Wagga Wagga, New South Wales

  11 October 2015

“You’re going to Wagga Wagga? But why, what will you do there?” I heard that a lot from friends and family in the lead up to my long weekend visit to the Garden City of the South. And yes to be honest, at first I had absolutely no idea until I did some research as my trip coincided with the Taste Riverina Festival, a month-long ‘menu of events’ celebrating the year’s harvest, showcasing food, wine, beer and agricultural produce and experiences across the 17 shires in the Riverina. Wagga Wagga is 450km south-west of Sydney, about a 5hr drive or a 1 hour flight away and it’s the perfect getaway for the weekend!

We’ll start off with the Gears and Beers Festival, now in its second year of running (or should I say cycling…) and is dedicated to the bike riding culture in Wagga Wagga.

The event started early in the morning and entrants could choose from a range of cycling routes varying from 15km to 105km allowing riders of all ages and experiences to participate. It’s been several years since I last rode a bike so I opted out of the riding part and headed straight for the beverages 😀

There were stalls set up around the Victory Memorial Gardens with everything from pressure checks for your tyres to buying helmets and merchandise.

Our first stop is at Bridge Road Brewers, who are based in Beechworth just south of Albury. The Beechworth Pale Ale has the boys running flat out to keep up with the thirsty crowd. The ale is refreshing, light and totally a winner.

Next stop is Tumut River Brewing Co with the greatest tag line- ‘Because two mates wanted to make great beer.’ And great beer it is! Sadly they didn’t have the Squealing Pig IPA on tap so we chose the J.W. Pilsner which was a perfect mid strength beer with just a hint of bitterness.

And while there was ciders from Pink Lady Ciders, I was super keen to try the Double Decker Apple Cider from the Wagga Wagga Winery and loved how the cider wasn’t too sweet and just perfect in the 31C weather.

There were some food stalls from MG Gourmet Kranskis, burgers from The Blessed Bean, pancakes from Cafe Nest of Tumbarumba and a beer and cheese box from Knights Meats and Deli.

We escaped the heat by heading into the Thirsty Crow Brewing Co (31 Kincaid St, Wagga Wagga), who will be moving to a bigger location shortly.

And of course we had to try a paddle of their very finest beers! Our paddle contained: Sporting Ale, Red Light Ale, Murder Pilsner, Vanilla Milk Stout and Cascade Hop Ale. I’m not the biggest fan of stouts but absolutely loved the Sporting Ale which founder and head brewer Craig Wealands calls the ‘gateway beer’ hahaha

We managed to make it in time for the brewery tour which is $5/person or $15 with the paddle and runs for about 20mins with a head brewer taking us around the brewery and talking through the craft brewing process.

To soak up all the alcohol we ordered some foods, starting with the Pig and Fig Pizza ($23), which had a tangle of caramelised onion, shaved prosciutto, fig jam, blue cheese, mozzarella and rocket.

Noods wanted meat and stared at the generous serving of the Rack of Pork Ribs ($29) which were tender and marinated in a juicy BBQ sauce and came with a basket of shoestring fries.

I couldn’t resist ordering the Corn Dogs ($2/$10). The chilli and cheese kransky was fried in a Vanilla Stout batter and while the chilli level did kick me in the mouth, I absolutely loved the bursts of cheese!

How could I resist the Deep Fried Oreos ($10)? Resistance is pretty much futile whenever I see any dessert that’s been deep fried! The Oreos were fried to order so the icing within the biscuit are just on the point of melting and are sinfully delicious.

The Doughnuts ($10) were also on the heavy side, the crust was a little golden so it might have spent too much time bathing in oil but thankfully the innards are light and fluffy and my god that rich dulce de leche sauce was amazing.

Needing a snooze after all that food and beer we walked to Wagga Beach on the banks of the Murrumbidgee River. It’s super peaceful out there, I loved how non frenzied it was and just the perfect spot to chillax.

An absolutely must visit in Wagga Wagga is Knights Meats & Deli (187 Fitzmaurice St, Wagga Wagga), a family owned business sourcing the best produce from the Riverina area.

