NZ: Matakana Market; with a slice of Italy
After you've been in Auckland a while, people often say they're going to Matakana on a Saturday. More so during the summer months. When friends' came to visit, curious, we looked it up on the map. Yes, it should be a good day out.
Matakana Village is the home of the Saturdays Farmers' Market, where you can find artisans producers, growers and farmers from around the region. Plus, it's near the coast to great holiday destinations such as Leigh, Goat Island Marine Reserve and glass-bottomed boats, Omaha beach, Snells Beach and more.
One hour’s picturesque drive north of Auckland, the village is at the centre of over 30 boutique vineyards. Mainly a red wine growing region, almost all the vineyards are on slopes which helps to drain the clay soils. From cellar door tastings, to wine bar offerings to vineyard restaurants, it is hard to choose where to go should you do your own vineyard trail.
But, a few kilometres outside of Matakana township, we hit a stumbling block. The traffic! And so early in the morning. 'Popular' anywhere near a city of 1.4 million people (Auckland), means there is a bit of competition for space at a desirable well-known event, especially on the weekend. If you're driving from Auckland, go early.
Finally, after stopping and starting, the queue of cars moved slowly forward. We parked in a field reserved for Saturday market parking. As there wasn't anywhere closer to town to park, we had some distance to walk. (see: stroke) It was a brilliant day so we didn't mind.
Quaint little village, at the market children were badgering their parents for ice-creams as it was starting to get very warm. Nestled on the banks of the picturesque Matakana River, the Farmers’ Market is an artisan delight. Situated off the road and behind a cluster of old shops, we make our way down the steps and across the back car park to a cluster of back buildings and a courtyard packed with stalls of all manner of locally grown products.
It was choc-a-bloc with visitors and locals. The freshly laid organic eggs had already sold-out. People milled around, tasting, buying, eating a whole range of goods on offer. We tried the Vietnamese spring rolls, cannoli, goat's cheese, pies with a difference, crepes, lemon tarts, the list of edible delights, goes on. We just had to buy delicious-looking mozzarella to try at home.
NZ's isolation by sea means we don't have the luxury of a truck crossing the border with delights from another country – we simply have to make our own. In this case, a couple of Italian descent who live in NZ do their home-style cooking during the week and sell it at the market on the weekend; in this case it's cannoli.
Cannoli is an Italian pastry dessert of the Sicily region. It consists of tube-shaped shells of fried pastry dough, filled with a sweet, creamy filling usually containing ricotta cheese. They range in size from no bigger than a finger, to the fist-sized proportions typically found south of Palermo, Sicily. How good was it though? Melt in the mouth, to be honest. It was so good, we went for a second round, patiently watching as the store-seller filled it with ricotta and dotted with a few lightly-ground pistachios.
If you've never had the real thing how can you tell whether it's genuine? Fortunately some years ago we toured southern Italy which included Sicily. And as you do, when in town you go local. So we find ourselves quite by accident(!), at the Oasi Bar in Marsala... where Marsala, a fortified wine and well as the town's name, is produced, which is similar to Madeira or Sherry. What a coincidence. So two for one – savouring the delicious cannoli and well lubricated with a nice glass of Marsala - superb. Now we know it's possible to get fresh cannoli here in NZ at Matakana Markets.
Mozzarella is another favourite, … Italian mozzarella, no less, so said the sign. In Italy not so long ago, the hotel we happened to choose was near to the epicentre of mozzarella production in the whole of Italy. Paestum, and the farms surrounding it are priceless for their production of white gold – soft, silky, farm fresh mozzarella decadence. Paestum is also the site of ancient Greek ruins and they’re recognised as the best of the few Greek ruins left on Italy’s mainland.
We had a late lunch date at Ascension Wine Estate, which has a very busy well-known restaurant. It's a gorgeous setting; Tuscan-type architecture and sweeping scenery of lush gardens and grapes ripening on the vines. It really is something straight out of Italy, and so it's no surprise the estate is a destination-wedding venue. They also host their own annual Wedding Fair, as a promotion to showcase the venue, in conjunction with list of premier industry partners.
As a venue, they've also hosted The Winery Tour for many years. The Winery Tour is about three things that are great about New Zealand: music, wine and the scenery. From its beginning in 2007, The Winery Tour has celebrated this country and its people. It is 100% New Zealand.
The guest artist line-up for 2015, headlined by the iconic Dave Dobbyn & Don McGlashan .. and many more artists. From the first gig of the inaugural Winery Tour way back in 2007 to the last of the 2015 run, the Winery Tour has clocked up 139 shows. The next event is in February 2017.
Wine, good food and hospitality, we look forward to a delectable meal and handcrafted boutique wines. Fresh ingredients, herbs planted in surrounding gardens, there was a gentle buzz of conversation as the restaurant was full, the service good and attentive. We had just a quick bite, as it was a busy weekend; but, we'll certainly be back