Blog

Farming Tours in Auckland

Posted by Elle Armon-Jones on February 28, 2019

Sometimes you meet a group of people in this job and you know that you've made some great connections forever.

Last weekend I had the great privilege of hosting a group of global visitors all visiting New Zealand through the Friendship Force Organisation.

The group is in New Zealand with three weeks to explore the North Island through the different farming communities, connecting with the local producers farmers and growers throughout their time in the country.

The group came to stay with me at Vineyard Cottages and we spent a full day in the North West Auckland region discovering the diversity of growers and farmers in this area.

Our first stop was to Highland Cow breeder where we were introduced to nearly 30 different cattle, learning from the farmers Jenny and Doug the importance of blood lines pedigree and commitment. We were able to see the management of their farm block through mapping and learnt the perils of plastic silage wrap. The group was lucky to meet an award winning gentle cow who was happily tied up to the fence and enjoyed the attention of the enthusiastic group.  During our time with Jenny and Doug, Doug explained the importance of the horns to the breed, the reason they chose Highland cows over other beef breeds, weaning, placating the cattle and told stories of survival of the fittest during calving season.  While most of our tours are focused around what you can eat in the country, learning where our meat comes from is one of the most interesting areas we work in. 

After coffee in one of the area’s most well-known farm shops where everyone took full advantage of fruit season and the home made pastries,  we visited Vishna who is growing table grapes, purely because she was asked to by locals if she would! During dinner the night before I had explained to the group how when we moved to Vineyard cottagers, I have been to the local vegetable market and tried these incredible grapes. To me they tasted like a childhood sweet. They almost tasted fake because the flavour is so intense and not like generic supermarket grapes at all. We were able to wonder underneath the arbour of grapevines while Vishna, the grower picked some of the ripest and  the most delicious grapes for us. We did buy a couple of boxes to take home to be added to what is now affectionately known as the friendship Force fruit pizza and most of the group agreed with my description of the grapes!

We concluded our morning touring by visiting one of my favourite honey producers on their property on the way out to Bethells Beach. Terry and Karlene have been producing their Manuka honey the nearly 20 years. Not only of honey in jars but also using the wax for medicinal purposes in balms and creams and lotions. We bought some of the delicious Apple cider honeygar to have as part of dish created for our evening meal. After a spectacular dinner of barbecued lamb (thank you gents for your very dedicated work on the grills) salads and a requested second serving of our famous roast potatoes, I was very embarrassed to bring out a super sticky pastry laden with stone fruits and grapes from our visit Vishna's. However, everyone thoroughly enjoyed it and I was delighted to claim the recipe as my own and it will forever be called the Friendship Force Fruit Pizza.

Waving goodbye the next morning and returning the lodge, the dining room it was eerily quiet and I have to say, I would very much like it if the Friendship Force group were back in town every week. Happy travelling gang!

Lots of love

Elle

Why We #DemandDogFoundTruffles!

Posted by Laura Morgan on January 07, 2019

The welcome warmth of the bonfire dried our hands and took the chill off while we giddily rehashed our first experience in the woods with Stella and Sunny. We were surrounded by Douglas firs rising above our heads, atop a hill overlooking historic vineyards and hazelnut orchards in the distance. Beneath our feet was Savannah Ridge, the small backbone of sedimentary rock laid down over millions of years by ancient oceans, lava flows, and most recently, the Missoula Flood. (As “recent” as fifteen thousand years ago.) The latter are facts only geologists and wine growers are passionate about.

Well, and us.

We were comrades who had just crisscrossed the spongy forest floor for two hours, bouncing from one spot to the next behind Stella, the Lagotto Romagnolo, and her intrepid owner, Sunny Diaz. Stella’s got a keen nose and propensity for praise. Sunny is driven by connection - to the natural world and to her foodie-inclined, forest-christened pupils. Stella is driven by treats, every once in a while that’s a small white truffle that she gets to before anyone else notices she’s unearthed it. Both are adept at finagling fruiting bodies from the earth and delivering them to the people best at wrangling their intoxicating aromas: the Pacific Northwest’s best chefs and bartenders.

Prior to the 17th century, truffles were eaten by peasants, hunted by farmers and pigs who learned to harness the sow’s natural predilection for these “diamonds of the earth,” as Brillat-Savarin would come to call them. Before they were considered aphrodisiacs by well-to-do diners, they actually were aphrodisiacs for the sows who mistook the volatile compound dimethyl sulfide found in truffles, for andrestenol, a sex pheromone in boar saliva. These days a white truffle shaved over buttery, cheese-laden pasta noodles almost elicits the same response from truffle lovers around the world as it did for the humble sows of yesteryear.

