I have just returned from a very hot (literally), short vacation on the Mornington Peninsula, a delightful country getaway about an hour and a half’s drive from Melbourne in Victoria, Australia. The area is known for its wineries, just over 30 to date, quality wines, in particular Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, spectacular scenery, quiet beaches and, this shouldn’t come as a surprise really, astoundingly good food.
My first stop, straight off the expressway from Melbourne, was lunch with an old friend, wine writer Sally Gudgeon, at Montalto—a winery and restaurant in the heart of wine country, overlooking well-kept vines and olive trees. John Mitchell, the owner, should be proud of his recent award for Best Victorian Winery Destination, judged by a panel from the Great Wine Capitals of the World. To me, food is about ambience too, and this did it for me. Eating great food outdoors on a warm day, overlooking vineyards, must top all great culinary heights. Besides his wines, his olive oil is also noteworthy.
Companionship: The rib of pork goes best with a glass of wine and a great view.
We started with a luxurious 2004 Cuvée One sparkling, made in the traditional Champagne style with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes. This is a new addition to his portfolio, and certainly one of the best sparklings I have tasted, fresh and distinctively creamy, perfect for daytime drinking. His Chardonnay, Riesling and Pinot Noir are also outstanding, and went perfectly with the food.
When I am abroad, I always choose dishes and ingredients that are difficult to find easily at home; scallops, duck and pork are usually my choice in the non-vegetarian arena. Montalto serves them all, but I was most impressed with chef Barry Davis’ stunningly simple, perfectly cooked Rib of Pork. Pork is something I usually avoid in India for safety reasons, but today farms are better run, with good standards of hygiene, and many luxury hotels are sourcing locally rather than importing. Pork is a versatile meat which takes very well to spicy and sweet accompaniments as well as to slow cooking, whether it is a Goan vindaloo, Chinese twice cooked, or a Western-style braised dish. Australian pork is of remarkably good quality, and all the products I came across, from Christmas honey smoked ham to bacon, sausages and salamis in local markets and from local vendors, were of unbelievable good quality. Here is chef Davis’ recipe for Rib of Pork. Of course, it does help to have a glass of Riesling and a view of the Montalto vineyards.
Rib of Pork Poached in Milk, Red Cabbage Ketchup and local Peninsula Asparagus
For the pork
4 pork ribs
1 litre milk
3 shallots or 1 onion
2 bay leaves
1 cinnamon stick
4 sprigs of thyme
½ nutmeg, ground to a powder
For the pork belly
1kg pork belly
2/3 cup coarse sea salt
1kg (duck) fat, melted
2 tablespoons white peppercorns
For the red cabbage ketchup
½ red cabbage shredded
2tbsp redcurrant jelly
100ml red wine vinegar
500ml Riesling white wine
1 cinnamon stick
Place milk, shallots, bay leaves, cinnamon, thyme and nutmeg in a pan and simmer for 5 minutes. Then place the pork ribs in and gently poach in the milk for at least 20 minutes. Set aside and allow to cool. Saute cabbage in a large pan in butter, add vinegar and cinnamon, and add wine. Reduce by about one-third and add redcurrant jelly and cook until cabbage is tender. When ready to serve, remove the pork from the milk and gently fry it in butter in a pan until golden. Serve with blanched asparagus and hot red cabbage. Pour the pork jus on top.
For the pork belly, place the meat skin side down on a dish, salt the meat and refrigerate for 24 hours. Preheat the oven to 140 degrees Celsius. Rub off the salt, then place the pork in a large, deep roasting dish. Cover with duck fat and sprinkle with peppercorns. Cook for 3 hours or until tender. Remove from the duck fat, cool and cut into four squares. Serve this crispy and crackling on top of the pork.
Write to Karen at firstname.lastname@example.org