Author Archives: Elle Armon-Jones

The Big New Zealand Food and Wine Virtual Tour

Posted by Elle Armon-Jones on April 08, 2020

Welcome to day one of our Tour de Vineyards or The Big New Zealand Food and Wine Virtual Tour. We’re starting right up here in Northland in the historic town of KeriKeri. KeriKeri is the largest Northland town where the sunshine is endless and the area is rich in history and culture. 

Our tour starts at the The Old Pack House Farmers Market run by Warwick and Judy Hyland who have dedicated the last few years turning an old fruit pack house into the thriving market hub it is today. Everytime we visit the farmers market there is something new and exciting happening. The onsite bakery pumps out breads, cakes, pastries and delicious delicious pies. To be honest I'm not the biggest pie person, but there is no way I am going to miss out on the beef and oyster Pie, made using oysters from Warwick's farm. On Saturday mornings it is full farmers market day with produce so local and so fresh it's very easy to fill shopping baskets to the brim. 

You can find excellent olive oil, beers from a local brewery, honey, eggs, some glorious crafts and weaving. One of the stalls makes delicious fritters! I love a good mussel fritter and theirs is one of the best I have found in New Zealand. Make sure you take away some of the local sausages and keep an eye out for all the seasonal goodies too. I love the Macadamias when they are super fresh and very creamy. We bring bags of the shells home for the fire places at Vineyard Cottages.

Just across the road from the Old Pack House market is the Makana Chocolate Factory. The company has three branches in Blenheim, Auckland and Kerikeri. There are big windows into the factory so you can see the chocolate being made right in front of you and generous samples are handed out when you walk through the front door. 

I'm totally partial to the macadamia crunch. It's not often I managed to get away from the Chocolate Factory without at least two or three boxes - obviously to share with friends and family!

If you're going to stay the night in Kerikeri, The Kerikeri Park Lodge is right across the road from the farmers market and only a 10 minute walk into the main town. it's clean spacious rooms are much more than your average motel room and it is tucked down the driveway away from the road creating a very peaceful and tranquil location to stay. In Kerikeri town a favourite place to eat is the Jerusalem Cafe. It's off the main road down an alleyway and can always be found full of happy diners. The best thing about the menu is you can pretty much try everything with their generous portions and combinations of mezze options. Whatever you do, try the aubergine dip and the Israeli wines

 

Follow the road out of the town and down the hill to the Stone Store. A favourite stop on the tourist route, it was built beside the river in 1832 by the missionaries as a warehouse. Today it is a wonderful shop full of all kinds of knick-knacks souvenirs and artefacts of a bygone era.

One of our favourite wineries in Northland is the Marsden estate. It is a family run Vineyard set on 10 acres growing varietals are not often found in New Zealand including pinotage, a hybrid grape originally from South Africa. With fellow hybrid Chambourcin (say what?) grown in the vineyard, a trip to Marsden is a must if you are looking for the unusual.  You can enjoy breakfast or lunch and there beautiful restaurant or down by the lake looking out over the vineyard.

Now if you're going to head all the way up to Northland you really can't leave without a bottle of the local limoncello from the team at Sovrano.  It is liquid gold or liquid antidepressant if you need to put a smile on your dial. It has long been one of my favourite drinks morning noon or night! The Limoncello cream comes with a highly addictive health warning and we're very partial to the chocolate and coffee liqueur as well. Many of our guests have looked at me oddly over the years when I have told them it is a compulsory tasting, with many declaring “But we have been to Italy and had the real thing.” or “Oh but, I make Limoncello at home and my friends say it’s amazing.” I refrain from saying what I want to say and smile when they all drop to their knees in love with Sovrano’s bottles of joy!

 

You can find them at the Old Pack House farmers market on a Saturday that rumour has it they are opening a new factory very soon! If you’re only visiting Auckland, Parnell Market and La Cigale are your places to head to at the weekends to stock up. 

 

So we're off on the bike heading south and within 10 minutes were at the Mahoe cheese factory. owned and run by a Dutch family making some of the most extraordinary cheeses in the country, Mahoe produces the crack cocaine of cheese AKA The Very Old Edam. It’s a story we tell every day that out of all the thousands of people who have done our Tastebud Tours over the years, only two didn’t fall in love with the cheese and were instantly banned from New Zealand. 

