Hosted by Bridgette and Lance O’Sullivan at their hill-top Hinuera Valley venue The Red Barn, around 60 VIP guests were among the first to sample Taste of Waikato, a six-course degustation meal showcasing some of the finest artisan food and wine from across the region.
The menu, designed by executive chef Leith Davidson, is part of a new offering for The Red Barn, celebrating regional pasture-to-plate produce and products, and targeting private and corporate groups and the tourism market.
Representatives from Kōwhai Creamery (Waharoa), Magills Butchery (Te Awamutu), Meyer Cheese (Hamilton), Zealong Tea Estate (Gordonton), Southfish (Te Kauwhata), Raglan Chocolate, Vilagrad Winery (Ohaupo) and Takapoto Estate (Karapiro) were at the lunch to share the story behind their products.
“In the Waikato we are blessed with some of the most fertile soils and best farms in the world,” said Bridgette O’Sullivan, who has run The Red Barn, located on SH29 between Matamata and Cambridge, for more than 10 years. “We have the best dairy, meat and beautiful produce here. We have lakes, rivers and oceans with wonderful seafood.”
“That is how Taste of the Waikato came about – we wanted to showcase Waikato food, wine and local stories to the world.”
Ms O’Sullivan said the leisurely dining experience aims to take guests on a gastronomic journey through the region, with a chance to indulge in on-trend menu items. It will be available year round for group bookings of lunch or dinner, and typically takes around 3.5 hours.
Interactive elements add to the fun, and guests will have the opportunity to try their hand at butter-churning, plating a meal and can test their culinary skills guessing meal ingredients from a box of mystery herbs and spices.
Ms O’Sullivan said there has already been strong interest in the Taste of Waikato experience, with bookings from inbound tour operators and the cruise ship market.
Hamilton & Waikato Tourism Chief Executive Jason Dawson said he was “very excited” about the Taste of Waikato.
“It celebrates the food, flavours and unique producers which can only be found in the Mighty Waikato,” said Mr Dawson. “Waikato is home to New Zealand’s only tea plantation, a family-owned boutique winery which now produces apple cider, award-winning cheeses and gelatos from our world-famous dairy industry and many other heroes from our vibrant culinary industry.”
He said that Taste of Waikato would appeal to New Zealand’s travel trade, corporate and cruise markets “seeking a premium, boutique dining experience”.
Located just 15 minutes’ drive from Hobbiton, and on route between Auckland and Rotorua, and a short bus trip over the Kaimai Ranges from the Port of Tauranga, The Red Barn is well placed to appeal to international tourists.
Matamata-Piako District Mayor Jan Barnes also attended the lunch and said Taste of Waikato offered people “an amazing experience” and was a “perfect example” of a local business showcasing the bounty of the region.
“I am so proud of who we are as a district and what we can offer our guests,” said Mayor Barnes. “What we have here is the trifecta – a gorgeous setting, incredible food and wine from right here in the mighty Waikato, and truly gracious hosts.”
Esther Burnett, Events and Marketing Coordinator at Waikato Food Inc, said Taste of Waikato was “exactly what we want to see happening in the region”.
“Taste of Waikato demonstrates the depth and breadth of local produce and the passion, innovation and creativity within our region,” said Ms Burnett. “We often look outside our region for markers of success, such as Wellington on a Plate, but people don’t realise that there is so much happening in right here.”
Waikato Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Chris Simpson echoed praise for Taste of Waikato, which he said “was just amazing”.
“The quality of food, wines, and ciders available coupled with the venue truly showcases just how gastronomically and sensory aware the Waikato’s foodie and tourism sector has become. Whether you are considering corporate hosting or luxury travel, this is the place to be with the food, wine and experience to match,” said Mr Simpson.
Other Waikato companies featured on the Taste of Waikato menu included Bella Pane (Putaruru), Waratah Farms (Otorohanga), Kaimai Greens (Matamata), Balle Bros (Matamata), Southern Fresh (Matangi), Cilantro Cheese (Hamilton) and INVIVO winery (Te Kauwhata).
The new offering builds on The Red Barn’s reputation as a venue for exquisite group dining in an elegant rural setting, popular for weddings, parties, conferences and corporate events.
The Taste of Waikato is available year round for private and corporate group lunches and dinners of 20 to 50 people, and costs $115 per person plus an additional $46 for wine matching.
For limited dates in September, October and December the Taste of Waikato is open to individuals and smaller groups, which can be booked online at www.redbarnexperiences.nz