EXPERIENCE THIS // Maugers Paddock To Plate Tours
There’s something pretty special about Laurel View. Is it the sweeping views from the original farmhouse? Maybe it’s the chilled out cows in the paddocks you pass as you head up the long, winding driveway. Or the sheep dotting the rolling hills of farmland.
Or maybe it’s John and Vicki Mauger, owners of Laurel View, and quite possibly the nicest people you could ever meet (we actually left wondering how we could work out some sort of adoption arrangement with them – it’s totally normal for a 40-something to want to be adopted by a supercool and super nice farming family, right?).
Laurel View is a 300 acre farm tucked away on the Illawarra Highway between the townships of Burrawang and Robertson. And it’s the venue for the Maugers Paddock To Plate Tour we were lucky enough to experience recently. Heads up - the next tour is on Saturday 22 February - check out all the details here!
We learnt, we ate, and we laughed – lots – John has quite the talent for sharing amusing family and farming anecdotes! It was a fantastic few hours of getting to know what it’s really like living on the land and making a living from it. Here’s how it went down….
Nothing like bumping your car over a cattle grill as you wind your way up a long driveway to get you in the mood for learning all about life on the land!
Greeted by John and Vicki as we pulled up in the car, with hands outstretched and smiles wide – there was no way they couldn’t have made us feel more at home.
They ushered us into a shed that John renovated a few years ago for the purpose of hosting Paddock To Plate experiences. And when we say shed, we mean a fabbo custom-built shed - with three rooms!
The first room was filled with comfy chairs, country décor, old photos in frames and a table of baked goodies – score! We chatted with other people on the tour over a cuppa and some cake. And have to say, John and Vicki are quite the hosts – everyone felt super comfortable and welcomed into their world within minutes.
But it was the fabulous old family photos on the shelves around the room that we were drawn to.
“That’s my dad, Joe,” John notices us getting a closer look at one of the photos.
“When he was 18, my grandmother lent him the deposit to buy the farm. The first thing he did was plant 10 acres of cabbages. It turned out to be a really good move because after just one season of growing cabbages, he paid off his farm!”
Nostalgia with a side of apple teacake. Perfect!
We moved into another larger room where John chatted his way through a presentation on the history of the farm and also the history of Maugers Meats, the well-known local business that started in Burrawang in 1972.
“The bum fell out of the cattle market so Dad was scratching his head wondering how he could get rid of his cattle,” John explains.
“He knocked on doors, drove up driveways and simply asked people to buy meat from him, and ended up selling 10 bodies of beef and 15 lambs a week!”
“I finished school and started in Dad’s butcher shop the very next day. I was 16.”
I’d love to tell you every single story John and Vicki shared with us here, but you really have to go along and hear it from them yourselves. Funny family moments, tough seasons of heartache on the farm, and poignant moments of loss and stoicism.
What stood out for us was the constant need for people living on the land to reinvent themselves and constantly find new ways to add revenue channels to keep their farms.
Maugers Catering Services started this way. John and Vicki were asked to cater a couple of local functions. It turned out well – the business ran for 30 years!
“We worked out that we served an average of 309 people per week over 30 years,” Vicki says.
No wonder she was happy to hang up the apron a few years ago!
They also have a holiday stay property on site which was being rented by a lovely big family when we were there. Visitors from the city visiting the Highlands for a wedding, they actually joined us for the next part of the tour – more people, more chats, the more the merrier!
We head outside next, wandering across the grass into the paddocks and the cattleyards where we get up close and personal with some doe-eyed cows and woolly sheep.
John jumps into the cattleyards and gives us a rundown on the different breeds of cattle at Laurel View and a quick lesson on how to tell the age of a sheep – good to know!
He also shares his farming philosophy with us.
“Our cattle and lamb are grass fed and we don’t give them hormones or antibiotics,” John explains.
“Our cattle grow slower on grass. It takes a lot longer but creates better tasting meat. They move around 3 – 6 paddocks of 10 acres each. And we handle them with care – don’t want to stress them out!”
“Grass fed cattle handled passively are happier, healthier, and have a better fat cover, which positively impacts the quality and the flavour of the meat.”
We leave the stunning farm views behind to head back inside for a boning demo. Now look, I’m the sort of person who is more than happy to cook meat and eat it, but not necessarily want to know how it got to my barbecue.
But I found this part of the Paddock To Plate Tour fascinating. Perhaps it’s because John really knows his way around a hindquarter!
His record for boning a hindquarter is eight minutes and 20 minutes for a forequarter. That’s quick, people!
John steps us through the process of boning, chatting away about the best sort of cuts to use for different things.
“Use beef shin if you’re making osso bucco,” he says.
“It’s better than veal if you want more flavour.”
And that’s just a small sample of the boning, cooking and barbecuing tips that roll off his tongue. He even shares his Mum’s cooking methods!
“Mum cooked the topside of beef for two hours. Unfortunately, the peas were cooked for the same amount of time!” he laughs.
We move back into the gorgeous first room we were in and reap the benefits of John and Vicki’s 30 years of catering experience.
Waiting for us is slow cooked beef (18 hours, baby!) with fresh rolls, delicious coleslaw (who doesn’t love a good crunchy slaw??) and a selection of sauces and relishes, made by the Maugers’ daughter.
More chatting and more anecdotes, this time in between mouthfuls of deliciousness – I think everyone actually went back for seconds!
Three hours passed super quickly and we left feeling like we had a bit more of an understanding about what life on the land in the Highlands is REALLY like.
Lots of hard work, an entrepreneurial spirit, full on resilience and a bloody good sense of humour.
Visit Laurel View, the Maugers working farm to learn more about grass-fed beef and lamb production. Find out why raising livestock naturally on grass is better for the animal, the environment and the taste. The next tour is coming up on Saturday 22 February - don't miss out! Click here for Paddock To Plate Tour dates and booking info.
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