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Takatu muesli

Breakfast at Takatu is a bowl of muesli outside on the bocce court. Photo by David Lansing.

What is it with the sky here in New Zealand? It’s amazing. Day after day. A cerulean blue river of sky clotted with long, puffy gray saturated clouds. I just stare and stare at it. Particularly in the morning. At Takatu, my routine has been to get up early and head for the main house where Heather has laid out breakfast—ricotta pancakes with fresh berries one morning, plump local figs with clotted cream and cheese the next, and always there is Heather’s spectacular muesli.

I pour a bowl, mix in a few of the fat tart blueberries picked from bushes just down the road, and head outside to sit in one of the comfortable canvas chairs anchoring the end of a bocce court. Small birds dive after the insects floating in the breeze above the vineyards; in the distance I see fishing boats heading out of Omaha Bay. I eat my muesli, drink my coffee, and watch the clouds float overhead.

Takatu Muesli

When mixing up this homemade muesli, Heather Forsman often uses pear juice instead of apple juice and dried blueberries, figs, or fresh dates instead of apricots.

Ingredients

3 cups rolled oats

1 cup hulled sunflower seeds

3/4 cup shelled almonds

1/2 cup hulled pumpkin seeds

1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

1 cup thinly sliced apricots

1/2 cup apple juice

1/4 cup sesame seeds

2 tbsp. vegetable oil

1.   Preheat oven to 325°. Put oats, sunflower seeds, almonds, pumpkin seeds, shredded coconut, sesame seeds, apple juice, and vegetable oil into a large bowl and stir to combine.

2.   Spread mixture out evenly on a baking sheet and bake, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, about 30 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.

Sprinkle apricots over cooled muesli and toss to combine. Store in airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 month. Serve with yogurt and fresh fruit.

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Stubbs

All things lamb at Stubbs in Matakana. Photo by David Lansing.

One of the particularly yummy things Heather served as an appetizer last night was a chicken liver and brandy pate that came from the butcher shop in Matakana, which may be why it was at the top of her list of places I should check out today. So I went in to town and ended up parking, quite accidentally, right in front of it. Couldn’t miss it since the display window was filled with all things lamb: lamb racks, boned and rolled lamb, butterflied legs of lamb, lamb shanks, chops, backstraps, cutlets, steaks, chops, and rumps.

Not that they didn’t also have some lovely looking cuts of beef and pork as well as whole rabbits, quail, pheasant, and duck. But it was the lamb I was lusting after. There is, to me, nothing like a nice cut of lamb. I love that slightly gamey, grassy taste of very rare butterflied leg of lamb, seasoned with olive oil, kosher salt, garlic, and rosemary, spit-barbecued over a slow fire, the fat dripping on to the coals and evaporating as a smoky fragrance that always gets me salivating.

The Matakana butchery is actually called Stubbs Village Butchery and is owned by two guys named Dick and Bill (of course), both of whom look exactly the way you would expect a New Zealand butcher to look, which is to say beefy and a bit portly with massive shoulders and forearms.

When I was there Bill, the one without a mustache, was handing out samples of some little tidbit of meat speared on toothpicks. “Chipolata?” he asked.

I took one and popped it in my mouth. It tasted a bit like a Jimmy Dean sausage. “What’s a chipolata?” I asked him.

“Chipolata?” he repeated, saying the word in that way that people have when they’re surprised you don’t know what something is. “Never heard of chipolata?”

I assured him I hadn’t.

“What’s it taste like, mate?” he asked me.

I told him it tasted like a Jimmy Dean.

“Tastes like a Jimmy Dean?” he repeated, clearly confused. “What’s a Jimmy Dean?”

I told him it was a breakfast sausage. He smiled. “There you are, then.”

So evidently a chipolata was a breakfast sausage, though why they didn’t just call it that was beyond me. Bill said they made them here in the shop and he had beef or pork chipolatas.

“No lamb?”

“Lamb chipolata?” Bill repeated.

I nodded.

“Nah, mate. You don’t make a chipolata from lamb.”

Why not, I asked him. You seem to make everything else out of lamb.

“A bit strong for breakfast, I reckon,” he said.

Not for me. I think lamb chipolata would be just the thing for breakfast. Along with a bowl of Heather’s muesli and a strong cup of Black Dog coffee, and I told this to Bill. He nodded and thought about it for a minute and said, “Come back tomorrow morning. I’ll have some lamb chipolata for you. We’ll try it out. You bring the Black Dog.”

I plan to do just that.

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Takatu

Heather and John Forsman in front of their winery, Takatu. Photo by David Lansing.

Next to my bowl of homemade muesli, Heather has left a list of places she thinks I should visit around Matakana. They include Black Dog Coffee, Omaha Blueberries, and the local butchery. The notation next to the butchery reads “Lamb!”

Heather and John Forsman own Takatu, a small bed and breakfast lodge and winery where I am staying. John, a pilot for Air New Zealand, runs the winery and Heather does the B&B thing (and makes wonderful muesli). Last night the three of us sat outside on the lawn overlooking their vineyard drinking John’s bone-dry Pinot Gris and talking about the people who live in this valley.

“It’s an odd mix of greenies,” Heather said. “You’ve got fishermen and blueberry farmers and artists and all the little business people in between, like ourselves, but we all get along. Sometimes the meetings in the old school house get a little animated but it’s always interesting and the goal is the same: to make Matakana a better place to live.”

