Words Kate Monahan-Riddell

Set in the lush green farmland of the Waikato’s Hinuera Valley, the Red Barn offers a slice of rural New Zealand.

With views of rolling green pastures, nearby mountains and Lake Karapiro, it has become a popular destination for weddings, private parties and corporate events since its launch over 10 years ago. In recent years they have also been offering farm tours through their 200ha working dairy farm.

Now, owners Bridgette and Lance O’Sullivan are taking their passion for the region to the next level with the launch of a new gastronomic venture called Taste of Waikato.

A gourmet six-course degustation menu, which launches this spring, will showcase some of the finest regional food and wine, while offering an interactive experience that includes butter churning and plating a meal.

The degustation lunches and dinners are designed to be a leisurely, enjoyable experience taking around 3.5 hours.

On arrival guests will receive a glass of sparkling wine, marking the start of a delicious culinary journey around the wider Waikato and Coromandel, with a menu designed by executive chef Leith Davidson.

It features Coromandel mussels served with Opito Bay scallop crème, crispy Otorohanga pork belly and delicately-flavoured smoked tuna arancini with an indigenous twist

Many of the Waikato’s top artisan food companies also appear on the menu including Bella Pane (Putaruru), Magills Butchery (Te Awamutu), Kaimai Greens (Matamata), Balle Bros (Matamata), Southern Fresh (Matangi), Cilantro Cheese (Hamilton), Kōwhai Creamery (Waharoa), Raglan Chocolate, and Southfish (eel from Te Kauwhata).

Each of the six courses is paired with wine from Te Kauwhata-based INVIVO, Ohaupo-based Vilagrad Winery and Karapiro-based Takapoto Estate. Raglan Roast coffee and tea from Zealong Tea Estate (near Hamilton) is also available.

“Over the past decade we’ve got to know a lot of the food producers in the Waikato and they have got such great stories to tell,” says Bridgette. “Here we’ve got some of the most fertile soils and farms in the world, with the best dairy, meat and beautiful produce; we’ve got lakes, rivers and ocean with fresh seafood and eel. That is how Taste of the Waikato came about. We want to showcase Waikato food and wine to the world.”

The back of each menu features the stories of local food and wine producers, a souvenir that guests can take home. Sharing these local stories excites chef Leith Davidson.

“For example, Bella Pane makes beautiful bread using flour from a mill in Tirau and water from the Blue Springs in Putaruru,” says Leith, who has worked in hotels, restaurants and catering companies in both New Zealand and Australia. “Each loaf of bread is handmade from scratch and is absolutely delicious. It’s good to be able to showcase these small, artisanal companies.”

To add to the fun, there is an interactive element to the lunch. Guests will have the opportunity to churn and season their own butter, which they can spread on freshly baked bread and enjoy. As part of the second course, guests will have the chance to plate up their own dish, layering and drizzling elements on the plate—a chance to show their artistic flair. Later, diners will have an opportunity to test their senses as they try to identify mystery herbs and spices used in the meals.

“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” says Bridgette. “This is more than just a six-course degustation meal; we wanted to infuse it with an interactive element.”

Located on State Highway 29 between Matamata and Cambridge, and just a 15-minute drive from Hobbiton, the Red Barn is perfectly positioned to whet the appetites of discerning foodies and tourists travelling between Auckland and Rotorua or Tauranga.

The experience is ideal for large groups—whether international tourists off a cruise ship or on a coach tour through New Zealand—or for big groups of friends, family or colleagues celebrating a birthday or Christmas, for a staff reward or team-building event or other corporate functions.

Taste of Waikato is open all year round for private and corporate lunches or dinners for groups of between 20 and 50 people.

However, for a limited time, The Red Barn is opening up Taste of Waikato to the public, for small groups and individuals. Select dates this spring and early summer can be booked for tables of eight.

These exclusive dates include lunches on September 22, October 20, November 3 and December 12 and 15, and one dinner event on December 13 2019. Lunches start at 11.30am and finish after 3pm. The dinner is from 6.30pm.

The six-course degustation Taste of Waikato experience is $115 per person, plus an additional $46 for wine match with each course.

To book go to www.redbarnexperiences.nz or contact 027 733 2276 for more information.

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