their way to my site and others like it and actively choose to consider their food options do so from a well-informed foundation. To that end I always endeavor to make sure I am as well informed as possible about a subject before I start “blowing off “about it.

 

I’m a carnivore and a (very) small-scale Angus beef producer, so have a direct interest in how beef is produced in this country. My cattle live a very pleasant life indeed and their end is relatively quick and clean, but for some time now I’ve been curious about what happens to other cattle. While it would be nice if all livestock could avoid the industrial food system, this is unlikely to happen any time soon and I wanted to try to understand how the general beef production model works. These days we hear much that is negative in relation to U.S. feedlots, so I’ve been interested in learning about the conditions on Australian feedlots and comparing our system with the the US model. Recently, I have had several requests for information regarding the perceived difficulties of sourcing grass-fed beef and a query regarding the Australian commitment to corn crops and government subsidies of them, so clearly I’m not the only one who needs to become a little more well-informed on this subject.

There are quite a lot of clean, comfortable and slightly detached ways to go about researching a topic these days, but never let it be said that your trusty correspondent was reluctant to face up to the cold hard facts of life – which is how I found myself at one of Australia’s largest feedlots and processing plants just outside of Toowoomba in Queensland last week. I was pleased to be able to accept an offer from Meat & Livestock Australia to see, absolutely first-hand, exactly how feedlotting is operated here and, while it is a little tricky to use the word “enjoy” in this context, I certainly found the experience enlightening and even bracing.

Housing cattle in feedlots is an intensive animal feeding technique designed to fatten livestock and encourage the deposit of more fat in the beast’s muscles – known as marbling. There are approximately 600 accredited beef cattle feedlots in Australia, with over 95% family-owned and -operated. In the U.S. the feedlots are much, much bigger than any here in Australia, often holding 150,000 to 200,000 head of cattle. Beef City, the lot I visited, has a 25,000-head capacity and we have only one other which is larger than that in this country.

The fact is most Australian beef is grass-fed and even feedlot cattle spend 80-90% of their lives on grass, only being sent to feedlots for “finishing”.  Cattle are generally sent to feedlots when poor pasture quality during poor seasons or during the dryer winter months, and in southern Australia during the dryer summer months, can result in low weight gain and the need for feedlot finishing.  In comparison, U.S. beef cattle are introduced to a grain diet very early – indeed, some are weaned on to it – and generally spend a much larger percentage of their life confined in small feedlot yards.

As I’m sure many are aware, U.S. grain-feeding is heavily dependent upon a ration of GM corn by-products (obtained from ethanol production), with the addition of antibiotics to prevent the infections that will arise as a result of the stress placed on the beasts. Once again, this is not at all the case here.  Australian feedlots use a much more varied combination of wheat, barley and sorghum – all grains which cattle prefer to grass – and follow strict transitional protocols over a period of weeks to ensure that the beasts have no rumen problems from a sudden change in diet. Antibiotics are NOT used as preventatives here in Australia and are only ever introduced on direct evidence of infection.

Australian feedlots are regulated through the industry’s quality assurance program, the National Feedlot Accreditation Scheme which, in 1995, was the first agricultural quality assurance scheme introduced in Australia and means that every lot in the country is individually audited every year. Environmental aspects are of significant importance here in Australia, too, and all feedlots have to provide monitoring data on soil quality and water tables annually.

My own impressions of Beef City in no way contradicted any of these facts. I was one of a group who were visiting the lot as part of their training and we were taken through every single part of the operation. Nothing was hidden from us, no question went unanswered, and the only thing we were requested not to photograph was the actual kill in the abattoir – not an unreasonable request, I thought.

The cattle in the yards (which were ALL shaded) were content, relaxed, but alert and very curious about the visitors – just as my own cattle in the paddocks are. They are very inquisitive beasts and like to know what is going on. Another thing which is worth knowing about cattle is that they are highly “vocal” and leave you in no doubt if they are unhappy or distressed about something. There was not a murmur out of this lot – apart from the odd contented conversational lowing – and certainly not the calling I hear from mine if one or two of them become separated, or the anxious bellowing of the cows when the calves are separated from the herd.  If they were uncomfortable or distressed, they sure weren’t talking about it.

