Where we went: Cygnet, Tasmania
When we went: Early spring, 2018
While house and cat sitting in the Huon Valley Sommelier and I agreed to have a “quiet one”. Our quiet weekends involve a long sleep in and then a small excursion to a prime food destination with the view that, so long as we are only out of the house for about 4 hours, the calories won’t catch up with us. We’re on a wedding diet you see, so we have to be sensible with our eating.
Cygnet is the prime starting point for all those looking for a lazy, snacky Sunday in the Huonvalley. It is the quirky, artisan capital of Tasmania (and Tasmania is the quirky, artisan capital of Australia, so Cygnet is basically quirk and artisanal living exemplified). Cygnet plays host to the Cygnet folk festival, an insane number of swans (it’s in the name, I don’t know why I was surprised by all the swans), and a respectable collection of fine dining choices for the brunch connoisseurs (of which I am certainly one because I start work at 7am and my lunch break is 10:30am so my weekend lunch time is normal human brunch time). Red Velvet Lounge and the Cygnet Woodfired Bakehouse are the two prime brunch stops for locals and travellers alike and they have a brilliant reputation for a reason but are often full as a result. Lotus Eaters, towards the end of the town is another very fine café that is worth the trip, but if you are lucky enough to be in cygnet between 10am and 2pm on the 1st or 3rd Sunday of the month then you are in for a Cygnet country market sized treat.
The Cygnet market is basically one giant, glorious bake sale with a few other gifts and souvenirs thrown in (we also bought a plant, her name is Amy and I love her). We especially enjoyed a Yeastie Beastie sourdough donut. We could not agree on the best flavour out of lemon drizzle and classic cinnamon-sugar, so we grudgingly bought both and shared because good relationships are all about compromise. We wandered mostly aimlessly through the streets of Cygnet, there are decent enough public toilets and an art gallery that was displaying predominantly nature themed pieces while we were there. My personal favourite of the shops to explore in Cygnet was Lanique Design which is a goldsmith specialising in handmade jewellery featuring Tasmanian gems. I like to collect jewellery and wearable art from the places that I visit so it is the sort of thing that I favour. Cygnet is a fairly small country town and it is not a long walk to get through it all. We were finished our entire Cygnet adventure before noon and headed back to Huonville to fill our picnic basket.
Pagan Cider is an essential stop when passing through Cygnet. They do cellar door tasting and sales and they make an exceptionally delicious cider. I have a very sketchy past with pear cider as it nearly killed me in my youth and I feel ill at the very mention of its name, but I still find Pagan’s pear very palatable and if that’s not high praise then I don’t know what you want from me. There are also a handful of vineyards in the area, but they are not open all year around so check websites carefully or call ahead if you want to do a tasting tour of the region without being disappointed. You should resign yourself to buying Huon Valley wines from bottleshops though, especially if you are travelling in winter or early spring.
Willie Smiths is the obvious place to stop on the way through Huonville, especially if one is in to tasting alcohol, but first we went to the Salamanca Fresh in Huonville, a state-wide grocer chain that has a very respectable cheese selection, as well as a plethora of things you never even knew you needed. There is a rumour that there is a cheesery opening in the Huon valley in the coming years, and I, for one, am very excited about that, but Salamanca fresh is my local and I also like to buy foreign cheese and compare it to Tasmanian cheese, so supermarket shopping has its perks. We settled on a Tasmanian smoked cheddar and a French Roquefort. My father ate Roquefort every night for most of my childhood and so my sister’s and I are all quite partial to it, although it is, apparently, quite an acquired taste. French people seem to respect people who eat strong cheese and my big sister, while travelling France, was asked what her favourite cheese was (it’s a French thing, like how Tasmanian’s ask what your favourite potato is, or the English want to know about your favourite tea). Naturally, she said Roquefort to which the man in question went very quiet for a very long time and, as her concern that she had offended him mounted he finally broke the tense silence with a respectful nod and a gleeful exclamation of, “that’s my third favourite cheese!” And that’s the story of how my sister made a French friend. Please note that a Tasmanian might also ask you what your favourite apple is, especially in this part of the world because the Huon is apple country. Heaven help you if you don’t have an answer.
We went to Willie Smiths once we had chosen our cheese so that we could pair our cider accordingly. There is food at Willie Smiths and it is good food, there is also the option to taste a flight of ciders or a flight of their homemade spirts. We played fast and loose with Sommelier’s pairing instincts though and just chose a whiskey aged cider without tasting it (wild, I know! – especially when he said he wanted a quiet weekend) before making our last stop on the way.
The Huon and Channel Highways both have a larger number of fruit vendors trading out of honesty boxes than you might expect (as I have no idea of your fruit vendor expectations I cannot accurately judge), but my go-to is Lucaston Park’s which sells apples (by the variety mostly, so know your preferences – we got sundowners), apple juice and homemade jams and pickles. It’s the jams that have me coming back and we bought a bag of apples, some apple juice and a jar of plum jam. Picnic basket filled we hurried home to the cats and the couch. There are places to enjoy a picnic in the Huon region, mostly along the Huon river, but it is illegal to consume alcohol in public in Australia without proper authorisation so if you choose to picnic in a public spot please stick to non-alcoholic, family-friendly beverages and save the cider for when you get back to the couch.