These days truffles are a very expensive delicacy in many parts of the world, with the white Alba truffle from Italy commanding up to $4000 US per pound and the Perigord from France coming in around $1600 US. Oregon truffles, by comparison, fetch only about $400 per pound. Why is that, you ask? Unfortunately, we’re considered “the bad boys of the group,” but not in the James-Dean-Rebel-Without-a-Cause way. While most Oregonians, including James Beard in the late 70’s, proclaim that Oregon truffles rank up there with the best in the world, we have suffered from a bad reputation on the world stage.

One factor for this is our market is much younger and less developed. In France, cultivation of truffles has been productive since America declared its independence from Britain. In fact, according to Wikipedia, back in the 1700’s the French figured out they could cultivate truffles by planting acorns from truffle-producing trees. Today 80% of truffles produced in France are cultivated, rather than wild foraged. On the other hand, it’s still a bit too early to tell if American truffle groves are sustainably producing because it takes at least 10 years to develop the mycorrhizal network that will sustain a crop.

Perhaps the biggest reason for our being snubbed, though, is because we have a habit of raking in the PNW. It’s perfectly legal here to head out into the forest with nothing but a rake and a prayer on the hunt for truffles. The problem with raking is that you’re harvesting all of the truffles in the ground, ripe or unripe, and unripe truffles are useless, culinarily-speaking. Unripe truffles taste like nothing and are lacking in the intoxicating aroma that is the reason we want to eat them in the first place! In Italy, by contrast, it is a law that truffles must only be hunted with the aid of a dog’s nose, ensuring only the most pungent are harvested. Since Americans don’t have a long culinary tradition of coveting only those most stinky, we have used both in our cooking to our reputation’s detriment.

However, Oregon truffles are on par with those from Italy and France and attitudes are changing due to the good work of people like Sunny Diaz and the folks at the Oregon Truffle Festival. Charles LeFevre, forest mycologist, New World Truffieres founder and OTF co-founder, was quoted in a New York Times article as saying, “... industry oversight to ensure the use of dogs, combined with cultivation efforts and careful management of the truffle habitat, could raise the value of Oregon’s crop (worth $300,000 to harvesters at the time) a hundredfold by 2030, and benefit the region’s economy through increased sales, exports and culinary tourism.” As Bob Dylan fatefully sung, the times they are a-changin.

Meanwhile, back in the Doug Fir stand, Sunny describes black truffles as fruity on the nose, think tropical fruits with a musky amaretto and vanilla finish, to a group of foodies and industry folks. White truffles are a bit different: garlicky, nutty and faintly citrusy. We experience this immediately as Stella has zeroed in and starts digging at the base of a Douglas Fir. After a few seconds, anyone standing within a 3 foot radius is hit by the intense garlic aroma of an Oregon winter white (Tuber oregonense). Sunny plucks it out of the ground and Stella is rewarded with a treat from Sunny’s hip pouch, and off she goes again, nose to the ground, her long, neon orange leash trailing behind her. Next stop: a multi-course, post-foraging meal, made all the better by wine and my new forest-baptized compatriots.

Stay tuned for more truffle stories in the coming weeks, or sign up for a foray and create your own truffle-scented memories!

 

Vineyard Cottages Plum Ice cream

Posted by on December 06, 2018

Vineyard Cottages Plum Ice Cream

 

INGREDIENTS

1 1/2 cups chopped plum (the sweeter the plum the better), plus an extra cup 1 cup milk

2 cups cream

1/3 cup sugar

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 cup vodka (you could use flavoured vodka for another level of flavour!)

2 tablespoons vanilla extract

zest of 1 lime

1 teaspoon fresh squeezed lime juice

INSTRUCTIONS

Freeze an empty freezer-safe shallow bowl or pan. Anything stainless steel works really well here but do avoid any bowls that may shatter once frozen (i.e glass)

In medium sauce pan, combine 1 cup of cream, all of the milk, sugar, and sea salt. Stirring often, heat over medium heat just until the mixture begins to steam and the sugar has dissolved. Set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, puree 1 1/2 cups of plums, and set aside. Cover the remaining cup of chopped plums, along with any juices, and set in the fridge for later.

Combine the cream mixture, pureed plums, remaining cream, vodka, and lime juice and zest and pour into your pre-frozen bowl or pan. Place it in the freezer. After 20-30 minutes, check on the mixture, once the edges start to freeze, take out the mixture and beat it using a hand mixer.

