It is a very nutty passion that drives the dynamic duo from Hazelbrae Farm at Hagley to keep tackling new adventures that are transforming a simple nut grove into one of the most desirable gourmet destinations in Tasmania for visitors and locals alike.
Crowned champions at a slew of fine food awards this year, the glory has not slowed the Hazelbrae team down as they contemplate new ventures including hazelnut-finished lambs.
Five years ago, a desire to take charge of their lives led Christie McLeod, Mick Delphin and their son Jack on a quest to find the perfect patch of land; the one they happened upon included a hazelnut grove.
As Christie tells it, she did not much like nuts, but was looking for an alternative to the intensive broad acre cropping and farming that was all about meeting supplier demands with very little autonomy. Christie recounts how they started looking at properties for sale and happened upon Hazelbrae Farm at Hagley. “I did not even like or eat nuts, as they were always stale,” she said. However, at Hazelbrae Christie soon discovered the delights of a fresh hazelnut, picked, cracked and roasted on the farm. That was in February 2014.
Since then, this young family have undertaken an amazing and innovative journey that has taken Hazelbrae on an impressive journey to become a premier Australian product. Their roasted hazelnuts have been crowned champion in both their class and produce category at the Australian Fine Food Awards in Melbourne and then they took out the ultimate prize. Hazelbrae’s roasted hazelnuts are the 2018 champion Australian product, beating 1300 other products in seven different categories.
In another Tasmanian and Australian first, they launched their freshly pressed hazelnut oil to much acclaim, and the demand for the oil continues to grow as does the medals tally.
At the Royal Hobart Fine Food Awards their oil gained gold. At the Sydney Royal Fine Food Awards their oil again took the champion medal in their class. Today they are in the running for the President’s Trophy. Outdoing 130 fine food champions, Hazelbrae’s hazelnut oil has been selected as one of 30 producers to proceed to this ultimate fine food trophy.
Hazelbrae Farm is today a sought out destination with innovative new products and events that celebrate the hazelnut and the beautiful established garden at the Hagley farm. Hazelbrae House offers a nutful experience from delicious dishes highlighting the hazelnut, to a tour through the grove and a peek at their beautiful gardens. Chef Nathan Johnston has bowed to pressure and is now opening on Friday nights or dinner, serving a four course set menu.
But back to the kernel that has transformed the lives of Christie, Mick and Jack. Hazelnuts are rich in protein and unsaturated fat. They also contain significant amounts of thiamine and the B group of vitamins. The bulk of world hazelnut production is in Turkey on the Black Sea. Australia imports about 2000 tonnes annually, mainly for the confectionary industry, but local hazelnut groves are increasing with growers in Tasmania, Victoria, New South Wales and recently Western Australia. Hazelbrae, the first commercial Tasmanian operation with 5000 trees hopes to produce about 50 tonnes as the trees mature towards 2020. The French family first started planting hazelnut trees at Hazelbrae in 2005 with the oldest grove numbering about 700 trees.
Drop into their stall at Harvest Launceston on Saturday where you will be tempted by freshly roasted hazelnuts, with or without chocolate and their latest taste sensation, Christie is turning local vanilla ice-cream into mounds of delicious hazelnut taste sensations.
Do not leave the market without a bottle of their liquid gold. A drop of hazelnut oil transforms chocolate and milk into a sumptuous treat. The oil is also wonderful drizzled on fresh local asparagus and a decadent addition to a long list of favourites, from brussels sprouts and broccoli to fresh summer berries and yoghurt. Dribble a drop or raise a nut to this dynamic team at Hazelbrae Farm at Hagley.
Finally watch this space for their current venture, nut-finished lamb.