If someone told you to point to the middle of New South Wales, you’d probably end up somewhere close to Griffith. Your parents will tell you stories of Griffith’s chequered past – which, let’s just say, starts with ‘m’ and ends in ‘afia’ – but recently it’s been living under a more complimentary banner: the Australian Riverina.
This wholly agricultural region of south-west New South Wales (think Wagga Wagga way) is distinguished by its hot climate, vast saltbush plains and the ample irrigation that comes from both the Murrumbidgee and Murray rivers. This winning combo means the Riverina is prime for growing. The region produces 90 per cent of the state’s citrus, 80 per cent of the state’s wine grapes and it’s also a hive for almonds, fruits, vegetables and a vast majority of the rice that’s grown in Australia. It’s for this reason they like to call it one of Australia’s premier food bowls. If the term ‘food bowl’ doesn’t get your stomach rumbling, the ample edible options certainly will.
Packed with small town charm, this destination region has the appetite of a big city. If you’re headed out west, chocolate, cheese, craft beer and authentic Italian await you. Follow our curated Riverina itinerary below to get the most out of your stay.
Start in Griffith, a town that has the paddock-to-plate ethos swimming in its veins. Farms dominate the landscape and you’ll get a good introduction at Catania Fruit Salad Farm. Run by husband-and-wife team Sharon and Joe, you’ll hop on a bus and safari through 60 different types of fruit trees found on their property. It’s a great taster into the history of the region.
It’s estimated around 60 per cent of people in Griffith have Italian heritage, thanks to a surge of Italian immigration in the late 1950s. The result is evident most in the food you’ll find here. Zecca Handmade Italian is located in an old rural bank building (‘zecca’ means mint in Italian) where they serve quality produce that harks back to the old country. Fresh agnolotti and farro pappardelle are made in-house daily, and if you’re seeking salumi, you’ll be well looked after here.
Another stellar edible experience comes by way of Limone – a fine dining restaurant run by young gun Luke Piccolo. It’s here you’ll get a real sense Griffith’s companionate community, one that prides itself on knowing exactly where its produce comes from, right down to the person supplying each particular vegetable: the broccolini is from Tony, the mushrooms are from Tyson, the artichokes from Mr Farinato and the rice comes from the Randall family. Dishes are plated with precision, with the standouts being a rainbow trout dipped in lemon butter and chargrilled quail served on mashy polenta.
Is it shameful to plan a whole trip around a slab of cheese? There’s no judgement here. Coolamon Cheese is your one-stop shop for all things fancy fromage: enjoy cheese tastings and cheese-inspired meals in their incredible converted warehouse or go on a factory tour and see the mongers doing their thing. Be sure to try their native range: our pick is their semi hard River Mint cheese that pops with a strong spearmint flavour.
Junee Licorice and Chocolate Factorytrades in some Willy Wonka realness. Producing a huge range of certified organic confectionery – including chocolate covered strawberries, rocky road and epic chocolate freckles the size of your face – the factory also runs tours so you can see how these treats are made in house.
Known to the local Wiradjuri people as ‘the place of many crows’, Wagga Wagga has all the fixings of a neighbourly regional town, with old-timey homes, farm-to-table eats, craft breweries and long, languid strolls on the Murrumbidgee River awaiting you. Start with a coffee and a feed at the Blessed Bean, an upscale coffeehouse that’s always heaving with locals, then make your way to the Food I Am cooking school for a masterclass from some of the Riverina’s top chefs.
The final stop on your eating itinerary is Wagga’s Thirsty Crow Brewery. It’s hard to decide what’s better: their 140-seat bar that comes with its own board game entertainment, their signature Vanilla Milk Stout brew, or their after hours pizza menu that boasts flavours like ‘2am kebab’, ‘pig and fig’, and ‘Hawaiian lava’ that comes with a very serious “do not order this, it’s far too hot for you” warning.