When I started writing this column towards the end of 2014 the good folk at the Nelson Mail and I all thought I might be able to find enough food and beverage stories to tell for about a year but even I have been surprised at just how many clever people there are in Nelson producing all sorts of world-class products.
I thought the final column for 2016 is as good a time as any to reflect on some of the things produced in the region and the people who have the passion, belief and determination to make them.
It didn’t take me long to realise the real story isn’t about the products but the people who make them, people who were born here and people who have migrated to New Zealand for a wide range of reasons and it has been enlightening to see how much these people love living in this country and appreciate the support you give them by buying their products.
People like Gavin and Angela Williams from 185 in Hope who have lived here all their lives and with vision, a huge amount of hard work and support from locals who appreciate quality, fresh produce they have built a business we all love and that they can be very proud of.
And if it starts in the garden it finishes on your plate at home or in a restaurant where people like Kevin Hopgood, Matt Bouterey, John Appelman, Steve Coyne, Harry Morris and many others are proud to serve local products as often as they can.
When I started thinking about the things grown and produced in the Nelson region there are a few products that are simply stars; Wangapeka Family Dairy cheeses are world class and they are made from milk produced by much loved cows on their own farm.
Matteo Bordini and his partner Sylvia are an Italian couple who moved from Rome to Nelson and set up a cheese-making business, a business making a range of beautiful fresh cheeses including a mozzarella that I have seen for sale in places as far afield as Queenstown and Auckland.
From Italian cheeses the next logical step is pizza and Nelson has some outstanding pizzerias, Stefano has been making traditional wood-fired pizzas for many years and is now cooking and selling them from a courtyard in upper Bridge St while after a short break in Australia Amir Rahsepar and his wife Steffi returned to set up Pizzeria Bella in Bridge St where they make crispy base pizzas I just love.
From cheese and pizza it is a short culinary hop to Heck’s Smallgoods, Heck produces an outstanding range of cured meats, delicious sausages and salamis.
Moving away from the pizza theme Nelson has some outstanding ethnic restaurants and one of my favourites in Nicola’s Mexican Cantina in Church St, Nicola and Ross serve up authentic Mexican food that is packed with flavour and you can make it as hot as you like by simply adding more hot sauce.
Many of the hot sauces they have for you to choose from are imported by another Nelson business, West Indies Spice Traders who also make their own chilli jam, another product I have seen in all corners of New Zealand.
Another favourite food of our is sushi and I think the sushi made by Tosh and Angela Kondo at Hey Sushi in the Richmond Mall is as good as you will get anywhere.
Sushi opens the door to Japanese food and another Nelson made range of products that are being sold around the country is produced by Urban Hippie; Urban Hippie Miso paste and other miso products are handmade in Nelson by Takehito Maeda and his wife Mie, it is the only miso that is hand made in New Zealand.
If classic French style dining is your favourite food then simply go to the authentic La Gourmandise, owned by French couple Mylene and Greg Auphin they specialise in a range of delicious crepes, savoury delights (galettes) and serve beautifully cooked yet simple food for dinner.
For something in the French bistro/fine dining style it is very difficult to go past Hopgood’s & Co on Trafalgar Street where you will find some of the very best food in New Zealand but before you go to Hopgood’s you can drop in to Urban for a pre-dinner cocktail and wonderful restaurant quality food in a bar setting.
If it is views that you want while dining just go to Harbour Light Bistro on Wakefield Quay, there simply isn’t a better place to enjoy the magnificent views of Nelson Harbour and Tasman Bay; and the food is damn fine too, chef Steve Coyne honed his skills working on Luxury Yachts all around the world and brings those skills to Nelson.
Not everyone wants to eat out and there are a huge number of local producers making tasty things for you to enjoy or to make something with; products like Cam & Charlies Pickled garlic that you can enjoy straight from the jar or maybe mushrooms from Neudorf Mushrooms who have a range of pickled, smoked and dried mushrooms you can use at this time of the year or if you visit them at the Farmers Market during autumn they may even have a fresh black truffle for you.
Every meal needs something to drink and something sweet to finish with and there are producers of chocolate and gelato in Nelson who are making a name for themselves around the country, the range of single origin hand-crafted chocolates made by Karl Hogarth and his wife are premium products made with a huge amount of passion and dedication to quality, right down to hand-wrapping each bar.
Roma Gelato has an increasing number of outlets selling the gelatos and ice creams they make using real fresh berries and other natural products, including locally produced milk from Oaklands.
And we all know about Nelson’s reputation as a breeding ground for passionate craft brewers and winemakers, producers who make so many nationally and internationally awarded beers and wines we are spoiled for choice.
All of the people who make products right here in Nelson are my food heroes, they add an incredible vibrancy to the food and beverage choices we have and I love telling their stories in the hope that you can discover not only the products but really do appreciate the effort these people make to realise their dreams.
Those mentioned here are just a few of the great people and businesses I have written about in the last couple of years and there are so many more stories to tell, from the fishermen at port Nelson to the apple growers on the Waimea Plains and cheese makers in Golden Bay I know there are lots more people for me to meet and products to discover.
This summer make sure you buy as many local products as you can, they are produced by people who love to put a smile on your face.