Imagine a magnificent day out tasting flavours and ingredients that you might never have tried before, mixing with people who are passionate and knowledgeable about premium food, and along the way hearing inspiring stories of determination, ingenuity, risk and innovation?

The third annual Horowhenua Taste Trail, which takes place on Saturday 24 November, promises to deliver all of that and more. It’s a taste trail that creates a live paddock-to-plate experience and a rare behind-the-scenes look at areas of food production that consumers would not normally see.

When Antony Young, Chairman of the Horowhenua Taste Trail, first tried to convince me to travel to Levin to meet some of this year’s Taste Trail producers, I was sceptical. I had visions of traipsing across factory floors, past endless stainless-steel benchtops wearing plastic goggles and a hairnet. Commercial kitchens and processing plants are hardly a thrilling prospect for many of us. However, my Horowhenua experience was absolutely not what I expected and I’m so glad I took the time to hit the trail in person.

This community of like-minded and incredibly hard-working producers and growers has created an event that provides a rare and valuable level of transparency around how our food is produced and handled on a commercial scale. The event also shines a light on the immense value of fresh, locally produced food.

What really stands out is the incredible warmth and authenticity of the Taste Trail producers as they offer participants exclusive access to unique experiences which showcase the produce and reveal some of the secrets behind the production process. You’ll meet families that have passed down skills, traditions and flavours through generations and you’ll meet raw, new business owners taking risks to deliver products that are shaping a new and sustainable approach to food and the way we eat. Most of all you will discover why we need to put a value on premium produce and products and why we need to be prepared to pay a little more at a time when we can’t seem to get enough from our hard-earned dollars.

At many of the producer venues you’ll be able to sample freshly prepared dishes created by chefs and inspired by pure Horowhenua ingredients. You might also pick up a recipe idea or two to go with the shopping basket of products that you will undoubtedly gather. If you get in quick you can also extend your Taste Trail and sign up for a series of Savour Events that will include chefs’ talks, a champagne breakfast, a masterclass and a wind-down beer and burger event to finish off the day.

GENOESE

Established in Levin in 1993, Genoese is a family-owned and operated business manufacturing premium pesto from herbs and all-natural ingredients. You’ll meet members of the Parkin family and learn why sometimes locally grown is not always the best solution. The Parkins grow their fresh basil in Fiji, working with local families who make it possible for them to have the fresh, intensely flavoured Fijian basil available all year round. Genoese have just launched three new pesto products and they have been working on a very cool new vegan pesto (see page 38). Fresh handmade saffron tagliatelle pasta with Genoese Basil Pesto and parmesan made by Capitol Restaurant will be ready for visitors to taste. genoese.co.nz

THOROUGHBREAD FOODS

‘Rising with distinction’ is a great tagline for Thoroughbread Foods. In 1989, Rebecca Rolls baked her first loaf of bread and eventually found her way to selling the product at a local market. Not wanting to turn away customers in search of a gluten-free loaf, Rebecca started the long and tedious process of inventing a gluten- free flour base that could tick all of her boxes – great taste, great nutritional value and great texture. Thoroughbread is now a family-owned company selling gluten-free baked goods at farmers’ markets and to specialist grocers. Through the love of food and a passion for health, she strives to make the best products possible. thoroughbread.nz

TURK’S

Turk’s free-range chickens are fed on corn, producing healthy chickens with delicious flavour and goodness. The corn is GE-free and the chickens are not genetically modified. Ron Turk places an emphasis on staff welfare, community support, sustainability and an innovative approach to new products. What originally started as a business farming chickens for eggs has now grown into an operation that is about producing premium meat that has no added hormones, no artificial colours or flavours and no preservatives. To showcase this premium poultry, for the Horowhenua Taste Trail event Turk’s is pairing with Yatai Japanese Izakaya Restaurant to give visitors a taste of Japanese curry made with Turk’s free-range chicken thigh, served with steamed rice, hand-shredded cabbage salad and katsu, a piece of panko-crumbed Turk’s free range chicken breast. turks.co.nz