Mahoe is down a tree lined driveway and if you’re in the know ask them if they have any camembert out the back. It is delicious! The cooking cheese is fab for pizzas, grilled cheese and mac n cheese! 

I can highly recommend taking the detour around to Paihia to jump on the ferry over to the beautiful town of Russell to watch the sunset outside the Duke of Marlborough with a glass of wine in hand and dinner on the deck at the Historic Hotel. But for now, we head South!

 

Farming Tours in Auckland

Posted by Elle Armon-Jones on February 28, 2019

Sometimes you meet a group of people in this job and you know that you've made some great connections forever.

Last weekend I had the great privilege of hosting a group of global visitors all visiting New Zealand through the Friendship Force Organisation.

The group is in New Zealand with three weeks to explore the North Island through the different farming communities, connecting with the local producers farmers and growers throughout their time in the country.

The group came to stay with me at Vineyard Cottages and we spent a full day in the North West Auckland region discovering the diversity of growers and farmers in this area.

Our first stop was to Highland Cow breeder where we were introduced to nearly 30 different cattle, learning from the farmers Jenny and Doug the importance of blood lines pedigree and commitment. We were able to see the management of their farm block through mapping and learnt the perils of plastic silage wrap. The group was lucky to meet an award winning gentle cow who was happily tied up to the fence and enjoyed the attention of the enthusiastic group.  During our time with Jenny and Doug, Doug explained the importance of the horns to the breed, the reason they chose Highland cows over other beef breeds, weaning, placating the cattle and told stories of survival of the fittest during calving season.  While most of our tours are focused around what you can eat in the country, learning where our meat comes from is one of the most interesting areas we work in. 

After coffee in one of the area’s most well-known farm shops where everyone took full advantage of fruit season and the home made pastries,  we visited Vishna who is growing table grapes, purely because she was asked to by locals if she would! During dinner the night before I had explained to the group how when we moved to Vineyard cottagers, I have been to the local vegetable market and tried these incredible grapes. To me they tasted like a childhood sweet. They almost tasted fake because the flavour is so intense and not like generic supermarket grapes at all. We were able to wonder underneath the arbour of grapevines while Vishna, the grower picked some of the ripest and  the most delicious grapes for us. We did buy a couple of boxes to take home to be added to what is now affectionately known as the friendship Force fruit pizza and most of the group agreed with my description of the grapes!

We concluded our morning touring by visiting one of my favourite honey producers on their property on the way out to Bethells Beach. Terry and Karlene have been producing their Manuka honey the nearly 20 years. Not only of honey in jars but also using the wax for medicinal purposes in balms and creams and lotions. We bought some of the delicious Apple cider honeygar to have as part of dish created for our evening meal. After a spectacular dinner of barbecued lamb (thank you gents for your very dedicated work on the grills) salads and a requested second serving of our famous roast potatoes, I was very embarrassed to bring out a super sticky pastry laden with stone fruits and grapes from our visit Vishna's. However, everyone thoroughly enjoyed it and I was delighted to claim the recipe as my own and it will forever be called the Friendship Force Fruit Pizza.

Waving goodbye the next morning and returning the lodge, the dining room it was eerily quiet and I have to say, I would very much like it if the Friendship Force group were back in town every week. Happy travelling gang!

Lots of love

Elle

Tiaki Promise

Posted by Elle Armon-Jones on November 03, 2018

New Zealand is precious, and everyone who lives and travels here has a responsibility to look after it.

The Tiaki Promise is a commitment to care for New Zealand, for now and for future generations.

By following the Tiaki Promise, you are making a commitment to New Zealand. To act as a guardian, protecting and preserving our home.

 

At The Big Foody Food Tours our commitment to preserving, nurturing and respecting New Zealand is one of the reasons we set us the business. We care deeply about the country we live in and adore and commit to the protection of its future. 

Cuisine Magazine's Top 100 New Zealand Restaurants

Posted by Elle Armon-Jones on September 10, 2018

Cuisine Magazine have just announced their top 100 New Zealand restaurants for 2018. There are some classics and some newbies to the list! If you're looking for a great list of places to eat in New Zealand, this is the one to follow! We are delighted to see our friends and colleagues at Culprit, Bistronomy, Pacifica and The Hunting Lodge are on the list!

Check the list out below!

