The rich agricultural land of the central tablelands, known as the food basket of NSW, has proven fertile ground for the growth of Australia's most enduring annual food and wine festival, the Food of Orange District Week.
Founded in 1991, F.O.O.D is set to return to the region on April 1 with a bumper crop of more than 70 events, showcasing the best local produce and culinary talent across 10 days of tastings, tours and tantalising dining experiences.
Acclaimed chef Mark Best will herald the autumn harvest season with one of F.O.O.D's six signature events on April 4 – a sit-down dinner under the stars in the historic, riverside township of Canowindra, where diners will be treated to a four-course meal and an appropriately "generous" wine pairing.
Best, who has long championed the "extraordinary produce of Australia", will also team up with Orange's well-known and emerging chefs to shine a spotlight on local produce at the Sampson Street Long Lunch, to be held beneath a canopy of golden plane trees on Saturday, April 2.
Chef Richard Learmonth, who made the tree-change from Surry Hills to Orange to revitalise Sister's Rock Winery Restaurant, will lend his local expertise to Best in the production of a four-course feast at Philip Shaw Winery on Sunday, April 3.
The following Tuesday, Learmouth joins fellow Sydney-transplant Dom Aboud at his Union Bank restaurant to honour local legend Doug Dagg, a producer who specialises in both spuds and stories.
The evening forms part of the festival's series pairing producers and chefs. Another event in the series invites diners to meander through the rambling orchards of Hillside Harvest before sitting down to a three-course meal headed by A Table of 10 chef Ruben Lopez Mesa.
Mesa strongly advocated for locally-sourced ingredients as part of his zero-kilometre gastronomy initiative, which sought to promote local growers to NSW restaurants during the height of the COVID-19 border restrictions.
Those same growers are set to take centre stage at the F.O.O.D Week night market at Robertson Park on April 1, with a bevy of stalls boasting the best of the food basket.
Orange F.O.O.D Week runs from April 1-10. For further information on events, tasting trails, cider-making workshops and foraged feasts on offer during F.O.O.D, visit the festival website.
Orange cellar doors to visit
For those unable to make the trek during the festival, there are several stand-out restaurants and wineries open year-round.
Though the region's first commercial vines were only planted in 1980, they've fast amassed a following for producing vibrant, cool-climate styles that thrive in rich, volcanic soil and high elevations of up to 1068 metres above sea level.
Philip Shaw Wines
Philip Shaw Wines offers one of Australia's highest vineyards at Koomooloo, where visitors are welcomed into a charming, century-old apple storage barn to taste their multi-award winning shiraz, merlot and pinot noir.
Namesake and founder Philip Shaw, the former chief winemaker of Rosemount Estate, has passed along ownership to sons Damian and Daniel, the latter of whom worked in cellar doors across the US, Europe and New Zealand before returning to the family farm.
The self-professed "cellar rats" have carried on the family tradition of creating unconventional wines, with an organic farming system that fosters a stronger relationship with its surrounding environment.
100 Shiralee Road, Orange, 02 6362 0710, philipshaw.com.au
An exceptional selection of aromatic whites, sparkling wines and pinot noirs have earned Colmar Estate its position as Orange's most awarded winery.
Co-founder Bill Shrapnel's lifelong dream to own a vineyard came to fruition in 2013 when he acquired the six hectare property, naming it after the French town of Colmar in the classic wine region of Alsace.
The family-operated winery is hand-picked, hand-pruned and low-yield, preferring to "do things the old-fashioned way".
790 Pinnacle Road, Orange, 0419 977 270, colmarestate.com.au
Word of Mouth
Word of Mouth's small, 2.5 hectare vineyard produces slow, sustainable wines without the assistance of fertilisers and insecticides, though founder Peter Gibson steers away from the "natural wine" descriptor.
The winery originated as a partnership between Pinnacle Wines and neighbouring Donnington Vineyard (now Colmar Estate), and was the first to plant pinot gris in Orange.
Perched 1013 metres above sea level, the vineyard now produces a variety of estate-grown wines including manseng, riesling, and a sparkling pinot noir and chardonnay blend named after co-founders' Peter Gibson's dog, Fluffy.
