Between the ongoing pandemic and the recent bushfires, it’s more important than ever to support the small businesses who have been most affected. That’s the philosophy behind Empty Esky, a new tourism movement that encourages people to literally grab an empty Esky and get on the road.
The fertile region of Gippsland may have borne the brunt of bushfires in early 2020, but it continues to produce some of the nation’s most delicious produce. Here’s where to hit the road and start loading up.
Bassine Specialty Cheeses
Bassine has been producing artisanal cheeses here since 1966. Now run by the second and third generation of the founding Bisognin family, the farm yields haloumi and brie, ricotta and gouda. Hit up the on-site cafe to sample any or all of those, plus fresh milk (also available in milkshakes) or feta soaked in oil with native botanicals like lemon myrtle and pepper berries. Bassine does everything with care: every cow gets a name, as well as two months off “work” per year. And while you’re on the Gippsland dairy trail, check out Prom Country Cheese too.
2125 Bass Highway, Glen Forbes 3991
Sardine Eatery and Bar
Some of the region’s best fish and seafood is housed here at this quaint bistro overlooking Raymond Island. Opened in 2017 by Michelin-starred chef Mark Briggs (former head chef at Vue de Monde) and partner Victoria Hollingsworth, Sardine’s namesake is served here in hand-filleted tartlets with smoked garlic aioli. There’s also roe from the Yarra Valley and prawns and bugs from the very lake the restaurant overlooks. It’s not just seafood that’s local: the beef, pork, eggs and honey are all sourced directly from the Gippsland region.
3 65-69A Esplanade, Paynesville 3880
Udder & Hoe
A speciality outgrowth of Kilcunda General Store, this small grocer is a virtual store-sized hamper, stocking a cross-section of Gippsland goods – from the requisite fruit and veg, to a wealth of nuts, grains, seeds, oils, cheeses, breads and mushrooms. Befitting the region’s natural connections, the shop also prioritises waste-free living, encouraging customers to bring their own containers to fill. Check out the second store in Loch, which includes a cafe that serves this bounty on a plate.
3535 Bass Highway Kilcunda 3995
Meat is the major drawcard at Hogget Kitchen, a seasonal-minded eatery opened by chef Trevor Perkins and winemakers William (Bill) Downie and Pat Sullivan, on the generous acreage of Wild Dog Winery. All the carving and butchering (and smoking and brining) is done in-house here, with a nose-to-tail philosophy of sustainable consumption. In winter that might mean lamb shank ragu gnocchi, while spring and summer focus more on seafood. With expert winemakers leasing the winery itself, expect some on-point wine pairings.
6 Farrington Close Warragul 3820
Earth & Soul Pizza
True to its name, Earth & Soul prizes sustainable ingredients while delivering handcrafted pizza. Everything from meat and eggs to fruit and chillies are sourced locally, yielding an inspired array of toppings. Meat lovers need try the heat-driven, chicken-and-bacon Scorpion, or a smoky pulled-pork pizza complete with slaw. Vegetarians rejoice in a full slate of options, including the likes of cauliflower and pine nuts and there are gluten free bases and vegan cheese available too. Pasta and risotto are here for those looking beyond pizza. Whichever way you lean, the prodigious menu means you’ll want to order enough to go.
122 Main St, Bairnsdale VIC 3875