When I first visited Matthew and Sadie Evans back in 2011, Fat Pig Farm wasn't more than a patch of land with an overgrown apple orchard and some brambles, shared with a few pigs on an admittedly stunning patch of Tasmania's Huon Valley. But what it did have was the beginnings of a plan.
Back then I walked with Matthew over the land as he pointed out what he wanted to happen, and where things were going to be. I remember it felt like talking to someone designing their dream home, except in place of Italianate tapware and parquetry there were pigs and asparagus and somewhere to put your gumboots.
Six fat years later the farm is unrecognisable from its former self – literally, driving in to meet Matthew I have to double check my GPS to make sure I'm in the right place. I'm also stuck in traffic of all things, unheard of in this stretch of valley about half an hour from Hobart. The local Tasmanian Women in Agriculture organisation is holding its AGM at the farm, and cars are backed 10-deep down the single dirt road that leads to its already-full carpark.
Like me, they're here for what Fat Pig Farm has become. Many of us might have seen it grow year on year through Matthew's SBS series, Gourmet Farmer, but this is anything but a made-for-TV enterprise. It's a cooking school, a community hall, a sometimes-restaurant with their Friday Feasts, a menagerie of chooks, pigs and the odd cow, an online shop, and above all, an honest-to-goodness working farm run on organic principles.
Matthew describes the process of building Fat Pig Farm as steering a runaway truck down a steep mountain, trying to decide which trees you can hit to slow yourself down while avoiding the ones that will stop you completely and launch you through the windscreen.
There's an old adage in show business about never working with children or animals, and as I see Matthew reaching down to pick up one of a litter of Wessex Saddleback piglets that have been born a few weeks earlier, it doesn't escape me that in this difficult and semi-charmed life Matthew and Sadie have staked their livelihood and future on working with literal animal children.
The most incredible part about it all, however, is how closely Fat Pig Farm now resembles the vision Matthew set out for me all those years ago, despite all the risks, setbacks and false starts that come hand in hand with planning and running an unpredictable business.
What Matthew and Sadie are trying to do at the farm is look at food differently. Their goal of self-sufficiency poses a legitimate and disarmingly simple question – what does food look like when you know where it comes from?
Sitting on the farm's back deck and trying some of Matthew's latest batch of bacon, cured in Tasmanian whisky and smoked over shavings from old whisky barrels he's quick to qualify it with, "It might not be the best bacon you've ever had, but we like it."
The concept of 'best' is something I've always struggled with in food. Something can only be the 'best' if there's only one way of defining 'good', and with food that's certainly not the case.
Firing the wood oven he built by hand, Matthew cooks a few yeasted flatbreads, studded with crispy nuggets of chicharron, the leftovers from rendering the caul fat from his most recently humanely dispatched pigs. "Not the best flatbreads in the world, but not bad," he qualifies again, but I barely hear him as I'm already forcing handfuls of flatbread slathered in the farm's handmade butter into my mouth. "Amazing," I tell him earnestly, but he already knows that.
The thing with self-sufficiency is that by definition, it doesn't really need anyone to subscribe to your vision to make it work. One suspects Matthew and Sadie would survive quite happily on their surfeit of homegrown vegetables, eggs, ham, bacon, pork, salami, beef, milk, cheese and the rest, with nobody outside their community paying the farm much mind at all.
But people have subscribed to their vision. Fat Pig's "Society of Bacon Believers" is a membership service where paid-up members get first dibs on the farm's extremely limited supply of craft bacon. The bacon sells out immediately, and sadly so have the memberships (though more may be released depending on how many more pigs they end up keeping).
The success of Matthew and Sadie's dream has hinged on their clarity of vision. Fat Pig Farm has been dragged into existence by the force of Matthew and Sadie's will. Less a labour of love and more a testament to the strength of an idea. They built the thing they wanted it to be, and in the end people liked it.
And the bacon, for the record, was exquisite.
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This article brought to you by Tourism Tasmania.