By breaking up the ice cream, you’ll help make it smooth and creamy. You cannot beat the mixture too much.Return the pan to the freezer. Every 30 minutes or so, take it back out and beat the ice cream again. Repeat until it is firmly frozen, usually around four or five mixing sessions. On your last misxing session, add the extra cup of plums and juices. Once it’s frozen, the mixture should be smooth and creamy.

If at any time the ice cream becomes too hard, place it in the refrigerator until it becomes soft enough to beat, and then continue the process.

Store the ice cream in a covered freezer container until ready to serve


 

The Big Foody's Favourite Ice Cream spots

Posted by on December 06, 2018

The Big Foody's Favourite Ice Cream Spots

 

If you are only going to indulge in one cold, creamy and indulgent treat on your visit to Auckland, it will have to be where we send and recommend all our guests to visit and whom we have even created a special tour for, for our exclusive cruise customers, namely, Giapo! featuring handmade ice cream, gelato & sorbet in traditional & adventurous flavours, presented in the most amazing and creative ways!

However, there are other Ice Cream spots dotted around Auckland that are must visits too including;

  • On the outskirts of the city, as you exit suburbia and enter the rural outskirts, predominantly south, east and west, you will stumble across the small road-side Ice Cream stalls serving up the most delicious fresh berry ice creams. Often placed right beside a strawberry farm and its fields of strawberries, these fresh berry ice creams are a bit of a tradition and a must stop for locals heading out of the city on the weekends and can therefore get pretty busy!

 

  • If your are heading north, make sure that you stop in at Charlies Gelato in Matakana. One of our favourites of our lovely tour guide Colleen and her family. Charlies stocks over 40 flavours using fresh and local ingredients. It’s all handmade in small batches on a daily basis just for you. Whether you are after something fun, fruity or decadent, there will be a flavour to suit your tastes and mood! Make sure that you visit regularly so not to miss their monthly seasonal flavour.

 

  • Juicy Gelato situated on State Highway 16 heading into Kumeu, is a dream come true for gelato, icecream, sorbet and coffee lovers. With bean bags spotted around outside to enjoy your gelato on and the never ending amount of flavours, Juicy is a hot spot over the summer months.

 

  • You may know it better for it’s cheese, it’s scrumptious cheese toasties and maybe even it’s coffee, however the Kapiti Store also sells its own Kapiti ice cream, with amazing flavours like, Spicy Apple Crumble, Lemon Shortcake, Chamomile and Salted Kamahi Honey, Summer Nectarine plus your traditional flavours of course, your taste buds will be tempted for sure (ours are!)

 

These are just some of our favourites here at the Big Foody Food Tours, but there are many more, so join us on one of our Big Foody Food Tours and we’ll let you know more hidden ice cream gems.

 

Top reasons to go on a Food Tour with the Big Foody Food Tours

Posted by on November 08, 2018

Top reasons to go on a Food Tour with the Big Foody Food Tours

1. The Big Foody Food Tours, named in the World’s Best Destination for Travel Experiences according to TripAdvisor travellers and the only food tour provider in New Zealand to be recognised by this. Now that’s a good reason to join us!

 

2. We are a dedicated FOOD TOUR COMPANY, not a tour company that does food tours. It is what we do! We love it and wouldn't want to do anything else.

 

3. The BEST guides. Whether you get Elle or Colleen, they are local foodie experts from forever ago and experts in guiding, you will be entertained for hours. Bubbly and friendly, they know Auckland and it’s food scene, they will be able to make personalised recommendation for any foodie and their quirks. They are more than just food guides, you’ll finish the tour having made a new friend.


 

4. DELICIOUS stops! Taste Auckland like a local. We visit the popular, must do experiences of Auckland, but also the hidden delights only the locals know of. We take you where we take our friends and family, only selected favourites make the cut for their tastes and the best people and their stories. It’s not just about the food, it's’ about our people, our land and our producers. We serve up the stories behind our favourite spots and their incredible food.

 

5. Meet the LOCALS. Our suppliers and who we visit on our stops are considered part of our family. On our tours, we treat you like family too. Our relationships with our suppliers therefore make you part of their family. You will get insights into their passion and their livelihood so that after your tour, you will be filled with knowledge about New Zealand’s artisans and producers to take with you on your travels and back home.