42 Wallace Lane, Orange, 0429 533 316, wordofmouthwines.com.au
Heifer Station Wines
Back-to-back regional tourism gold medal winners, Heifer Station, offer a family-friendly cellar door in a historic Mt Canobolas woolshed, formerly part of the Cobb & Co network.
Co-founders Phillip and Michelle Stevens made the leap from cattle farming to producing small-batch chardonnay, pinot noir, pinot gris, merlot and shiraz, after learning their 25 hectare property, once overgrown with blackberry bushes, boasted some of the richest soil in the region.
The cellar door offers tastings, tours and picnics, in addition to a very popular petting zoo.
1034 The Escort Way, Orange, 02 6365 2275, heiferstation.com
Nestled in the frosty foothills of Mount Canobolas is Nashdale Lane winery, where quality varietals of sauvignon blanc, pinot gris and riesling are served out of a charming, 70-year-old apple packing shed.
Nick and Tanya Segger established the hands-on winery in 2017 after a working holiday to the vineyards of Tuscany.
At 900 metres above sea level, the cellar door offers visitors unobstructed views, a roaring fireplace, and glamping accommodation if you have one drink too many.
125 Nashdale Lane, Nashdale, 0419 012 412, nashdalelane.com
Restaurants to visit from The Good Food Guide 2022
Schoolhouse Restaurant at The Union Bank
Filling a lofty former bank-turned-classroom just off Orange's main drag, this dining room has ditched the desks in favour of candlelit timber tables, and swapped the shrieks of students for the sound of ambient funk and soul. It's a suitably pared-back setting for chef Dom Aboud's modern Euro-ish dishes, most built around a single featured ingredient. Wines are drawn from the many nearby wineries, including a rotating "featured wine producer" offering an impressive back catalogue of limited vintages, with convivial staff never too far to help you decide.
84 Byng Street, Orange, 02 6311 1770, theunionbank.com.au
Sister's Rock at Borrodell Estate
On first impression, these guys follow the winery restaurant script: large windows overlooking the Borrodell Estate vineyard, corner fireplace and predictable estate drops dominating the wine list. But it's quickly apparent that chef Charles Woodward isn't interested in adhering to tropes. There's certainly more at play than first meets the eye. The show opens with a bowl of a silken sweetcorn chawanmushi – an umami-rich steamed Japanese custard that introduces an expectation-defying menu.
298 Lake Canobolas Road, Orange, 02 6365 3425, borrodell.com.au
Sure, a cup of plain milk gelato mightn't seem like the most thrilling choice of ice-cream flavour, but covered with a blanket of warm chocolate and hazelnut sauce, it becomes one of this bright, buzzy gelateria's must-try flavours, and the kind of spilt milk it's definitely worth shedding a tear over.
45 Sale Street, Orange, 02 6360 4873, spiltmilkbar.com
Beloved restaurant Racine might have closed its doors, but the spirit lives on in Racine Bakery, the go-to spot for organic sourdough loaves, buttery croissants, loaded sangas or a hearty house-made pie.
166B Summer Street (rear entrance), Orange, 02 6365 3275, racinerestaurant.com.au
The Rockley Pub
Chefs have flocked to Orange, where the abundance of fertile land ensures a steady supply of fresh, quality produce. While there are several restaurants, cafes and bakeries worth your while in town, a recently revamped country hotel awaits those who venture off the beaten track.
The wide open spaces and crisp country air has drawn the attention of chef and restaurateur Matt Moran, who is set to swing open the doors to The Rockley Pub on March 17.
A little over an hour outside Orange, the Rockley Pub will be pouring out cold ones alongside parmesan-crumbed chicken schnitty, dry-aged sirloin and a ploughman's plate with Moran's own salami, sourced from his nearby family farm.
Moran told Good Food that bar service was just the beginning – longer-term plans include a 90-seat restaurant, upgraded accommodation and bakery.
2 Budden Street, Rockley, 02 6337 9203, therockleypub.com.au