There is plenty of gold to still discover in Loddon Valley, only these days it is in the form of a small jar of delicate golden saffron strands.
Creative and resourceful couple, Rosie and Drew as Squirrel Gully Saffron have crafted their own fairy tale to escape the rat race and build a satisfying and productive life in the Golden Triangle.
Just over five years ago, a Melbourne chef and a former naval engineer decided to use their combined skills to pursue their dream of living off-grid and sustainably. After purchasing a 10-acre property near Dunolly, the next step for Rosie and Drew was to develop a business with low energy requirements around a crop that could be grown without pesticides or chemicals.
Chosen for its potential use as an exciting food product and also because the crop requires little energy to produce, saffron is well suited to the local climate of hot dry summers and cold winters. The plants are grown above ground in tubs, which helps with the process of removing weeds by hand and for harvesting, also by hand. The tubs enable the plants to grow in light, sandy soil and be watered by hand for minimal water use.
While jars of saffron are expensive, the product is used sparingly in recipes and is extremely versatile. As a chef, Rosie delights in producing and sharing innovative and delicious recipes featuring her saffron as well as other ingredients grown locally. The versatility of saffron is endless and Rosie has highlighted its use with rice, paella, chicken, fish, sweet dishes and cocktails.
Inspired by the Lost Trades Fair, Rosie has also collaborated with another innovative maker to offer exquisite hand-dyed silk scarves, featuring the delicate red-gold of the saffron flower’s stamens in natural dyes.
Saffron is collected from the blossoms of the Crocus sativus corm and has only one harvest per year, in autumn. The delicate strands are carefully picked by hand and placed in the dehydrator for a few hours before being packaged on site and sent directly to consumers and commercial chefs. Even the labels on the jars use 100% recycled paper and the jars may be returned by repeat customers in a ‘buy back’ program in support of the company’s sustainable ethos and to minimise the environmental impact.
Among the enticing products available in the Squirrel Gully Saffron online shop are beautiful handcrafted tapas boards which Drew makes on site. He turns these out in between designing wind turbines in his workshop or honing the self-sufficiency of the farm operation.
Cook at home paella kits are also available as the perfect gift for a foodie. The packs are delivered complete with pan, rice, saffron, smoked paprika, local chorizo sausage and Rosie’s recipe card.
Apart from their online store, Squirrel Gully Saffron is a part of the Food Fossickers Network, Open Food Network and will be part of the Visit Loddon Valley online store. This exciting development aims to bring the best of Loddon Valley products to the fingertips of consumers throughout Australia.
Of course there are no squirrels around Dunolly, but the quirky name is a nod to the seemingly overwhelming odds overcome by Rosie and Drew to rejuvenate the property and live out their dreams together in Squirrel Gully. Just like them, the name invokes creativity, originality and living in harmony with the natural world.