Nagambie, Victoria: Ruffy Produce Store

By Michael Harden
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Driving into the tiny town of Ruffy through the ruggedly beautiful Strathbogie Ranges, it seems inconceivable that a place this small and isolated could harbour a food business that has been turning heads far and wide. But pull up a seat at one of the tables inside the Ruffy Produce Store or, if the weather is fine, one of the outside tables scattered across well-tended lawn and you begin to understand why all those cars are parked out the front every weekend.

Helen McDougall originally bought the former general store to use as a kitchen for making her rapidly growing McDougall and MacLean range of jams and preserves but the idea of using the space as a produce store and cafe proved “irresistible”. An energetic and passionate woman, Helen found herself driven by the idea of stocking only local produce and cooking with local ingredients and, three years later, that drive has turned the Ruffy Produce Store into the region’s best showcase of everything local that is good to eat and drink.

In the centre of the simple, homey shop there is a range of organic and biodynamic fruit and vegetables, free-range eggs and bags of locally grown walnuts. On the various shelves you can find Alpi organic peppermint, echinacea and lemongrass tea (the only place the brand is stocked other than Donovan’s restaurant in Melbourne), home made cordials flavoured with lemon verbena, bergamot and elderflower, bottled plums in syrup from Adrian Martin’s nearby biodynamic orchard as well as Helen’s brilliant range of jams and preserves (now under the label Ruffy Produce) that include a rhubarb chutney, fennel pickles, fig conserve and cucumber pickles. One shelf is dedicated to wines from the small wineries scattered throughout the Ranges many of which have no cellar door of their own. In the fridge there are sausages, steaks and kabana from Strathbogie Beef and a range of smoked meats from the butcher in nearby Euroa. Split Rock mineral water – a well-known brand in Melbourne – comes from a spring in the Strathbogie Ranges and so also finds a place in the fridge. One of the nicest things about the store is that it also stocks more mundane items like milk and newspapers that work nicely with the down to earth atmosphere.

The menu at the Ruffy Produce Store changes regularly and with the seasons. The food is beautifully cooked, keeping things simple and letting the wonderful ingredients speak for themselves. Those wanting to get a good dose of the local should order a produce platter “with everything that we sell that is from around here”. Team it with a glass or two of the local wines and you begin to understand why this once overlooked area is finally starting to attract the attention it deserves.

© Michael Harden 2006

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

Ruffy Produce Store, 26 Nolans Road, Ruffy, Victoria (03) 5790 4387

Regions

  • Nagambie Lakes (VIC)

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