Homemade in Victoria's Dandenong Ranges

Explore the foodie outskirts of Melbourne

By Michael Harden
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Touring in the Dandenong Ranges, Victoria

Touring in the Dandenong Ranges, Victoria [©Visions of Victoria]

 

The clichéd view of the Dandenong Ranges is of beautiful scenery, Devonshire teas, craft shops and lace-choked B and B’s.

As with many clichés, there is a core of truth to this view, but these magnificently forested mountains on the outer edge of the city also harbour a unique and interesting food culture that exists amongst all those lace doilies, hand knits and scones.

Driving towards the Dandenong Ranges from Melbourne, it seems as if the suburbs will never end. But as you approach the foothills, the unbroken mass of shopping strips, traffic lights and houses abruptly runs out of steam. Suddenly you’re negotiating narrow winding roads surrounded by magnificent forests of towering eucalypts and enormous tree ferns, broken only by the occasional picturesque village that emerges briefly from the forest before the trees and silence take over again.

It is this magical feeling of being spirited away from the city, combined with a distinctly English feel to the architecture and gardens that has kept the Dandenongs on the tourist radar since the late 1800’s.

Only a couple of decades after the first Europeans ventured into the area called Corhanwarrabul (‘high’ or ‘lofty’) by the indigenous inhabitants, the ranges became a place for Melburnians to escape the city heat in the summer and revel in the cloud-shrouded frosty chill in the winter.

Originally decimated by Melbourne’s insatiable need for timber (Dandenong forests were reduced from 26 500 acres in 1867 to a little over 4000 acres by the 1970’s), the Dandenong Ranges were saved in many ways by tourists wanting to keep a little nature in their lives. Much of the felled native bush has been replanted with imported trees and plants but the Dandenong Ranges National Park that dominates the region now includes more than 3000 hectares of protected Mountain Ash-dominated bush.

For food and wine lovers, the Dandenongs present an interesting challenge. Unlike many of Victoria’s other regions, this Ranges don’t have a large food producing base (though there are commercial farms in the area) and many of the dining places toe the traditional Dandenong Ranges tourist line, pretending to be in England with menus to match. But there are treasures to be found if you persevere and ask the locals.

In back yards and small farms there is a good variety of goods being produced, albeit on a fairly small scale. Get off the track a little and you can find farms producing fabulous fruit – berries in particular – and roadside stalls selling everything from chestnuts and vegetables to eggs and home made preserves.

There are also restaurants, cafes and produce stores in the area that are taking advantage of the good local stuff, serving it up in ways that may have you struggling to remember the Dandenong Ranges cliché. As a food region, it may not have the size and diversity of its close neighbour the Yarra Valley, but for true food and wine foragers, that makes discovering the gems here even more special.

Five Dandenong Ranges Food Experiences

  • Picking chestnuts at Ruefleur Chestnuts, Olinda

  • Catching your own trout at the Australian Rainbow Trout Farm, Macclesfield

  • Picking raspberries and blackberries at The Big Berry U-Pick, Hoddles Creek

  • Tasting wine at the cellar door of Paternoster Wines, Emerald

  • Picking red currants at Emily Hill Farm, Emerald.

© Michael Harden 2006

First printed in Food and Wine Lovers’ Guide to Melbourne and Surrounds (2006)

Regions

  • Yarra Valley, Dandenongs and the Ranges (VIC)

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