“The experience of fishing and eating at the farm is so honest and stripped back, it can make every other meal you eat that week seem a disconnected jumble of complication and ambiguity” – Linsey Rendell, Broadsheet
From pond to pan in 10 minutes, trout-farm fishing offers one of the freshest dining experiences around. In partnership with Visit Ballarat, we find out how it’s done.
“We’ve been doing paddock to plate since before it was trendy,” says Jan Jones.
Jones and her husband Robert run Tuki Trout Farm, a property that encompasses trout fishing, grazing, a restaurant, and retreat-style accommodation. “I’m the producer, the butcher, the chef and the presenter,” says Robert. “But I’m not all that good on the wash up, am I, Jan?” he chuckles.
Located in Smeaton, half-an-hour north of Ballarat, Tuki was founded by Robert’s father as a grazing property, raising pasture-fed Low Line Angus cattle and Tukidale sheep (the farm’s namesake) on the fertile land. “That’s why Pop first settled here,” says Robert, who has lived on the 1200-acre property all his life.
In 1984, Robert wanted to add another dimension to the farm. He and his dad transformed the historic 1860s-built stables into a restaurant and opened Tuki Trout Farm in April 1985, 40 years after his father built the first pond as a means to tap into a natural spring. “Offering trout fishing was an entry point into the tourism industry,” Robert says.
Every week there are tasks to complete: cleaning and maintaining the ponds; smoking the trout; making pâté; and turning whole carcasses from the abattoir into cuts to stuff and smoke sausages with “It’s really important that we do smoked trout,” says Robert. “That way, I take all of those big fish out every week to reduce the stock in the ponds. Fishing also helps manage our stock.” It’s a small team, made up of a few casual staff and Robert and Jan’s son, Alistair. “We just want to grow good trout, cattle and lamb. We don’t want to be bigger than Texas,” Robert says.
The experience of fishing and eating at the farm is so honest and stripped back, it can make every other meal you eat that week seem a disconnected jumble of complication and ambiguity. At Tuki the ponds are designed so that even a first-timer will find lunch at the end of their line. Once you’ve netted your catch, Robert will have it cleaned and gutted, cooked and plated up within minutes. “It’s about showing that this trout is so fresh that the heart is still pumping,” he says.
The mineral content of the pond’s spring water is one factor that makes the Jones’s fish so delicious. But it’s also their attention to detail, and determination to maintain harmony, both in business and ecologically, that speaks to the property’s success.
The restaurant’s wine list is a solely central Victorian affair, and produce from the on-site veggie garden is used in the kitchen as much as possible. That flow also works in reverse. “The green waste from the restaurant goes to the chooks each day,” says Robert. “Then the chooks lay the eggs, the eggs get made into breakfast, and the compost goes on the garden to grow nice veggies. The rhythm of a sustainable life is very rewarding.”
Visit Tuki Trout Farm to experience some of the region’s freshest produce. The less adventurous can pick up Tuki Trout Farm’s pâté and smoked trout at Wilsons Fruit & Vegetables and Open Pantry in Ballarat.
ARTICLE BY LINSEY RENDELL, BROADSHEET