For many, the start of March marks the end of summer, but those who love to eat and drink are already skipping breakfast in preparation for the 2016 Melbourne Food & Wine Festival, held March 4 to 13.
This year Bank of Melbourne World's Longest Lunch will snake around the Grand Prix track (sold out, sorry) and the Acqua Panna wine events (still available) will be joined by City Cellar, where 60 Victorian wineries come together on the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre lawn for tastings and entertainment. But in 2016, the Festival is all about showing the world that Victoria is the land of milk and culture.
The Queensbridge Square Festival Hub, Urban Dairy, will bring the farm experience to the city, inspired by nostalgic milk bars and lush green pastures. Expect a cheese shop; a rotation of soft serves and ice cream sandwiches from New York City's Big Gay Ice Cream, Pierre's by Pierre Roeloefs, Gelato Messina and Sydney's Hartsyard; and Urban Dairy events including a cheese toastie-off, dairy-themed dinners and kid-friendly workshops with Alice "in Frames" Zaslavsky.
"Victoria has over 4000 dairy farms and produces over six thousand million litres of milk every year, so it's great to highlight the dairy industry in this year's festival," says Dairy Australia's food communications manager, Amanda Menegazzo.
But all curd-esy aside, it's the eclectic mix of cultural events that is most exciting this year. And although the $353 Whisky in the Sky tasting – held in an airborne 1940s aircraft – has already sold out, there are less extravagant options, too. Designer Bites, for example, is a sister event to the Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival cultural exhibition Cut/Cover at Phillips Shirts Factory this Friday. For MFWF, Sarin Rojanametin from NORA and Small Dinner Club will collaborate with designer Stanton Cornish-Ward to explore the same themes over a five-course dinner. "I don't want to give too much away," says curator Laura Thompson, "but some of the courses might be suspended from the ceiling."
DoubleTree by Hilton Melbourne is putting on an edible graffiti dinner served directly onto tiled tables, while Banquet of Secrets, a musical by Aussie icon Steve Vizard and jazz musician Paul Grabowsky, features an on-stage menu by Philippe Mouchel (PM24, Deja Vue and soon, Philippe) eaten each evening by the actors. A post-show, five-course degustation by Mouchel is also available at The Barre. Presented by Victorian Opera in partnership with Arts Centre Melbourne, the musical is about four friends who agree to spill their secrets at an annual dinner, based on Vizard's memories of Melbourne dining.
"The restaurant I've created is fictional but the experience that inspired it is real," says Vizard. "I went to Melbourne Uni so we were always in Lygon Street at Tiamo's for cheap spaghetti. Another group of us have caught up every year before Christmas down the road at Jimmy Watson's since we were about 17."
Science geeks and general lovers of gin should book tickets to the Bass & Flinders Angry Ant Gin launch at Melbourne Museum's Bugs Alive! exhibition. Made from Australian botanicals picked from Wooleen Station in central Western Australia, the most curious ingredient is a native ant. Apparently the pheromones produced by the ants – labelled "safe for human consumption" by Melbourne University – are key to the gin's flavour profile.
If bugs are your shtick, there's also Beechworth Honey's "Blossom to Blossom" cycle tour. The gentle cruise around the area – led by fourth-generation beekeeper Jodie Goldsworthy – will connect you to honey's source and explore native flora. Once you've peddled up an appetite, lunch will be served in Beechworth Honey Discovery's kitchen garden, where each ingredient has been rated according to its dependency on bees and pollination.
Another regional highlight will be the moving feast at Mossy Willow Farm, Main Ridge, with Dumbo Feather magazine. Here the focus will be on great conversations with extraordinary people over food and wine, served at different locations on the property to live music. On the other side of Port Phillip Bay 30 people will join food writer Richard Cornish, wine critic Max Allen and chef Matt Wilkinson overnight in Inverleigh for From the Earth to the Campfire, an exploration of biodynamic food and farming with Vortex Veggies and other Demeter Biodynamic farmers. Wilkinson will cook a biodynamic feast under the stars in an old cast-iron tub and serve a biodynamic brekkie the next morning. "The thing about biodynamics is that the land feels alive," he says. "When you walk on it there's an energy underneath your feet. It might sound like I've just had a lot to drink but I haven't."
This year's Melbourne Food and Wine Festival line up speaks to the Melburnian who doesn't compromise: they'll travel to experience something unique, include an exceptional lunch with a gallery visit and most likely know a dairy farmer by a degree of separation.
"It's part of our DNA," says MFWF CEO Natalie O'Brien. "Food and wine culture is entrenched in the way we live our lives in Melbourne. Hopefully the program reflects the thirst and hunger we have for a truly special cultural experience."
To book tickets and browse the full Melbourne Food and Wine Festival program, visit melbournefoodandwine.com.au.
Five under $30
1. Yume Hour ($1)
Saturday March 5 at 3pm is Yume Hour, where you can pick up $1 meals made from surplus food by some of our best chefs – including orange peel gelato from Guy Grossi – with all proceeds donated to SecondBite, Foodbank, OzHarvest and Fareshare. Download the free Yume app* to order and pay before heading to the venue.
*Yume is an online marketplace where food businesses can donate or sell discounted meals and produce that would otherwise go to waste. If every food business put 1kg of food on the app each day, they'd save 40 tonnes of produce from landfill, daily.
2. Gourmet Cinema ($19.50 + food)
Watch some of the best food films ever made – and The Big Lebowski – on a giant outdoor screen at Caulfield Racecourse. Five iconic Melbourne restaurants have been matched to the movies and will offer a themed menu each night. Visit gourmetcinema.com.au for restaurants and session times.
3. #WildFerment2016 ($25)
Head to Castlemaine for a celebration of traditional fermenting skills and gain a little independence in the kitchen. Expect demonstrations, workshops, science and a picnic lunch with fermented drinks on tap.
4. North vs South Street Food Feud ($25)
In this kitchen swap, St Kilda Burger Bar's Paul Tyas will challenge Jimmy Grants' Luke Croston by cooking lamb souvlakis, while Croston goes Greek on classic beef burgers. The price includes a souva, burger and a Barrow Boys Brewery beer, created for the event.
5. MasterClasses ($29)
For the first time MWFW is offering single session passes to their day-long MasterClasses, this year held in Federation Square's Deakin Edge. Learn from and interact with some of the most interesting chefs in the industry as they cook and share their stories. Full line up on the MFWF website.