Thursday, January 13, 2011

Strawberries, wine and cheese on the mornington peninsula

Last week when Melbourne's weather turned the corner into summer and we briefly had sun, we figured it was about time we took our Swedish family out of the museums and off to enjoy the outdoors. We took our visitors to spent a day visiting the food and wine paradise around Red Hill. So many wineries and so much fruit and veg for sale direct from the farms!!!! And all 10 minutes drive from my brothers house. I really should visit him more often... For his comany of course, not just the strawberries...

There were heaps of of options for a visit to the area. Pick up a monington peninsula guide at any winery for listings and a winery trail map. You can also see the map online here, you will need a guide for listings that are not wineries however. The listing changes from year to year but there were 52 wineries listed this year, all colour coded with their open times so you can plan your day.

There are so many places to talk about, so I will just limit myself to our 4 highlights and a few honorable mentions.

We started the day at Sunny Ridge Strawberry farm. If you are able, get here early. This place gets very very very busy at times, particularly on weekends and school holidays during strawberry picking times. It is very popular with families with young children - kids under 3 pick for free. And they grow delicious strawberries here. Once you pay your picking fee, you get a punnet and head off to pick your choice of berries from the strawberry fields.

Sunnyridge strawberry farm picking fields
 After picking our berries, we headed back to the cafe to sample some of their creations. There are a lot of desserts to choose from, and of course nearly everything on offer revolves around strawberries. There can be a bit of a wait on orders from the cafe as the place can get very busy. We ordered at 10am and there was already a 30 minute wait. They make a good cup of coffee here, and offer soy milk for coffees, shakes and their delicious strawberry smoothies.

We ordered the devonshire tea, with strawberry jam. I don't usually like scones much, but these I could actually manage to eat. The jam was one of the best strawberry jams I have had, very full of fruit and not overpoweringly sweet like some can be. 

Sunny Ridge devonshire tea.

On the specials for the day was also a strawberry mousse, which everyone shared a taste of. It was full of ripe strawberry flavour and very smooth and creamy. Again, not overly sweet either. I am going to have to use some of the strawberries we picked to try making a dairy free strawberry mousse very soon I think. We left there with so many strawberries, most of them we ate over the next few days but I still have a kilo of berries sitting in my freezer now ready to turn into a raw cheese cake or a mousse.
Sunny Ridge strawberry mousse

I also ordered some chocolate dipped strawberries for the table. Just look at the size of those strawberries!

Sunny Ridge chocolate dipped strawberries.

There was some regret amongst our younger guests that they didn't order the famous strawberry ice cream sundae after we saw some being delivered out to another table. Check the link here to see why - Strawberry temptation. This farm is also closely tied to a wine maker who turns the strawberries into 100% strawberry sparkling wines and liqueurs. Previously I have enquired with them about their fining process and was advised their wines were suitable for vegans. On this visit however I was not able to get an answer to the question as the wine makers were not present, which disturbed me. I have sent through queries to the wine maker again to confirm the wines are still vegan.

At Sunny Ridge they have a shopfront selling lots of their strawberry and orchard produce such as jams and freeze dried berries, but also sell other local produce such as spices, soaps and hand made fudge.

Of the wineries we visited, there were 2 standouts - T'Gallant and Montalto.

We stopped for lunch at T'Gallant. Many wineries in the region will offer a restaurant lunch, and some like T'Gallant will also offer a more casual dining option. At T'Gallant they had affordable, quality pizzas. Of the 4 pizza options on their menu, 3 are vegetarian. We ordered a half magharita and half mushroom gorgonzolla pizza and they were both so so good, even if all the cheese meant I could only have small piece. The third veg pizza option is zucchini mint and rocket, which I have not tried but my brother assures me is just as good. No one was overly hungry for a big lunch with all the tastings that we were doing from place to place, so we just ordered 2 full size pizzas for 12 people. Shown below is 1 full size pizza with half/half topping.

Wine wise, those that did the tasting recommended the pink moscato and a white wine called claudius. The Claudius I was told, is particularly unusual as it is made from white grapes but by red wine techniques. 

Later in the afternoon we found ourselves at Montalto vinyard and olive grove. Aside from family shots, all I have from here is a picture of the view:

and the rose garden hiding in their wetlands walk:

At Montalto we sampled the olive oil served with ciabatta bread, and a dish of unpitted marinated olives. The highlights for the wine tasters were the late harvest reisling and the rosé. Those of us who were not doing tastings took a walk around the estate, through their sculpture garden and wetlands walk. Around the estate you will find a variety of sculptures that have won Montalto's sculpture prize.

Montalto, like T'Gallant, has an informal dining menu available as well as a restaurant. A good deal of the produce they use in the restaurant is grown in the estates vegetable gardens and fruit and nut orchards and you can walk through these areas. The restaurant staff advised us that should we wish to return for another visit, they are more than happy to cater for vegetarians if requested on booking.

Our last stop for the day was Red Hill Cheese. Nestled in bushlands, the seating on the balcony area gives a wonderful setting for a cheese tasting and a perfect finish for the day. I was very pleased to see here that all the cheeses are made with vegetarian rennet.

The cheesery offers a tasting platter of 8 of their 20 or so cheeses. The cheeses offered on the platter vary from day to day so you will likely not get the exact same tasting experience twice. The platter will always start with a mild cheese and work it's way up to the strongest, and will include a combination of goat, cow and sheeps milk cheeses.

Following the tasting, pieces of their cheeses can be purchased in their shop front, along with other locally made cheese accessories and accompaniments. Their cheese are also available at a number of places through Melbourne, a listing of these outlets can be found here.

A few other places in the area that I recommend checking out are Gordon Studio Glassblowers, whos beautiful works can be seen here, Mornington Peninsula Chocolates, where the chilli tequilla chocolate was an experience in itself, and to Red Hill Cool Stores which provides space to local artists crafters and producers to display and sell their work.

At all places visited I skipped the wine tasting as I was playing designated driver, so did not get a chance to speak to the wine makers to find which, if any, wines are suitable for vegetarians or vegans. I have made inquiries at the wineries visited since and I will update this post with a list when we get replies. I hope I get replies.

If wineries and farms are not your thing, after we finished at Red Hill, we headed down to Lakes Entrance to introduce Kev's family to my family, and spend a few days enjoying the sun. Below are a couple of pictures taken of the beautiful views, beaches, and the Buchan caves.

View of the lakes system from the top of Kalimna hill, Lakes Entrance

Lakes Entrance main beach

Buchan caves, Font of the Gods, Royal cave system

Red Hill is about an hours drive from Melbourne, Lakes Entrance and Buchan are around a 4 hour drive.


  1. you seem to hvae found some great places to take your visitors - I have always had family in Rye and Sorrento but have spent little time around Red Hill - must change that!

  2. Oh gosh, please please post your raw strawberry recipe if/when you make it! I'm planning to make a raw cheezecake soon myself - just have to make room in my freezer first ;)

    Those caves are so striking, too!

  3. Johanna - We did take the family to some great places while they were over, and they did some amazing things. Being a Gippsland girl, and having family in Dromana and Rye, I knew lots of great places for day trips and such. It was around Melbourne I needed a little help with ideas. Thanks again for the tip on montsalvat, it was very much enjoyed.

    Hannah - I will definitely post the recipe when I make the mousse :)