I’m not aiming to convert anyone with the above thoughts, nor am I posing as any sort of a mouthpiece for industrial agriculture – this is simply an issue which is of personal interest to me. As it turns out,  the facts are a good deal less confronting than I expected and I’m nowhere near as horrified as I thought I’d be.   Large-scale meat production not going to go away and, if we are going to eat it, there is no point in being squeamish about how it gets on our plates. As meat-eaters we have a responsibility to the beast that dies for our dinner and that responsibility includes treating it respectfully while it is alive. Of course, that will not happen in every case, but the standards which are in place are helping us get there. I believe that, as far as Australian beef production is concerned, we are on the right track.

 

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Meet New Zealand Celebrity Chef Annabel Langbein

Published by Tuesday, September 25, 2012 Permalink 0

by Amanda McInerney

The celebrity cooks and chefs of the United States, the UK and Europe are frequently familiar to Australians too, but I sometimes wonder if the reverse is true. We’ve bred some truly remarkable kitchen talents down here in the antipodes — both in Australia and New Zealand — and we well and truly have our share of local celebrity chefs on TV shows and cookbook shelves. While the international Masterchef franchise has blazed across our screens and spawned an entire new crop of  culinary household names, there are plenty that have been steadily and consistently doing their kitchen/foodie thing without all of that fanfare and I’m taking this opportunity to introduce you to one of them.

Continue Reading…

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Eat Drink Blog 2012 – Australia’s National Food Blogging Conference

Published by Monday, August 20, 2012 Permalink 0

By Amanda McInerney

Here in Australia we sometimes feel a little left out of things. As I check out conferences and happenings in the world of food writing, blogging and photography, I frequently envy the short travel distances that those in the Northern hemisphere enjoy to get to any number of exciting events. Here we have three options – we can ‘grow our own’, pay thousands of dollars in airfares & spend many, many hours traveling to get to international events, or simply miss out.

In 2010, a group of passionate Melbourne food bloggers got together and produced Australia’s first-ever national food blogging conference — Eat Drink Blog. It was much appreciated  by those who attended and declared a success. Last year I attended – and hugely enjoyed – the second national Australian food bloggers conference. I travelled to Sydney for the event and took the chance to put faces to some of the names whose writing, recipes and photos I had been enjoying, and to meet plenty whom I had yet to come across in the ether. We spent a terrifically informative day picking up writing, photography and SEO tips, networking and, of course, eating, and I came away vowing to make every effort to get to the next one. Apparently the gods agreed with me on that as, while I was on my recent holiday in Italy, an email from the organisers of last  year’s event winged its way into my inbox asking me to be involved in putting this year’s event together in Adelaide, South Australia.

Last year’s event was extraordinarily well planned and coordinated, completely sponsored, and a unanimous hit with the attendees so we knew we had a pretty tough act to follow. However, we South Australian food types pride ourselves on our food and wine credentials. We have a remarkable array of both commercial and artisan food producers and are not called the wine state for nothing, so we were sure we could put on a pretty special event.

A couple of weeks ago we very proudly announced the program for Eat Drink Blog 2012 and I think we’ve managed to pull together a remarkable array of local, national and international talent to share their knowledge and skills with bloggers from all over Australia. With confirmed speakers including a nationally award-winning photographer, internationally recognised Australian food bloggers and, the icing on our cake, Dianne Jacob — author of “Will Write for Food” — our conference will comprehensively cover food writing, social media, career opportunities, restaurant reviewing, SEO, ethics, blog design, photography, photo editing, food styling, and legal matters. In addition, the delegates will have the opportunity to visit some of South Australia’s premium wine and food regions, sampling the specialties of the regions, spend some time touring the iconic Adelaide Central Market and enjoy a gourmet dinner featuring the very best of our local produce and beverages.

Oh, and it’s all still fully sponsored, so all the delegates have to pay for is their travel and accommodation!

So maybe it’s time for the rest of the world to be just a little envious of us?

For full details of Eat Drink Blog 2012 check our website here.

