July 20th, 2023A little black magic
Words: Eve Lamb. Image: Chloe Smith Photography.
Theirs is a tale of taking a punt and following that inner vision. For Springmount couple Carmel and Brett Masterson it’s the sort of story that anyone dreaming of a new life direction and of becoming their own boss really likes to hear.
Carmel was working in admin at a local school when an episode of the popular TV series Masterchef caught her attention back in 2010. More specifically a certain special ingredient being used on the show caught her attention. That ingredient was black garlic and Carmel didn’t know it then, but the strong interest it piqued in her meant that by 2017 she and Brett would actually be supplying Masterchef with it themselves!
“I chucked in my job and went and bought an oven in 2014 and started making it,” Carmel recounts her daring move that would lead to the formation of their small batch gourmet edibles business, Springmount Fine Foods.
She admits that mastering the art of making black garlic took quite a bit of trial and error, and there was more than one batch that ended up in the compost before she mastered the art.
“Like most people I assumed black garlic was a variety of garlic, but after a lot of research we realised it was a painstakingly slow process of ageing the garlic in a low temperature oven for 40 days,” Carmel says.
This protracted and precise process creates the sweet, black, sticky delight that adds flavoursome interest – and particularly high antioxidant content – to all manner of fare. It’s perfect, for example, for cheese platters, folded through butter and served on a sizzling steak, scattered over grilled tomatoes or sautéed with mushrooms. It even pairs well with dark chocolate.
“Everyone that has tried it has fallen in love with the unique sweet yet savoury flavour and soft caramelised texture,” Carmel says.
When she bought that commercial oven, she was clearly doing something right as Brett also left his work as a landscape gardener and began working fulltime at their property-based Springmount Fine Foods business as well.
When Carmel and Brett established Springmount Fine Foods in 2015, growing garlic on the property at Springmount, between Creswick and Daylesford, was the main focus right from the start.
While they no longer supply Masterchef with black garlic, they’re producing more of this speciality gourmet goodie than ever as demand has gone from strength to strength. Springmount Fine Foods has become renowned for producing it, along with other specialty gourmet delights like their garlic drizzle range.
When The Local visited Carmel and Brett at their Springmount property and commercial kitchen in recent days, it wasn’t hard to spot the new garlic crop growing in a paddock.
It comprises 25,000 heads, or cloves, of garlic that the two of them planted – by hand! But harvest of the new garlic crop won’t happen until around the end of November – start of December.
“The planting is all done by hand and it’s massive work, just the two of us,” Carmel said.
”Harvest is a monumental job as well but we usually get family members involved with that.
“We also do sauces and vinaigrettes and we have a whole garlic range. One has smoked garlic, one as roasted, and aside from that we also do fruit pastes and relishes.
“Probably our biggest selling product is our garlic drizzle and we’re just about to launch two new versions – one with native mountain pepper and one with chilli oil.”
Other gourmet products of particular note include their fruity little flavour bombs called garnishing pearls which turn a glass of something good into something even better, perfect for special occasions.
“We’ve got our strawberry pearls for champagne, peach pearls for prosecco, and our lime pearls for gin and tonic – which are my favourite. I love them,” Carmel says.
“They have a fine gel coating and a liquid centre that pops with a burst of flavour in the mouth.
“We do a lot of food and wine festivals and it’s shown us how this new generation of foodies are not only looking for exciting food that’s beautifully presented but they are now craving that bit of theatre to accompany the experience.
“That’s why we developed our gourmet pearl range to be able to offer another unique product with a touch of sophistication. They’re for a bit of fun. No-one makes them the same as us and they’re all made with real fruit.”
Carmel and Brett purchase some of the ingredients, like the fruit, that they use to make some of the products in their commercial on-site kitchen, but they grow all their own garlic – and also their own mint – on the property.
Brett says that since COVID, Springmount Fine Foods has been growing each year – “to the point where we’re struggling to keep up with the manufacturing and growing sides of the business,” he says.
“Our daughter, Tia, now works for us part time,” Carmel says. We don’t want to grow too big. We want to stay small and boutique. It suits us.”
The Mastersons admit they’re proud that their products have picked up multiple medals at the Australian Food Awards, the Royal Sydney Fine Food Show and the Royal Hobart Fine Food Show over the past few years.
Suffice to say they’re busy people, working with an expanding list of retailers, chefs and lovers of gourmet foods, and the couple say they have ideas for new products yet to be created.
“Our main market would be wineries, cellar doors and specialty food shops but we’ve also just cracked into Sydney,” Carmel says.
“We’ve got into QE food stores in metro Sydney, and for the last year we’ve had a distributor in Melbourne so we’re getting into the Melbourne market a lot more as well. That’s gone berserk!”
Especially worth noting for locals, is the fact that they’re also preparing to be part of the first ever Kingston Food and Wine Festival scheduled to take place at Kingston, in October this year. In fact Carmel is on the organising committee and is pretty excited about this new addition to the region’s events calendar. She says the new festival is definitely intended to become a regullar annual highlight. So watch this space.