We met up with Deanna McNaughton, owner and CEO of Knights Meats & Deli who had prepared a lil tasting board for us with plump Wollundry Grove Olives, Knights own cheese kransky, a mild Griffith sopressa, a creamy Milawa Brie, bresaola and Knights own Pump House jerky.

And a dessert tasting board of Bertoldo Nougat (Griffith), Knights own Toffee Apples, biscuits, Junee Licorice and Chocolate Factory’s chocolate covered raspberry licorice and a pile of crisp pistachio bread.

Knights has over 30 suppliers from within a 100 mile radius of Wagga Wagga which is pretty impressive. They love supporting the local farmers- the lamb is sourced from the Riverina region sometimes from the weekly Wagga Wagga Lamb Markets, sometimes directly from farmers or abattoirs. Pork is sourced from Yanco to the North West or Wombat to the North East and the beef is sourced primarily from local abattoirs and other well established quality meat brokers in NSW.

Knights only buys Yearling or Young Beef due to its superior quality and age their beef to maximise the tenderness, flavour and eating quality. They have the largest range of whole cryovaced beef cuts in the region and are the sole stockists of Certified Australian Angus Beef (CAAB) a premium quality beef in the region.

I just love how perfectly presented everything is on display!

Mmm antipasto heaven

A lot of the cheeses aren’t local (the nearest commercially made cheese is over the Victorian boarder at Milawa) but Knights is hoping that will change soon with local cheese maker Barry Lillywhite. Barry was the cheese maker at the Charles Sturt University before it closed and has been working with his son in-law Anton and Neil Druce from the Junee Licorice Factory to start a Cheese Factory at Coolamon later this year.

The Deli section has a full time chef to create salads, pies, and pastries on offer in the feature cabinet. Knights has also recently introduced a Gourmet to Go menu with hot meals available to take home with a rotating menu from lasagnes to roast pork, BBQ chicken with coleslaw and Shepherd’s Pie.

The shelves are bursting with a wide range of pantry essentials and gourmet items made locally.

Knights own Pump House jerky is a hit with Noods and although we were warned about the Knights Pump House Explosive Jerky ($84/kg), he can’t resist buying some for the flight back. It’s not super explosively spicy but then, he can handle chilli so sadly there’s no video of him in tears of pain 😛

We check into our hotel at Mantra Pavilion Hotel before heading to Mercure Wagga Wagga for the World Whisky Appreciation class with the super knowledgable Ari who explains everything from the origin of the whiskys to the production and styles available.

That’s a pretty sexy lineup of whiskys! Ari wanted to showcase the different types of whiskys and not just the Scottish whisky so there was: the sweet Kavalan from Taiwan, the smooth Hibiki 17 years from Japan, the Australian Starward that’s matured in Shiraz casks, the spicy Amrut from India, the buttery Irish Teeling Single Malt, then American bourbon Eagle Rare, a Rittenhouse Rye and Jack Daniels whisky and lastly the smoky Scottish Whiskys of Glenmorangie, Oban and Lagavulin.

Haha Noods was in his happy place. It was a great class and one I’d love to do again- Ari knew his stuff and was super down to earth and answered all our questions patiently and may have given us top ups at the end of the class… Oh Hibiki, you sweet sweet thing…

I slipped out to see the tail end of the Cork & Fork Fest held on Wagga Beach where it had been transformed with a whole sky of fairy lights across the edges of the river. I couldn’t get over how family friendly all the events had been, everyone was just so perfectly behaved and it felt like such a safe environment with everyone just happy to see each other and share a beer or two.

There were stalls selling sushi, stir frys, pizzas and even a chocolate fountain fruit dip but because the temperature had dropped everyone was lining up waiting for these grilled sticks of tender meats at Al Sultan’s or buying a beverage or two from Borambola Winery.

How cute is this flower stall! There was also live music and acrobatic acts and people had brought their dogs so I spent the night making friends with strangers so I could pat their dogs haha

ChocolateSuze travelled to Wagga Wagga as a guest of Destination NSW.

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