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Down Under: Cultured butter from South Australia’s Woodside Cheese Wrights

Published by Tuesday, July 10, 2012 Permalink 0

by Amanda McInerney

There’s butter, and then there’s butter

Whenever anyone asks me what were the high points of our recent trip to Europe I always answer with two simple words: the food. We happily indulged ourselves whenever possible, knowing we would be walking it all off within days, and I was pleased to note that I came home carrying no extra baggage except for my shopping.

I was having a conversation about our foodie finds with my friend Kris Lloyd, the cheese-making talent behind South Australia’s multi-award winning Woodside Cheese Wrights, not long after we got back and was waxing lyrical about some butter made from clotted cream (cultured butter) which we had bought on our last day in London. It was part of a significant haul that we took home from London’s Borough Markets for a final feeding frenzy before we flew home and had made  quite an impression. Kris commented that she had recently been “playing around” (her words) with cultured butter, including one which she had washed in whiskey. With the taste of the delicious, golden London lipids still lingering, to say I was eager to try Kris’ efforts would be something of an understatement.

Cultured butter is something of a recent discovery for many Australians, but has been in use for hundreds of years in Europe. The butter we are used to is what Europeans refer to as “sweet cream butter” — delicious, but lacking the depth of flavour of cultured butter. Cultured butter is made in exactly the same way as ordinary butter, but a live culture is added to the cream which is allowed to ripen for some time before being churned, salted (or not) and rinsed. Kris adds the culture to her cream 24 hours before she uses it to make butter, giving the cream time to “clot”.  Cultured butter has a richer, deeper flavour, which some find somewhat tangy, and also comes with a little probiotic boost from the addition of the live culture.

Kris gave me three different batches to play around with — an almost unsalted butter, salted butter and the remarkable whiskey-washed version — and I’ve had a very happy day or two getting to know them. They are all truly delicious and definitely add an extra facet to the dishes I used them in: a Mushroom and Almond Bruschetta with Chèvre and Vanilla-Poached Oranges with Pikelets. I kept these recipes fairly simple in order to let the ingredients do the talking. There’s no point in using outstanding produce and then smothering it with other flavours and fancy techniques; good food doesn’t need to be tricky. The mushrooms I used came from Marco the Mushroom Man in the Adelaide Central Market and the sublime oranges were in our CSA box from Jupiter Creek Farm, all fresh, local and fabulous. I couldn’t help adding some wonderful Beerenberg Caramelised Onions to the mushroom dish. They finished it off perfectly.

Recipe

Mushroom and Almond Bruschetta with Chèvre

Prep time: 5 mins
Cooking time: 10 mins
Total time: 15 mins
Serves: 2
This made a good lunch for 2, but would also make an entrée for 4.

Click here for metric-Imperial conversions.

Ingredients

500 gms Portobello mushrooms, sliced
30 gms toasted almonds, ground as fine as your food processor will allow
100 gms Woodside Cheesewright chèvre
80 gms cultured butter
1 tbsp chopped thyme
1 good pinch of salt
Beerenberg Caramelised Onions or ones you make yourself
2 large slices sourdough bread

Instructions

  1. Melt the butter in moderately hot pan, add mushrooms and salt. Cook on low heat.
  2. When mushrooms begin to soften, add the ground nuts and the thyme. Continue cooking until mushrooms are cooked to taste.
  3. Slice bread and toast. (At this point you may/may not choose to butter it with more of the cultured butter. I’ll leave you to guess what I did.)
  4. Pile the cooked mushrooms on the toasts, sprinkle each with a teaspoon or two of the caramelised onions, then crumble the chèvre over the top. Serve.

The whiskey-washed butter was used in an even simpler dish of pikelets (small bite-sized pancakes) with vanilla-poached oranges, but the combination was absolutely stunning and much appreciated by the guests to whom I served it yesterday for afternoon tea. My good friend Meg is very partial to a wee dram or two of whiskey and her eyes glazed over just a little while eating these.

I’m sure everyone can work out how to make basic pikelets.