 

6. Best RECOMMENDATIONS on dining in Auckland and New Zealand. Don’t end up at soulless tourist eateries, join a Big Foody Food tour for our insider knowledge of where to dine. Venture off the beaten path to experience the best of Auckland cuisine just like a local. As we have said before, we are foodie experts and we love food and dining out and we KNOW the restaurant scene. You can be guaranteed to come back from the tour with a loooong list of recommendations for dining out in Auckland and throughout New Zealand.

 

7. RELAX -  We lead the way around Auckland on our organised and customer focused tours and we are are pretty laid back and love to have a laugh! Rely on us to take care of everything and enjoy the tastes of Auckland. And even better, on our most popular tour, The Tastebud Tour we drive you around Auckland exploring the best spots in town. What better way than to explore and taste Auckland whilst sitting back and relaxing.

 

8. PERSONALISED service. Our tours are small and personalised, we try to customise (to a degree) to what you are passionate and interested about. It is about you, the customer after all. You will be able to hear every word that comes out of our guides mouth and there are always enough samples, no mass tour groups here.


9. HISTORIC SIGHTS - The Big Foody Food Tours is more than just a food tour - we take you to and point out the iconic buildings and architecture of Auckland. We talk about New Zealand’s and Auckland’s culture and what we have to offer on the entertainment scene.


 

10. TRUSTED AND EXPERIENCED Food Tour company. We have been touring around Auckland and tasting with our guests since 2009. We know what we are doing and work in the industry. We run food tours throughout New Zealand and in Portland, Oregon in the United States. We work with many large travel agencies and get referred to many private and media tours, as well as picking up many of the pre-arranged day excursions from the Cruise liners. Trust us to take you on a a food tour that is small and personalized, friendly and laid back but professional and in-the-know. We know how to create an unforgettable experience for you.

 

11. REVIEWS We love our guests and we treat them like family and the bestest friend. We thank every single one of them for the FANTASTIC reviews that they leave us. We are so thankful to them all for our Overall Traveller rating on Tripadvisor of 5.0. THANK YOU. Read some of the reviews here.

 

Come away with a new friend, a smile, a full tummy (puku in maori) and history and stories about places you’ve been and people that you have met, The Big Foody Food Tours is the Ultimate way to taste Auckland (and the rest of New Zealand and Portland, Oregon).




 

Tiaki Promise

Posted by Elle Armon-Jones on November 03, 2018

New Zealand is precious, and everyone who lives and travels here has a responsibility to look after it.

The Tiaki Promise is a commitment to care for New Zealand, for now and for future generations.

By following the Tiaki Promise, you are making a commitment to New Zealand. To act as a guardian, protecting and preserving our home.

 

At The Big Foody Food Tours our commitment to preserving, nurturing and respecting New Zealand is one of the reasons we set us the business. We care deeply about the country we live in and adore and commit to the protection of its future. 

Honey and Lemon Toddy Recipe

Posted by on September 26, 2018

Honey and Lemon Toddy

To celebrate Bee Aware Month and the glut of lemons on our trees, here is a Hot Toddy recipe with a twist (whiskey is optional!)

 

1 Tablespoon Honey

1 Cinnamon Stick

1 Cardamon pod

Juice of 1 Lemon

A (sneaky) nip of Whiskey

 

Put honey (and whiskey, if using) in a mug, along with the cinnamon stick and Cardamon pod.

Add lemon juice.

Pour in hot (notboiling water) and pop in the sprigs of thyme for a couple of minutes.

 

ENJOY!

6 types of Honey from New Zealand

Posted by on September 26, 2018

6 types of Honey from New Zealand

Honey, Honey everywhere and so many different types! Here are the in’s and out’s of the different varieties including tastes, textures and where it’s most commonly found in New Zealand.

Kamahi Honey

Elle’s favourite! An intense flavour sensation with quite a strong complex flavour and perfect for recipes that require an identifiable honey taste, but pale and beautifully buttery golden in colour. It’s a fabulous honey to go with camembert and washed rind cheeses.

Produced and harvested from both the North and South Island, but mostly from the West Coast of the South Island from Kamahi Trees sitting 25 metres high in the canopies of our beautiful forests.

You will find Kamahi honey mostly creamed due to its above average tendency to crystallise.

Manuka Honey

This world renowned honey from New Zealand has a long history and is of significant value for both Maori and early European settlers for medicinal purposes.

Manuka honey is dark and amber in colour, a strongly flavoured honey with woody and nutty characteristics and intense toffee and caramel notes and can often even have a ‘jellied’ like texture.

Manuka Honey is well sought after in particular for it’s antibacterial activity and to help maintain inner balance and digestive health.

Beechwood Honeydew

Beechwood Honeydew is one of New Zealand’s premium export honeys.

