DON Hamley of Port Phillip Bay Scallops has been entering the Australian Food Awards for a few years now.
And for a company that has only been operating for five years, a gold medal in 2017 and a silver in 2018 are amazing accolades for a business that is effectively still in its infancy.
The product obviously demands recognition being sustainably harvested from Port Phillip Bay, with divers going down and collecting each piece individually by hand.
The commercial method is traditionally to dredge, which rips up the entire habitat along with all the vegetation, and the impact on the environment and the scallop community is devastating.
Port Phillip Bay Scallops in comparison only harvest mature scallops which are two, to two and half, years old, with a minimum size of 90 millimetres.
The scallops are collected live and undamaged and are on-sold in this state to high-end Victorian restaurants like Attica, Rockpool and Brae, and to interstate equivalents.
The company is the sole license holder to dive for scallops in the bay, and Don Hamley explains that their story is quite well-known in the hospitality industry with the unique nature of their enterprise commanding respect and attention.
“It’s really about providing a quality niche product,” Don said.
“It’s a fairly expensive product, in comparison to dredging, as it is so labour intensive.
“Our goal is to develop the market to appreciate the product and the environmentally sustainable element of it all, and the fact that it is live, not dead or frozen.”
The environmental credentials of Port Phillip Bay Scallops – being the only hand-dive fishery in Australia – is somewhat of a difficult commodity to market overseas.
“Winning the medals at the Australian Food Awards has really helped,” Don said.
“Not so much on a domestic level, but it has given us more visibility and recognition when we’re looking at overseas markets.
“It is a known standard.
“When people see the Australian Food Award medal on your logo, it obviously means something to the market, there is confidence in Australian Food standards and the quality of the produce.”
This sentiment is echoed by Corinne Blacket of Drysdale Cheese, on the Bellarine Peninsula.
Corinne has been entering the food awards for 10 years, and this was recognised in 2018, not only with a gold medal for her goats milk, but also a
Consistency of Excellence Medal for her products overall, and her achievements over the decade.
“It’s fantastic,” Corinne said, “as the first things chefs ask is ‘Oh great you’re local, but is your product any good?’
“If you’ve benchmarked against larger producers with independent judges in a blind testing situation you have proof that what you’re doing is okay.
“It’s just excellent to have that benchmarking, and it certainly does generate a lot of interest.
“It gives confidence, and once you slap that medal on there it carries weight.”
As Drysdale Cheese is a boutique operation with a milking herd of 30 and an annual production of three tonnes of cheese and yoghurt, the awards and resulting recognition have guaranteed Corinne a market for her small batch products.
Corinne predominantly sells to local restaurants, producing 50 to 60 kilograms of cheese and yoghurt each week, and with her reputation for excellence firmly entrenched in the region, Drysdale Cheese has become a known and sought-after commodity on the menu.
Old Farm Happy Valley Eggs in Hazeldene are also a sought-after commodity, with customers willing to travel distances to purchase the eggs from Diego Puyol whenever he takes his product to a Melbourne market.
Diego won gold for his free range organic eggs in both 2017 and 2018, but decided not to enter in 2019 for concerns he had with the judging process.
His issue was the category that his eggs would be judged in also included truffles and honey, and he felt that these products should all be judged independently and not pitted against each other.
That said, Diego speaks highly of the award and the resulting industry recognition.
“It helps a lot of people with trust, knowing that someone professional is telling them that the product is worthy.
“There is an awful lot of criteria that eggs are judged on – the thickness of the shell, the taste, the colour, the viscosity of the white, whether the yolk holds form.”
Referencing the judging criteria, customers are then able to purchase award-winning products specifically for their required culinary purposes.
“I have chefs buying eggs from me just for the yolk because it’s so rich.
“They put the yolks on salt for two or three days – almost to cure it – and then they grate it onto food, like a parmesan,” Diego said.
With the hospitality industry keen to embrace new trends and with an emphasis on fresh, quality produce, the Australian Food Awards guarantees a market for small time producers and premium operations.
With the standard set and a benchmark achieved, the Award allows producers to charge appropriately for their product and sustains the viability of their enterprise.
Because everybody loves a winner.