WOODHAVEN GARDENS

Born from the need to create an income while caring for a loved one with multiple sclerosis, Woodhaven Gardens is now a family-run commercial growing operation located on the fertile plains of the Horowhenua. Deeply influenced by its history and diverse people and yet firmly focussed on the future, the Clarke family has production in excess of 400 hectares, growing and distributing quality vegetables both nationally and internationally. I am still hearing the crunch and tasting the freshness. The team from Cafe Royale has worked hard to create a trio showing off Woodhaven’s premium vegetables: macerated kale and cabbage in a herb dressing combined with iceberg lettuce, with slivered carrot and radish on the side; spinach pastry with fennel and lemon cream cheese topped with sliced roast carrot; and spinach, leek and brie arancini. These will be available for visitors to the farm to try on the Taste Trail. woodhavengardens.co.nz

 

LEWIS FARMS

Lewis Farms is the home of Tendertips Asparagus and fresh strawberries grown lovingly by Cam and Catherine Lewis. It’s a family-owned and operated business that has been in the Horowhenua since 1934. The strawberries are a new venture with 2018 the inaugural season. As fourth- generation farmers on the land and with dad Geoff Lewis still weighing in, they showcase over 75 years’ of farming knowledge that goes a long way to producing top-quality flavour that is also attracting a premium international market. Ocean Beach Eatery has created a special dish of Tendertips Asparagus Juicy Jumbos with a fried free-range egg, hollandaise, toasted seeds and nuts that visitors to the farm can sample on the day. lewisfarms.co.nz

WOODY’S FREE RANGE FARM

Woody’s mantra is ‘Know your farmer, know your meat.’ Daniel Todd, his wife Claire (and dog Woody) specialise in heritage pig breeds and they process a range of delicious smallgoods from their fabulous new facility in Levin. Their butchery processes more than one ton of pork a week, supplying to top NZ restaurants and specialty food stores. Their goal is to stop NZ consumers from eating meat from battery-caged animals by providing an ethical alternative with 100% provenance of their meat. woodysfarm.co.nz

LEVIN EEL TRADING

Erik Kuijten at Levin Eel Trading runs a family-owned business that is proudly putting New Zealand premium product on the global map. The company started in 1978, specialising in processing and exporting frozen eels throughout Asia and Europe and now also export live eels straight to the markets in Asia, Europe and North America. New Zealand freshwater eels are managed through the New Zealand Quota Management System to ensure a sustainable future. You may or may not be up for taking a stroll through a tank full of live eels, but whatever you do, don’t miss out on trying their smoked-eel fillets. levineel.co.nz

BAGRIE FARM

Bagrie Farm is a state-of-the-art family dairy operation based in Waitarere, with a modern 54-bale rotary milking shed that is fitted out with the latest technology. They also operate an earthmoving, roading and agricultural contracting business which has been running in the Horowhenua since 1986. Graeme Bagrie welcomes visitors to the farm saying, “There is definitely no secret squirrel here.” Having some of the best technology available in NZ gives Bagrie Farm the opportunity to showcase NZ innovation and export it to the world. To highlight this delicious product the folks at Artisan Kitchen have come up with a special vanilla pannacotta made with fresh cream, served with raspberries and crushed meringue.

THE BAKED DANE

The Baked Dane is a newly established local business that specialises in rustic Scandinavian-inspired baked goods. Two years ago owner-operator Lisa Brink started baking and selling home-baked goods at local farmers’ markets as a hobby. Before she knew it she had quit her daytime job as a logistics coordinator and turned her guesthouse into a commercial kitchen, becoming widely known and sought after for her original and gluten-free knækbrød and freshly baked Danish ryebread. facebook.com/thebakeddane

THE ULTIMATE EGG

Originally set up in 1992 as Valleyview Farms by Nick and Katherine Bennik, The Ultimate Egg and Poultry Company now acts as an umbrella for five sites involving a group of like-minded farmers, producing real free-range eggs or barn-laid eggs. The family- owned business provides a wholesale distribution throughout New Zealand supplying cafes, restaurants, supermarkets and specialty food stores.  With exceptionally high animal- welfare standards, the Ultimate Egg was one of the first barn-egg suppliers to be SPCA Blue Tick approved ultimateegg.co.nz

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