Ask anyone in New Zealand what they associate first with the historic and picturesque town of Oamaru and they will likely say "potatoes". Come Christmas time in New Zealand, shoppers around the country will be waiting for the arrival of the season's first boxes of famed Oamaru Jersey Benne potatoes, an absolute staple of the holiday table. These potatoes are so sought after because of their unique taste, and anyone will tell you it's a result of the perfect growing conditions that obtain in this corner of the South Island.
But potatoes are not the only delicacy to come out of Oamaru's farms. Our tomatoes are also among the country's finest, as are our cherries, and there are a number of vegetable growers in the area who are so well regarded that their produce and theirs alone is considered fit for visiting royalty who visit the country. Lamb, beef and venison from our farms is exported around the world, where they are considered among the best you can find.
Oamaru is famed not only for these basic products though. Starting in the late 1980s, a local dairy farmer hit on the idea of turning his milk into something a bit more special, and thus was born Whitestone Cheese, easily the most award-winning cheese company in New Zealand, which today produces a staggering range of artisanally crafted cheeses in a variety of styles, selling it not just around New Zealand but in the USA, Australia and elsewhere. Up the beautiful Waitaki Valley, a short drive from Oamaru, you will find the small town of Kurow, the centre of New Zealand's youngest wine district, where the wines of the Waitaki Valley appellation--produced only since the early 2000s--are grown and bottled. The Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and other varieties produced here have, in a very short time, begun to express a unique depth of flavour and character that leads many experts in the field to conclude that these wines will someday eclipse some of the more established wine districts in the country.
Even more recent than the emergence of our wineries is the resurrection of Oamaru's beer brewing tradition. In the early part of the 20th Century Oamaru was home to numerous breweries, all contributing no doubt to Oamaru's reputation as a bit of a rowdy town, and to the town's fathers' decision in 1905 to enact prohibition that was only repealed in the 1960s. It was only in 2013 that the town's first post-prohibition brewery was established, and in a very short time Scotts Brewery has become a tremendous success, producing several varieties of beer and ale, including the country's only two gluten-free beers. Shortly after Scotts Brewery opened, a Belgian-style brewery also opened in Oamaru, and already Craftwork has been awarded a number of gold and silver medals in international competitions. A third brewer has recently opened as well, helping cement Oamaru's reputation as a centre of the NZ craft beer movement.
Finally, a range of restaurants have established themselves in Oamaru and the nearby areas of the district, all taking advantage of our wealth of meats, produce and fish available from local sources. Starting at the world-famous Fleur's Place in Moeraki, serving some of New Zealand's freshest fish, and heading north to Riverstone Kitchen just south of the Waitaki River, and named recently New Zealand's top restaurant, you will come across a dizzying number of top-quality restaurants in between, serving fine cuisine at very fair prices. And then there is the fine cuisine at Pen-y-bryn Lodge, Oamaru's only New Zealand Luxury Lodge, where the meals are prepared using lodge-grown and local ingredients, and the chef will tailor the menu to suit each group's particular preferences.
New Zealand's reputation as a gourmet destination is well deserved, but that reputation is built on the country's exceptional produce. So why not visit the place where so much of that produce is grown, and have it prepared for you on the spot?
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