As for the vanilla-poached oranges: the oranges were simply peeled, making sure all of the pith was removed, sliced about 10mm thick and gently poached for ten minutes in a syrup made of 1 1/2 cups of white sugar, 1/2 cup of water and one vanilla bean, split open and scraped – hardly a recipe at all!  I cooled them slightly in the syrup, buttered the hot pikelets with the whiskey-washed butter and layered the oranges and pikelets, topping with a dab of the precious butter. Eat, then swoon.

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Tasting Australia: The Internationally Recognised Aussie Food Fest

Published by Tuesday, July 3, 2012 Permalink 0

by Amanda McInerney

The stands have been taken down from the riverbanks in Elder Park; the visiting journalists and food writers have packed up their loot bags and flown home; PR bods are splinting their Tweeting/texting fingers, and exhausted, hardworking chefs, waiters, dishies and sommeliers all around Adelaide are breathing a huge sigh of relief as they slip into a restorative beverage or two. The Battle of the Chefs has been fought and won; celebrity dinners have been cooked and eaten; the master classes, kids cooking classes and celebrity demonstrations have been enjoyed, pearls of culinary literary wisdom have been dropped and retrieved at the Word of Mouth sessions, and the food-related exhibitions, workshops and competitions are done. The massive 8-day food and wine binge that is Tasting Australia is over for another two years.

A product of the fertile imagination of Western Australian chef and television personality Ian Parmenter, Tasting Australia has developed and grown since its very successful beginnings in 1997 to become one of the nation’s most influential and best attended culinary events. This year’s event has built upon this reputation and not only attracted more than 40,000 happy eaters to the two-day “Bank SA Feast of the Senses,” where the public can pick and choose food and wine from some of the state’s very best producers and chefs, but the informed eye would also have been able to spot flocks of interstate and international chefs, journalists and food writers. More than 150 high-profile gastronomic guests were being carefully herded about the state in manageable groups (not so simple a task as it might sound) as producers from Port Lincoln in the west, all the way down to the Coonawarra in the south-east took the opportunity to show off the culinary cachet for which this state has become noted.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tasting Australia attracts an exceptional amount of international interest and food professionals from all areas of the culinary sphere, as well as journalists from all corners of the globe, who congregate in Adelaide for this time period.  I helped Mark Gleeson of the Providore conduct the very first formal event of Tasting Australia – a (very) quick walking tour of our prime food gem, Adelaide Central Market, followed by a cheese workshop conducted by Valerie Henbest of the Smelly Cheese Shop – with a group which included, among others, journalists from Singapore, Hong Kong, Italy and Sweden, author Matthew Fort and chef Mark Hix from London and Dublin-based food, wine and restaurant critic Ernie Whalley.  They were just one part of the international contingent which was here expressly to get to know South Australian and Australian food.

The kind of exposure this generates for us simply cannot be underestimated and I have heard it stated that this festival has generated in excess of $100 million worth of editorial PR for South Australia and Australia. The overseas guests who enjoy our hospitality are ushered around to some of our most talented and respected food producers – both in and around Adelaide and regionally. They get the chance to meet and engage with nationally and internationally recognised brands like Maggie Beer and Jacobs Creek, but also many of the smaller producers and food/wine businesses whose goods merit equal attention, but whose advertising budgets are more modest and thus are less well known. There are trips out to the oyster leases in the pristine waters off the Eyre Peninsula, visits to the free-range home of Minribbie Farm Berkshire pork and (no doubt happy) time spent at South Australia’s first boutique distillery on beautiful Kangaroo Island – all aimed at showing off what we enjoy here in the hopes it will be shared with the rest of the world.

Photo (C) Amanda McInenry, for The Rambling Epicure, Switzerland. Editor, Jonell Galloway.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The dust is settling on this year’s celebration and within a surprisingly short amount of time the planning for the next festival will begin.  Under fresh, new leadership things will change and the celebration may take on a different look, as it should after 16 years of much the same sort of format.  What won’t change is the remarkable wealth of great food and wine products which we enjoy in South Australia, and the enormous dedication, expertise and passion of the people who are behind the production and promotion of it. It is our local skills which make Tasting Australia the tremendous success it is today, so – South Australia, take a bow!

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