A naturally dark amber honey and liquid in form, resembling golden syrup which does not normally crystallise due to the reduced levels of glucose.

Beechwood Honeydew contains high levels of antioxidants, which are helpful in maintaining and promoting beneficial gut bacteria (proboitic bacteria).

Honeydew is harvested from deep within the remote forests of New Zealand. Beechwood Honeydew Honey goes particularly well with smelly blue cheeses and with pip fruit like pears and apples.

Clover

New Zealand’s most common honey.

Through New Zealand’s historically pastoral economy and importance of sheep farming, clover (and rye) have dominated pastures throughout the countryside.

Clover honey has a delicate, mild sweet flavour and pale cream in colour.  Traditionally, South Island clover honey is lighter that of the North Islands. It is loved for it’s subtle flavour and New Zealand’s pristine countryside produces some of the world’s best clover honey.

Wildflower

Wildflower Honey gathered by our precious bees from around New Zealand’s countrysides and forests, the honey is uniquely flavoured honey with a bouquet of native flowers. A light, fruity flavour, packed full of goodness.

Lavender

A distinctively flowery aroma with a delicate lavender scent, gathered from Lavender farms around NZ. A smooth and rich perfumed flavour and perfect to sweeten your cup of tea.

You can try selection of these gorgeous honey’s on our Big Foody Food Tours. Which will be your favourite?

 

Celebrating Honey and Bee Aware Month

Posted by on September 26, 2018

Celebrating Honey and Bee Aware Month

 

September is Bee Aware Month and we have been celebrating bee's, their caretakers - the invaluable, caring beekeepers and of course HONEY!

What better country to visit, to taste and discover the multiple variations of honey, but New Zealand of course- read our most popular blog on our website '6 Types of Honey from New Zealand' from our infamous Manuka to Kamahi and our Wildflower honey's and their distinctive tastes.

 

Bee Aware Month is an initiative by Apiculture NZ and is a full month dedicated to promotional work dedicated to "Bee Health" and educating the public on how they themselves can help protect NZ's healthy bee population. Although New Zealand's bee population is generally fairly healthy we do have more threats to be aware of than ever before including bio-security, disease, bugs and pesticide. Bees of course are needed for pollination so that we can consume the delicious fruits and food that we so love including Avocado's, Strawberries, Kiwifruit, Apples, Nuts, Coffee and even Chocolate!

 

And there are 3 easy ways that YOU can help!

BEE FOOD - plant bee friendly gardens. Visit your local garden centre and ask them to suggest some plants for you

HYDRATION - Bee's need to drink water too in order to survive! Provide fresh, clean water for the bees. And put pebbles and / or twigs in the water so that they have somewhere to rest while they drink (and don't drown).

SAFE SPRAYING - don't spray your garden with harmful pesticides. Do you actually need to spray? But if you do, don't spray when the plants are in flower or bees are present. Best time of the day to spray is at sunrise or dusk when the bees are in their hives and the flowers are still closed and sleeping.

So go on, try out some of the recipes on the blog, go plant some bee friendly plants in the garden, join us on a tour sampling this precious liquid gold and celebrate our bees!

 

Our Foody Inspiration - Earthbound Honey

Posted by on September 26, 2018

Our Foody Inspiration - Earthbound Honey

 

In keeping with Bee Aware Month, our Foody Inspiration this month are sustainable artisan beekeepers - Earthbound Honey!

If you have been on one of our tours, you will know how much we love their honey and how good their honey is and if you haven't, we think it’s about time you did! Not only will you discover local Foody heros like Earthbound Honey but taste an almighty selection of delicious food whilst learning about our history, our people and our places.

 

Earthbound Honey is locally located in the Bethells Valley in north west Auckland on their 11 acre property with Pohutukawa groves, dense Manuka forests and wildflower pastures. Owners Terry and Karlene Toomey established Earthbound Honey in 2006 when Terry left his city-based job to become a beekeeper. Karlene soon followed reducing her hours as a landscape gardener and both now work on the farm together.

Their bees produce a range of honey from their Pohutukawa, Manuka and wildflower pastures.

If you are lucky enough to visit them at their base on one of our Our People, Our Places, Our Producers tours or at one of the local Farmer's Markets, you will see that it's not just honey that makes them one of our favourite Foody Inspirations, but it’s what they create with the honey and the wax from their bees. They also produce a wide range of skincare, honey vinegar, beeswax wraps and candles.

Fascinated? Join us on one of our Big Foody food tours and you too could be sampling this liquid gold!