I told them that one of the things I found most interesting about this corner of North Island was the mutual admiration society that seems to exist among the food and wine people and everyone else. From the poshest boutique winemaker to the crunchiest organic farmer, everyone seems eager to boast not of his or her own talents and projects but of those of neighboring farmers or producers.

And then, as if to prove my point, there was the list Heather left me this morning of Matakana businesses she thought I should go visit. Including a teahouse, a café that makes its own beer, a sweet shop known for their local blueberry ice cream, and, of course, the butcher with his lamb.

The town, it seems to me, is a locavore heaven.

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A flight of Pinot Gris at The Vintry in Matakana. Photo by David Lansing.

Ask anyone from Auckland where you absolutely have to go on the North Island and inevitably they’ll say, “Matakana.” So that’s where I went. And, frankly, I’m not sure what I think about it at the moment. Except that’s it’s quite tiny (you can do the whole downtown scene in about 15 minutes) and seems to have a secret vibe to it.

Yesterday afternoon I had lunch at The Vintry, a sort of wine bar and café that tastes and sells only Matakana wines—all 50 or so of them. The guy behind the bar was named Mike Smith (or so he said). Mike told me that he originally “was in the wine trade” in London, then moved on to sales in “the luxury food division” before deciding to become a chef.

How then, you may wonder, as I did, had Mr. Smith ended up working at a wine bar in a little town in New Zealand 45-miles from Auckland? Mike shrugged. “I wanted to disappear,” he said, pouring me a flight of Pinot Gris that included everything from a rather Italian-version, called Ransom, that was a bit tart and steely-tasting, to Brick Bay, which he called “a big, fat chewy French-style Pinot Gris.”

So, anyway, how did Mr. Smith end up in Matakana?

“I did a Google search for ‘Farmers Markets New Zealand’ and what popped up was Matakana, so two weeks later I got on a plane from London and I’ve been here ever since.”

That was almost four years ago. I asked him if he ever thinks about going home. “Never,” he said, pouring a little taste of the chewy French-style Pinot Gris for himself. “It’s absolutely brilliant here. It’s sun and sea and great wine and fabulous food—but without the attitude.”

All right, so Mr. Smith was living and working in London and did a Google search for farmers markets in New Zealand and two weeks later he just left everything and everyone behind to move to Matakana. Why do I think there must be more to the story than this? And that perhaps a broken heart is involved? I’ll have to stop in again at The Vintry later this week and see if I can’t get more of the story out of him. I have a feeling that, like the town itself, you just need to peel back the layers one by one to get to the heart of the matter.

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The trail to the wetlands picnic area at Grove Mill Winery. Photo by David Lansing.

An epic day yesterday. After tasting something like 36 wines at six different Marlborough wineries I ended up the afternoon at Grove Mill, the first winery in the world to achieve CarbonNZero certification. Which basically means that they are so friggin’ green that their operations have zero impact on carbon dioxide emissions from energy (and that includes the distribution of its wine). Roger Kerrison, the guy at Grove Mill largely responsible for this accomplishment, offered to take me around and show me what they did to be such good citizens of the planet, but after having spent two weeks visiting maybe 40 wineries around here, I told him I pretty much felt like I’d been there, done that (how many times can you listen to a spiel on the fermentation process?).

Which, I think, was fine with Roger. So since it was such a gorgeous afternoon, with those famous long white clouds gliding high over the Waihopai Valley, Roger rounded up Grove Mill’s young winemaker, David Pearce (I’m just starting to realize that almost all the men in New Zealand are named David for some reason; not that I mind. I think it’s a lovely name), and the three of us tromped off to the picnic grounds in the middle of the winery’s restored wetlands with Roger hauling six bottles of wine in something that looked like what milkmen once used to deliver bottles of milk to your home when that still happened, and David carrying a few more bottles in his hands.

The epic sky above Grove Mill vineyards. Photo by David Lansing.

We sat on the grass and talked about trout fishing (David is a keen fisherman) and how Roger, who is from the UK, ended up working in a New Zealand winery. Long story short: Roger came over from England five years ago for a friend’s wedding and ended up buying so many great Marlborough wines that he basically spent his airfare home. “Truth is, I got stuck here,” he said.

No matter. He loved it here so all he needed to do was figure out what how his IT background might fit in at a winery. “Rob hired me (that would be Rob White, the winery’s CEO) to figure out how large our carbon footprint was and then come up with ways to get us down to carbon neutral.”

We tasted Grove Mill’s Sauvignon Blanc, the world’s first carbon zero certified wine, which David proclaimed had a certain “salt marsh characteristic to it” (I think this was the wine talking), as well as the Pinot Gris and the Riesling and…well, we sampled all of them. And we stopped talking about how minerally they were or whether there was a little fig taste in the Chardonnay (I swore there was) and instead took off our shoes and lay on our backs on the cool grass and talked about fly-fishing, cooking (David Pearce collects cookbooks), the Southern Bell frogs that were croaking all around us in the wetlands, and the best live concerts of all time (I just don’t understand when people bring up the Grateful Dead).

In other words, we drank some good wine and just enjoyed ourselves. Until the pale blue sky started to turn orange and purple, the shadows grew long, and it was time for me to walk (thankfully) down the road to my B&B.

As I said: An epic day. Tomorrow it’s on to New Zealand’s North Island.

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