MEET THE FINALISTS - Snowy River Black Garlic
Growing garlic is a patient person’s game – a crop planted in March will be ready to pick in November.
Creating a delicious, softly chewy, caramelized black garlic adds another layer of patience.
It is a bit of science, a dash of mystery, a lot of intuition and a real passion for quality.
That takes around another five weeks.
So a batch of East Gippsland’s Snowy River Black Garlic truly is a labour of love.
With all the time and effort that goes into creating their award-winning garlic products, co-founders Mark Johnstone and Shelly Carroll both want and need to maximise every bulb from every crop, organically farmed on the Snowy River Flats.
The husband and wife team bring important and complimentary skill sets to their Jarrahmond garlic enterprise in Victoria’s far east; Mark’s mechanical background takes care of the farming and plant engineering side of the business, while Shelly’s naturopath study, training and experience allows them to confidently tell the story of how good garlic is for you!
They’re passionate about their green cropping practices and minimizing waste, so when there was a black garlic batch about 18 months ago that didn’t quite pass their stringent texture quality control measures, but still had all the intense flavour their product is known and loved for, it marked the beginning of their value add journey.
After some experimenting at home on a few different product ideas, they quickly realised the need for the food production experience of a commercial kitchen to partner with them to create a range of products, with gourmet salts and concentrate being the first two on their wish list.
Mark had joined Food & Fibre Gippsland in early 2019 and had also received support from East Gippsland Marketing (EGMI) via inclusion in some Melbourne food events where Gippsland produce had the opportunity to be showcased, so he knew within those collaborative networks would be a good place to start in the search for the right partnership.
Always keen to connect members to each other to explore opportunities, Food & Fibre Gippsland’s Head of Communications and Membership, Jody O’Brien, immediately saw an opportunity for Snowy River Black Garlic to engage with a fellow member, Noweyung in Bairnsdale, a registered NDIS provider to people living with all abilities. Via one of their businesses, Banksia Fine Foods, Noweyung create meaningful employment and opportunities through food service and food production.
Making gourmet salts is not as easy as just adding the flavour ingredients to salt. From the outset, the Banksia Fine Foods team has been meticulous in their approach, researching and testing different salt grades, refining the mix process, and ensuring the end product has a premium flavour, texture and consistency as well as a robust shelf life.
Passionate about giving back to their community and promoting the region, Mark and Shelly see their partnership with Banksia Fine Foods and Noweyung as a valuable collaboration integral to their ongoing business growth that provides both social and economic value in their own backyard through the production of a premium range that is 100% Gippsland trusted provenance.
The size of the two businesses complement each other, and it works well for their artisan value add range of gourmet salts and concentrate to be assembled in small batches by a dedicated team who know and love their products, and are exceptionally proud of what they’ve created.
And the collaboration is clearly paying off, with Snowy River Black Garlic earning a place on the finalists list for the Excellence in Collaborative Partnerships for Food & Fibre Gippsland’s 2020 Excellence in Agribusiness Awards, a category proudly supported by TAFE Gippsland.
The nod from the judges is not surprising on top of a spur of the moment visit at the back end of summer from former MasterChef judges Gary Mehigan and Matt Preston. The celebrity chefs, on a private road trip of East Gippsland, popped in to see Mark and declared his black garlic to be the best they had ever tasted!
Whilst online line sales from their own website tick along, Mark and Shelly are delighted with their growing list of stockists in both regional and metropolitan Victoria. They have also recently expanded into the Queensland market with a gourmet deli in Brisbane, and are regularly taking inquiries from a diverse range of foodie businesses both interstate and overseas wanting to add black garlic to their product lines.
This interest, combined with their participation in Gippsland Connect; a Food & Fibre Gippsland project supporting Gippsland producers to prepare for and explore international markets, means the next step is to increase supply. They are currently considering collaborating with and contracting other garlic growers in the Gippsland region to achieve that.
The winners of the Excellence in Agribusiness Awards will be announced online on November 20.