As much as it sounds like something conjured up by the marketing team at Club Med, Kangaroo Island is actually one of the world's premier wildlife reserves. One third of the 1,680-square-mile island is dedicated national or conservation park land, and it has retained more than half its native vegetation due to its isolated location and low population.
While the island has garnered an international reputation for its spectacular, windswept beaches, groves of eucalyptus and wattles and abundant wildlife, its other claim to fame is a diverse, thriving agriculture industry despite the relatively poor soil.
Viticulture and olive oil are increasingly gaining ground as industries, joining premier South Australian regions such as McLaren Vale and the Barossa Valley. But sheep, marron (freshwater crayfish) and produce farming, as well as bee-keeping and fishing, are Kangaroo Island's primary products.
To fully experience the culinary delights of the island, self-drive food and wine trail maps are available, or visitors can go with a company such as Kangaroo Island Wilderness Tours. I was fortunate enough to visit K.I. as part of a group of journalists attending the Adelaide-based Tasting Australia festival.
Our first day, we visited Clifford's Honey Farm, home of the world's only population of pure-strain Ligurian bees (again, due to the island's isolation); Islander Estate Vineyard, with its delectable French varietals ranging from semillion to cabernet franc and olive oil pressed from wild olives hand-picked from 100-year-old trees; the plump pasture-raised chickens at Kangaroo Island Chook Farm and Island Pure Sheep Dairy, known throughout Australia for its creamy wheels of Brie, haloumi, yogurt and ricotta. Our second day included visits to see koalas and fur seals in their natural habitat followed by a true K.I.-style picnic in a flower-dotted meadow in Flinders Chase National Park.
With our guide manning the flat top grill, we helped him prepare tender whiting (a local species of smelt), buttery island-grown potatoes and a simple salad of baby greens dressed with local olive oil.
The most traditional Kangaroo Island experience, however, was the party in the old sheep shearing shed at Bay of Shoals Winery.
That night, chef Pearson passed around platters of simply prepared foods: lobster spring rolls, lamb stuffed with couscous, feta and tapenade, raw oysters, prawn and abalone "sausage," marron bouillabaisse, and perhaps the most quintessential KI dish, grilled sheep haloumi on skewers.
Haloumi, a mild, salty semi-hard sheep's cheese from Cyprus, is artisanally produced on the Island in the traditional manner by pressing mint between the blocks of cheese to provide subtle flavor. Fried haloumi is a beloved regional South Australian treat, especially when drizzled with Kangaroo Island olive oil or local honey which comes in caramelly coastal wildflower, rich, dark sugar gum and stringy bark varieties.
For information on attending the 2008 Tasting Australia Festival, and visiting Kangaroo Island, go to http://www.tasting-australia.com.au.
Fried Haloumi with Mache and Wildflower Honey
Recipe by Laurel Miller.
1/2 teaspoon finely minced shallot
2 tablespoons Champagne vinegar, or to taste
Salt, to taste
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, or to taste
8 ounces haloumi
Flour for dredging
Olive oil, for frying
5 cups mache leaves, or baby mixed lettuces
1/2 cup toasted walnuts, broken into pieces
Wildflower honey, for drizzling
For vinaigrette: Place the shallot, Champagne vinegar and a pinch salt together in a small bowl and let macerate for at least 10 minutes and up to one hour to mellow the flavor of the shallot. Whisk in the olive oil until combined. Taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary.
For the salad: Dust some slices of good quality haloumi with flour. Fry quickly in olive oil until golden on both sides. Meanwhile, toss the mache with a couple of tablespoons of the dressing until lightly coated and divide among four salad plates. Place the warm haloumi on top of the mache and drizzle the cheese with a bit of honey and a scattering of walnuts. Serve immediately.
Nutrition could not be accurately calculated.
Laurel Miller is a freelance writer, cooking teacher and owner of The Sustainable Kitchen. Contact her at http://www.sustainablekitchen.com.