Judging by the organization and attractiveness of the Matakana Village Farmer’s Market one might have a hard time believing that nine years ago there was just one farmer’s market in all of New Zealand. (For lovers of really trivial trivia, the honor of being New Zealand’s first farmer’s market goes to the town of Whangarei, about 166kms/100mi north of Auckland.) Today there are 40 markets from head to toe in a nation that is about the same area as the US state of Oregon.
The Matakana Village Farmer’s Market is a lesson in small scale civic planning that towns looking to integrate a farmer’s market into their communities would do well to emulate. What makes this market interesting is that it was designed with functionality and visual appeal in mind ― not just stashed in a corner parking lot or set up on some under-loved bit of land. As local developer and investor Richard Didsbury said: “We didn’t want to do some sort of twee American [style] historic replica which the public would see through in five seconds. We aimed to give the buildings some quirkiness so that people would inherently know when they stepped back and looked at the detail that these were not old buildings ― that there was something unusual going on.”
If the stated goal of being visually unusual has not been achieved than the range of products on offer might do the trick. Yes, this may not be entirely the kind of market that would appeal to all-comers, since it is more of a boutique than a full-on meats, fruits and vegetables market but, Matakana Market does have a diverse array of products and vendors.
Items for sale that may be a bit out of the ordinary at other farmer’s markets are fritters made from New Zealand’s green-lipped mussels and whitebait. Kiwis are mad for both. Whitebait is newly hatched galaxias fish caught by the bucketful from shallow streams. They are a little larger than a straight pin. To make a fritter several scoops of fish, or chopped mussels, are mixed in an egg batter then pan fried and served on buttered bread with lemon and pepper or a sweet red sauce. For the less daring Rainbow Valley Farm cooks up crepes and spares trees by serving them on banana leaves.
Elsewhere in the market one can sample the buffalo cheeses made by Annie and Phil Armstrong at the Whangaripo Buffalo Cheese Co. “Our cows all think they're divas,” said Annie when asked what makes her product different. From their herd of 17 water buffalo, flown over from Australia, they make small batches of yogurt, brie and bleu cheese. If you’re curious, their bleu was far less salty then other bleu cheeses and had a pleasant sharpness.
Windfall Foods Matakana and Cobara Authentic Foods appeal to both Western and Eastern palates. Lorraine North of Windfall Foods hand-makes a range of traditional lemon curds and berry jams along with brinjal (eggplant chutney) and kasundi (a spicy Indian tomato relish). Conrad Blind at Cobara has za’atar (a Middle Eastern spice mixture) and other dukkahs (spice blends used for dipping and as rubs). He also makes a delicious avocado oil that has a much higher smoking point than olive oil making it more suitable for cooking. (375℃/190℉ for extra virgin olive oil vs. 520℃/271℉ for avocado oil.)
For the imbiblio-phile there is Heron Flight’s quince ratafia. David Hoskins, the winemaker at Heron’s Flight winery and his wife, Nancy Evans, resurrected this cordial recipe from Italy. “Ratafia was drunk as an aperitif in the old days, mostly by women because it was sweet and had been flavored with fruits and spices” David explained. His take on the drink is to use local quince fruit and spices suspended in a neutral spirit made from distilled whey. Production is tiny, only 250, 375ml bottles. Another winemaker trying his hand at an alternative adult beverage is Sam Whitmore from Mount Tamahunga Vineyard who has made his first few batches of pear and apple cider he calls Zeffer. The pear is slightly sweeter than the apple but both were pleasantly dry.
Matakana Farmer’s Market
2 Matakana Valley Rd, Matakana Saturdays 8am-1pm (Winter 9am-1pm )
Contact: Market manager
021 1414 308
Purveyors mentioned or pictured in this story:
Whangaripo Buffalo Cheese Co.
Annie & Phil Armstrong
1158 Whangaripo Valley Road.
RD2, Wellsford, NZ
09 426 0501
Mount Tamahunga Vineyard & Zeffer Cider
Contact: Sam Whitmore
167 Tongue Farm Road
PO Box 223
09 423 0219
Windfall Foods Matakana — maker of jams, relishes and curds
Contact: Lorraine North
09 422 9231
Heron's Flight Vineyard Restaurant and Winemakers' Centre
Contact: David Hoskins & Mary Evans
49 Sharp Road Matakana RD2 Warkworth 0982
09 422 7915
Cobara Authentic Foods
Contact: Conrad Blind
PO Box 489
09 422 7182
Rainbow Valley Farm
588 Matakana Valley Road R.D. 5, Warkworth, NZ 09 422 7432