Masons of Bendigo chef and owner Sonia Anthony has always had a passion for food. The culture and traditions of nurturing the soil, organic growing and seasonal eating were embedded in her youth as the child of parents who migrated to Australia in the 1960s from remote villages in Slovenia.
'Understanding where my food comes from has always been important,' she says.
She and her husband Nick were thrilled to discover the abundance and variety of the produce available in the Goldfields region of Victoria. This directly influences their seasonally focused menu and allows them to develop and build relationships with local growers and producers.
Here are Sonia's top foodie recommendations in Bendigo and surrounding regions.
1. Sutton Grange Winery
This award-winning winery sits on the southern edge of the Bendigo region, and is a favourite destination for Sonia and Nick when they want to get out of town for an hour or two.
The organic wines are handcrafted by winemaker Melanie Chester and the cellar door overlooks a very picturesque setting. Sonia loves to sit on the vineyard's verandah, wine in hand, and take in the view. 'Chances are you'll see a kangaroo hop by for a sip – of water, that is!'
2. Bendigo Community Farmers' Market
Sonia is president of the farmers' market. Running on the second Saturday of each month, it provides the local community with fresh, seasonal produce and allows people to support local producers. Sonia notes how the market's role within the community has changed in recent times:
'Farmers' markets were looked at by many as social occasions to catch up with friends,' she says. 'Communities are now realising the importance of supporting localised food systems and making mindful choices around food services.'
3. Farm-gate fresh
Food is often the theme of an Anthony family road trip, and they love to gather produce right from the source. Favourites include Tellurian Fruit Orchard in Harcourt during the warmer months, for plump organically grown peaches plucked straight off the tree.
Down the road, Blackwood Orchard offers 'pick-your-own' strawberries during fruiting season. 'You'll never go back to supermarket strawberries again,' Sonia says. 'And if it's cherry season, buy an extra kilo – you'll thank me for it.'
The family fills up the fridge with pork from McIvor Farm Foods in Tooborac and keeps the home wine cellar stocked with bottles from nearby Syrahmi Wines.
4. Heathcote wine region
Sonia recommends a road trip from Bendigo into the nearby Heathcote wine region, where you can drop into local cellar doors. Home to more than 50 wineries and vineyards, the region's renowned for its world-class shiraz.
'You’ll be surprised by the flavour, but beware its high alcohol level!' Sonia says. Sample the latest vintages and take a bottle home for your designated driver to enjoy later.