A quiet little regional Victorian town with a population of just over 1000 people plays host each year to a festival that attracts more than 8000 visitors for one day.
A festival that is heaven for some and an actual nightmare for vampires…
The Meeniyan Garlic Festival popped up in my Facebook news feed a couple of weeks ago (spot on algorithms there) and I couldn’t think of a more perfect kind of event to attend.
The festival held on Saturday 16th Feb boasted garlic beer, garlic ice-cream, garlic milkshakes, garlic chilli oils, sauces, cheese and chutneys, plus thousands of kilos of actual garlic for sale.
I cleared my diary of any social commitments the evening of the festival (lest I smite someone with my breath) and drove a couple of hours from Melbourne down to sunny Gippsland.
Getting out of “the big smoke” to regional towns to taste food is one of my favourite weekend escapes. You get to sing along to songs at full volume, play “hey cow” and test countryside public toilets out for cleanliness along the way (or hide behind a tree). It’s the little things.
The Garlic Festival wasn’t particularly well sign-posted, but since the town isn’t large and the population that day was, it was pretty easy to work out which way the crowds were going.
Carrying bags of garlic? Leaving. Empty hands. Heading there.
Arriving in the early arvo meant a lot of the actual garlic and farming related festivities were over, but you bet the cricket club was still selling some of the highly promoted and anticipated garlic beer.
I’m not going to say I was disappointed
I got exactly what I was promised. It certainly was beer, with garlic. A can of Carlton Draught to be exact. With a couple of cloves of raw, crushed (local of course) garlic in the bottom of the cup before pouring.
It was kind of like drinking garlic bread if garlic bread was wet and beer flavoured. At first, it was a nice little tipple and quite funny but as the beer warmed the chunks of garlic were less appealing.
I should have done like the locals and slammed it down fast. Except none of the locals were foolish enough to drink or even order it. Smart.
It was a hot day, therefore garlic ice-cream was definitely warranted.
The ice-cream stall was situated in the middle of the food alley, which meant multiple purchases of chilli oil, garlic and plum sauce and a fair whack of cheese was purchased along the way. Along with taste testing absolutely everything.
That’s the best thing about food festivals and markets. Free samples.
The garlic ice cream was again, exactly as promised. Vanilla flavoured ice-cream with what tasted like raw garlic in it. Not chunky at all and unlike the beer, the taste actually improved as it was consumed. I had hoped it was roasted garlic that had been mixed, some smokiness would have been quite the treat. But hey, it was ice-cream on a hot day in the marvellous sunshine.
Loaded with fresh local produce, garlic breath and a touch of sunburn we started to meander through the stalls of lovely looking fresh farmed garlic bulbs, taste-tested garlic salts and wandered towards the carpark, halted by the music coming from the Meeniyan Pantry and Cellar.
If you go to Meeniyan, definitely check out this lovely little food spot. Packed with exquisite deli items, local and imported wines and a grazing platter that looked incredible we stocked up with even more food and booze to take home.
The wonderful thing about going to this kind of event wasn’t in the weird and wonderful garlic items touted on social media, though they did make for a laugh. It was chatting to local business owners about their products, taste-testing local and regional food and seeing people’s hard farmed work on display, amongst a sea of friendly faces.
I’d drive more than 2 hours to experience a community like this again in a heartbeat.
Inspired by the grazing platters on show from the pantry, dinner that night was an epic amount of things purchased at the festival (plus a little help from the local supermarket).
Just when I thought I couldn’t eat any more garlic flavoured items. Well, actually I’ve never said that garlic is for everything. Even beer.