Turkey farmer Daryl Deutscher works hard raising turkeys on his farm gate at Dadswells Bridge, 180 kilometres west of Melbourne. "It has been a bugger of a year," says the down-to-earth farmer.
"I thought Christmas wasn't going to happen, but no! People have embraced it and they're keen to shop locally. I have never seen so many people looking forward to Christmas."
Victorian Farmers Federation president David Jochinke says buying Victorian food for Christmas lunch is "going to help a lot of farmers who have had it tough". "We've had drought, fire, pandemic, border closures, and everything that went with it. But still, our farmers fed us," he says.
According to product and services comparison company, Finder, half of Victorian families celebrating Christmas will buy a ham. One third will buy a turkey, and 40 per cent of our annual prawn consumption will be eaten in the week between Christmas and New Year's Day. Across the state, Victorians will spend around $1 billion on Christmas feasting.
"When you buy Victorian produce, you are not just supporting the farmer," says Jochinke. "You are supporting the community they live in too. You are supporting everyone in their region."
Here's how to source lunch for the big day as locally as possible.
Victorian school prawns may be small, but they are some of the sweetest in the nation. The catch, however, is tiny. Just nine tonnes last year, compared to the 20,000 tonnes of wild prawns caught around Australia. The season starts at Lakes Entrance in the state's far east when the warm currents entice prawns from freshwater lakes. Look for them in markets and independent fishmongers. Also landing in Lakes Entrance are succulent cold-water Bass Strait bugs, just like a Moreton Bay bug, but sweeter.
A more certain bet are Spencer Gulf king prawns fished sustainably in waters off Port Lincoln in South Australia. The prawns are sorted, chilled then snap-frozen on the boat within 30 minutes of being caught. Order a box for home delivery from Regal Seafoods.
Meanwhile, Australia's diplomatic spat with China has put Victorian southern rock lobster fishers in deep water with an import ban seeing domestic prices plummet this Christmas to around $80 a kilogram. "If you want to keep a local fisher in business, eat more Victorian lobster," says Apollo Bay Fishermen's Co-op director Markus Nolle.
Top Victorian seafood stockists include The Fish Shoppe at South Melbourne Market and Collingwood, Claringbold's Quality Seafoods at Prahran Market, and Steve Costi's Seafood in Hawthorn.
Christmas is the one day of the year when it is appropriate to start the day with oysters and sparkling wine. Victoria grows a handful of native oysters, but just across the border in southern NSW are some of the world's best examples of the bivalve. For the oysters chefs buy, order direct from Gary Rodely at Tathra Oysters.
Sydney rock oysters are in excellent condition and you can try before you buy at Aptus Seafood at South Melbourne Market or Prahran Seafoods at Prahran Market. Both sell freshly shucked oysters ready to eat. Richmond Oysters carries a broad range of shellfish and has a restaurant serving just-open oysters alongside retro-trendy preparations such as oysters mornay and Kilpatrick.
Port Phillip mussel grower Lance Wiffen from Sea Bounty likes his mussels Kilpatrick-style too, and says his product is in excellent condition for Christmas. "We're at the south end of the bay and the mussels are big, plump and clean," he says. Check fishmongers and Coles statewide.
Somerville butcher Phil Revell will stop taking orders for his award-winning hams on Wednesday. People drive from Melbourne to his Mornington Peninsula butchery each year to pick up their Christmas leg, wrapped in greaseproof paper and calico. "I am old fashioned," says Revell, "I don't like vacuum wrapping in plastic. It changes the texture and flavour." Call 03 5977 5281 to order.
In Castlemaine, butcher Ralf Fink from Oakwood Smallgoods is making just 400 hams. He uses free-range large black pigs raised on a farm near Ararat using spices and techniques he learned during his five-year apprenticeship to become a fleischmeister (master butcher) in his home country of Germany. Fink is delivering his Christmas hams and smallgoods to Melbourne several times a week.
For a ham more widely available, butcher Peter Bouchier has spent the best part of spring sourcing certified free-range legs to make his classic Christmas centrepiece. "Our orders have doubled compared to this time last year," he says. "People have had time to think. As soon as lockdown ended, the phones started ringing." Bouchier's hams can be purchased from 40 stores around Melbourne including his eponymous outposts in Toorak and Malvern.
At the height of COVID, another virus, bird flu, swept through Victoria, destroying a large swathe of free-range turkey stock. Despite this, Janine Hunt from The Chicken Pantry has secured good numbers of Daryl Deutscher's free-range turkeys, grown on a farm in The Grampians. She says people are often asking how they can help Victorian farmers. "I tell them to buy these amazing birds for Christmas." Hunt also suggests Aylesbury and Pekin breed ducks, paddock-reared by Great Ocean Ducks and favoured by chefs such as Brae's Dan Hunter.
In Balwyn, Belmore Biodynamic Meats has secured a good supply of free-range turkeys. Out in the lush Strzelecki Ranges of South Gippsland, Ilan Goldman from Mirboo Pastured Poultry has raised turkeys this year but has already sold out. Instead, he is offering substantially large 3.5 kilogram, 70-day-old free-range chickens. With their massive size comes exceptional flavour development and firm but succulent flesh. Order through Prom Coast Food Collective.
Every summer for the past 70 years, the Victorian Country Women's Association has sold their famous Christmas puddings, cakes, and shortbread from their Toorak headquarters. Pick up one of their handmade fruity puddings from 3 Lansell Road at their pop-up store today or December 19. CWA pop-up shops are also being held in country towns across the state and orders can be placed at cwaofvic.org.au.
Castlemaine pudding maker Karen Kelly from Pud For All Seasons uses local free-range eggs to make plum puddings to her grandmother's recipe. "We have been flat out making 40,000 this year," she says. "It's going to be a good Christmas." In the Buckland Valley in north-east Victoria, Vivian Andersen and chef Chris Davey from Alpine Valleys Fine Foods have also been exceptionally busy making Christmas cakes and puddings.
"Businesses have been buying up our puddings as gifts," says Andersen. "It seems the corporate world is doing its best to support Victorian [small] business." Their secret ingredient is a good slug of Stanton & Killeen Rutherglen muscat. Sweet, dark and alcoholic, it's blended from wine made by previous generations and aged for decades in oak barrels.