It is less than a kilometre long but Berry’s main street is a microcosm of what makes this star-studded foodie town tick. Queen Street represents the old fashioned shopping experience for those who like arcades over malls, and independent crafts people and food producers over tired franchises.
‘’I came here as a consultant and fell in love with the lush countryside and abundance of fresh food available,’’ said former Sydneysider Carole Ruta, who with partner Ian Gray moved two hours down the coast to Berry four years ago to open South Coast Providores. Ruta, who is considered the matriarch of the town’s strong slow food movement, uses local produce in an astounding array of French-style conserves and preserves she prepares on site. She and Ian are just two of an army of dedicated foodies who have made Berry their home in recent years.
Berry, named after an early pioneering family, started out in the 1820s as a timber and dairy-farming community.With a population of 2000, it is now the northern gateway to the Shoalhaven holiday region which attracts 2.8 million visitors each year.The new breed of primary producers grows everything from olives to tea while the specialty producers are into chocolate-making, bread making, confectionery, and gelato to name a few. Diversity also extends to the cafes and restaurants with talented pastry chef Emma Davis starting up the Little Fork café with delectable cakes fresh out of the oven daily.
It is just a few doors from David Campbell’s more established Hungry Duck. Campbell, ran the Book Kitchen in Sydney’s Surrey Hills and for a time ran one of Tetsuya Wakado’s restaurants in London. With such a lot going on, there became a glaring gap for somebody to bring the emerging food bowl to life in a cogent way for outsiders.
Enter Jacqueline Weiley, another Sydneysider-turned tree-changer, who now runs Foodscape Tours. Her most popular tour is a bus trip that centres on Berry and visits both established businesses like the Treat Factory and South Coast Providors , as well as the many new kids on the block. These include a couverture chocolate maker Pompadour’s and Il Locale which sells gelato made from 70 per cent fresh milk from Holstein cows just up the road at the seaside down of Kiama. ‘’We visit a grower or two, have lunch and finish as a local vineyard,’’ said Weiley. This year she plans to expand into walking tours.
But, there is also another side of Berry that should never be forgotten – those who belonged to the conventional farming community of yesteryear. One resident now in her 50s, who did not want to be named, moved to Berry when she was 10. ‘’It’s very different now to what it was then…what I most remember about the main street was the milk co-op and the pool parlour where we would be dropped off by our parents on weekends,’’ she said. ‘’It was an idyllic childhood and although locals like me are not all that fussed about the Berry of today, it is vibrant and it’s nice to think it will survive modern challenges,’’ she added.
One of those modern changes is the planned highway by-pass which will be built by about 2015. Most businesses are confident it will have no negative impact, due to the work in recent years to establish Berry as a destination regardless of what road leads there.
In fact, resident and businessman, Rick Gainford gets annoyed when he hears the word by-pass. ‘’It’s more of a road re-alignment and I think the majority of people here support it,’’ he said. He and partner Jenny Clapham run the Broughton Farm Guesthouse, a five-star establishment they built 15 years ago on Broughton Creek.
Gainford says Berry has a good variety of accommodation whose owners tend to work together. ‘’Most of us have our niche market – ours is more at the prestige end which attracts a lot of weddings,’’ he said. ‘’But there are also those who cater for kids, for animals and many other special needs…an email to our Chamber of Commerce is probably the best place to start.’’