Bundaberg berries the new foodie frontier
BERRIES are not the first fruit that come to mind when you think of the Bundaberg region but that could be about to change.
Thanks to the likes of My Kitchen Rules and MasterChef creating a generation of DIY foodies, local farmers have a reason to experiment with a new crop.
At Eden Farms in Calavos, Andrew McKillop is trialling raspberries in an effort to diversify from cucumbers.
"The whole berry scene is something that's been improving in the last few years,” Mr McKillop said.
"A lot of blueberries have gone in around the region, and raspberries are on the cusp.
"Our raspberries are really just a trial to see whether or not they perform in the region.”
Bundaberg offers a unique climate, Mr McKillop said, adding that it was not a great leap to add raspberries to the farm's repertoire.
"The way raspberries are grown these days is similar to cucumbers in hydroponic conditions,” he said.
"We've had some limitations with the trial and the way it's been set up but I think raspberries could have a position in Bundaberg, depending on the variety and the time you choose to grow it.”
Too warm and the plants will grow too large and won't bear the maximum amount of fruit.
"I've heard raspberries have been grown further north in elevated areas but it has not been so successful,” he said.
The berries came into season late last year and a small number were released to Learmonth's Foodworks and Indulge cafe, where former owner Amanda and Larry Hinds and chef Mitchell White used them fresh and in jam and coulis for scones and desserts.
Amanda was full of praise for the samples, saying they added a tart flavour to balance out sweet dishes - such as the peach brioche sandwich pictured right.
The use of berries in a variety of formats, fresh and frozen, was "being pushed by the rage in home cooking,” Mr McKillop said.
"It's brought on by the likes of MKR and MasterChef where they regularly use berries in desserts.”
Berries are a high value product and today's consumers are more willing to pay gourmet prices.
"You only have to look at cooking magazines - berries are becoming more of a mainstream product.
"Consumers don't baulk at paying $4-$5 per punnet for blueberries.
"They used to be a luxury.
"Now they're not quite a staple, but they're on the verge.”
While he was coy about how many staff he employed, Mr McKillop said Eden Farms was "one of the larger (farm) employers in the region”.
If the trial goes well, he's hoping Bundaberg raspberries could be on a menu near you soon.
Blueberries are also being grown by Allan Mahoney at Perfection Fresh and at Abbotsleigh Citrus, Michael McMahon has branched out from mandarins and lemons to grow blueberries with great success.
"We did a big expansion with blueberries late in 2015. We just harvested those,” Mr McMahon said.
"We're expecting those to double or triple in 2017, around 600 tonnes.”
New varieties and new growing practices are opening the berry category in to the region, he said.
"Strawberries have been a big part of Bundaberg for a while now but starting to grow mulberries and blueberries.
"It's good for the consumer, good for the region, good for everyone.”