Cuisine Magazine's New Zealand Top 100 Restaurants 2018

To Biddy

Posted by Elle Armon-Jones on July 18, 2018

When I started The Big Foody, one of the most exiting things that I knew would happen was meeting the people behind the foods that we talked about. I have travelled the length and breadth of the country meeting people over the last 8 years and each and everyone of them has been fabulous. But it was Biddy Fraser-Davies who I wanted to meet the most.

From the first time Calum at Sabato gave me her cheese to try, to watching her on Country Calendar, hearing her plight against the monsters at MPI and speaking to her on the phone, she was a character I just wanted to spend some time with.

As much as we loved Biddy at The Big Foody, we loved her cows too. Biddy didn’t start making cheese until she was given her first house cow Gwendoline 15 years ago. Now Patsy, Dizzy, Holly, Isabel, Nellie, Nora and Lilly were all names of cows, I have photos of on my phone. In 2014 Biddy’s cheese won a super gold award at the World Cheese Awards in London! From the social metropolis of Eketahuna, in New Zealand, that cheese rocked the awards.

Earlier this year we had our fab group of 20, on a tour passing through Eketahuna and last minute I called Biddy to ask whether we could pop in. In true Biddy style she told me off for arranging our tour on a Monday when she was making cheese and couldn’t talk to us, but there she was at the end of the path waiting to welcome us to Cwmglynn and tell us her story.

We met the cows that have been part of our tours for years, saw the infamous model railway, chatted with Colin and Biddy and of course tried the cheese. When I got back on the bus with the group, a big part of me wanted to just jump off again and go and hang out some more. But driving away there was a very special feeling of “that was awesome!”

Biddy died last Friday unexpectedly and when Calum told me on Saturday I sat down and cried. Why? Because in the 4 or so years I have talked about Cwmglynn farmhouse cheese to our guests, I have learnt what tenacity, determination and standing up for your cause really meant. Because of Biddy, I have learnt more about making cheese, storing cheese, maturing cheese, Eketahuna (!) and keeping it real and authentic, than I have from anyone else.

God bless you Biddy, thank you for everything, I will miss you greatly.

 

Elle

 

An Amazing Week

Posted by Elle Armon-Jones on March 20, 2018

Hawkes Bay is one of my favourite places in New Zealand. The colours, the countryside, the people and of course the food lure me back year after year. This year a group of 20 came with me as we discovered the culinary joys of this stunning region and onwards to Wellington.

Our tour started off at the 2017 Cuisine Magazine restaurant of the year Pacifica. Run by couple Jeremy Rameka and the gorgeous Natalie Bulman, Pacifica is a modest but sophisticated restaurant on Marine Parade. Four days before we all sat to dine, Jeremy had competed in and completed the Taupo Iron Man competition. A gruelling task for for a trained athlete let alone a man who spends all day in a kitchen. We were awed by a homemade pasta dish served with a sweetcorn and mozzarella cream that had us all oohing and ahhhhin as we ate it.

New friendships were forged and as we met the following morning, the revolting cyclonic weather that whipped our hair into different directions than it would normally be, could do nothing to dampen the spirits of the group. Our courageous bus driver successfully navigated the gusts to take us up to the Te Mata peak, where group photos had everyone in fits of giggles.

The highlight of the Friday was definitely our trip to Cape Kidnappers. Our trip around the gardens had to be forgone by the winds and rain, but the amazing garden team had gathered some of the native herbs and plants, their heirloom vegetables and salads and little alpine strawberries for us to try. Did you know that growing strawberries in a pine needle mulch will improve their flavour? No nor did we!

Our four course lunch kicked of with a very fresh bluff oyster served on a bd of samphire. I love love love samphire especially slightly pickled. This was delicious!

We went on to be wowed by a kaffir lime broth poured over a piece of mouth watering kingfish and an amazing lamb main course.

Yoghurt panna cotta and rosemary roasted peaches made the perfect dessert and we finished with local cheese the Sleeping Giant sheep cheddar.

The banter between chef, maitre’d and waiters kept us all entertained and we left wishing we could afford the $17,000 / night accommodation! What a treat of a day it was.

Stewed Strawberries in Pinot Noir

Posted by Elle Armon-Jones on December 20, 2017

Stewed Strawberries in Pinot Noir

Years ago I was just in time to walk in the front door of Lauraine Jacob's house just as she was finishing up from a photo shoot for the Listener, immediately this dessert was thrust in my hands with the instructions to "try this". So I did. And it is still one of my most favourite desserts to this day. 

2 punnets strawberries
1 vanilla bean
4 tbsp sugar
1 cup pinot noir
1 large orange
1 cup Greek yogurt
8 mint leaves, sliced thinly

Remove the tops from the strawberries and cut each in half. Place the vanilla and sugar in a pan with the pinot noir and over gentle heat dissolve the sugar. Add the strawberries and bring to a very gentle simmer. Allow the berries to cook for 3-4 minutes, then remove from the heat.

Chill in the refrigerator. When ready to serve, peel the orange, removing all the white pith and cut into segments or small pieces. Add the orange to the stewed strawberries in the syrup and spoon servings into small glass dishes.

Spoon a little yogurt on top and decorate with the sliced mint.

Plum Pie

Posted by Elle Armon-Jones on December 20, 2017

TheBigFoodyPlumPie

Sweet Shortcrust Pastry

90g softened butter
65g caster sugar
3 free-range egg yolks
200g plain flour plus a little extra for dusting

Cream the butter and sugar together in a bowl until nice and pale. Then beat in the egg yolks, one at a time until totally incorporated into the mixture. Add in the flour until the mixture comes together as a ball of dough. Tip the pastry out onto a floured work surface and knead briefly until smooth. This shouldn’t take long and don’t over knead! Wrap the pastry in cling film and chill for 30 - 60 mins. I often make double the quantity and freeze half so I’ve always got some.

Makes 300g

 

Plum filling

800g-1kg plums

3tbsp brown sugar

Pinch of ground ginger

Pinch of ground cloves

2tbsp ground almonds

One egg beaten

Wash the plums and chop them in half removing the stones. In a bowl mix together with cloves, ginger and sugar.


Method

Split the pastry into two thirds and one third. Roll the â…” to line the pie tin. Blind bake the pie base on 180 for 20 minutes or until cooked through and golden

Leave to cool for 10 mins

Scatter the bottom of the pie with the ground almonds and fill with the plum mix. Roll the remaining pastry and top the pie. Prink the pastry with a fork to let the steam out and brush with the beaten egg. I like to sprinkle brown sugar on the top, but it’s not necessary. Cook at 180 for 30-40 mins. Serve with ice cream or creme fraiche or just drowning in fresh cream!

Cultural Evenings

Posted by Elle Armon-Jones on December 06, 2017

On one of the first dry evenings we have had this spring, a group of international visitors here on business were invited to a truly intimate cultural experience at our home base Vineyard Cottages.

Legs of pork, chickens, kumara, potato and cabbage filled with coconut was piled into the pit on top of boiling hot volcanic rocks and covered with sheets, hessian sacks, palm leaves and earth. 3 hours later it was pulled from the ground and taken down to the lodge for everyone to tuck into.

Experiencing a hangi is one of the most authentic ways to experience New Zealand. It’s not a native New Zealand way of cooking but a true Polynesian one. Tucked away in amongst the vines of Waimauku our hangi evenings are the perfect way to try some of the most delicious food you will have in New Zealand.

This year has seen a great rise in the opportunity to try hangi cooked food. Monique Fiso has dedicated this year to extraordinary dining experiences around the country with her pop up restaurant Hia Kai. Rewi Spraggon, The Hangi Master opens a new hangi food truck in Auckland city later this month and at Taste of Auckland last month he and his team cooked gourmet hangis with a number of Auckland chefs throughout the festival.

From late summer onwards we will be doing a weekly hangi at Vineyard Cottages for our guests and anyone who would like to join us. Places will be limited to 25 per week and we will be doing pick ups and drop off from Auckland CBD.

Cheese and Onion Muffins

Posted by Elle Armon-Jones on October 19, 2017

One of our favourite muffin recipes at The Big Foody is the most simple to do and almost fool proof.

 

Ingredients

4 cups of self raising flour

4 eggs

1 ½ cups of milk

½ cup of sunflower oil or canola oil

1 packet of onion soup mix

2 tbsp of onion marmalade or onion jam

1 spring onion finely chopped.

1 cup grated cheddar (preferably strong cheddar)

1 cup of brie or mozzarella chopped into squares

Pinch of salt

 

Preheat the oven to 180

Very simply mix the ingredients until combined. Spoon into lined muffin tins. Cook for 20-25 mins. The muffins will be cooked when you can pierce them with a skewer / knife and it comes out clean.

Any cheese will work with this recipe and you can play around adding other ingredients too. We love roast pepper and pesto muffins and parmesan and spinach.