Alexia Santamaria goes right to the source, delving into Marlborough's foodie secrets.
Understanding where your food comes from is becoming more important. People are reading labels and shopping at farmers' markets in search of "real" food rather than unpronounceable combinations of additives and chemicals.
With this in mind, I was excited about going directly to the source of some of the country's finest food in beautiful Marlborough.
First stop was the Marlborough Farmers' Market at Blenheim. It was fascinating talking to the lady at Pinoli, the only pine nut grower in New Zealand. She had a pine cone with her, showing how the kernels form and the process of extraction. Labour intensive, but worth it for the exquisite flavour.
Other highlights included a local saffron grower and a company that makes salami from whatever local hunters bring in (venison, pork, goat, rabbit, wallaby). Eureka's Straw Wine was also delightful.
Speaking of wine, it would have been rude (and insane) not to go and see where a good sauvignon blanc grows while in the region. We dropped into Allan Scott for a look at the loaded vines (just pre-picking), lunch and a tasting.
Scott helped plant some of the first vines in Marlborough so is a pioneer of the industry we know today. Of course the sauvignon blanc was excellent, but we also loved the Cecilia Reserve Methode Traditionnelle we had with our local salmon. Aromatic, smooth, delightful effervescence.
Marlborough is the perfect place to farm mussels; cold temperatures, unique nutrient composition and rapid fluctuation of tides. We saw this first-hand on Marlborough Travel's Mussel Cruise. This involved three hours on a boat cruising the serene Marlborough Sounds and visiting mussel beds, eating freshly harvested mussels and drinking local wine.
Our skipper - the son of one of the four founding mussel families in Marlborough - even lifted up one of the one-tonne longlines so we could see the growth in action.
On day two we headed out to visit some local producers with Explore Marlborough. We were fascinated at how walnuts grow inside a fruit which eventually pops open and drops its nutty insides to the ground at Uncle Joe's Walnuts; blown away by the hydroponic lettuces and herbs (think bushes of basil and indoor fields of cos) at Thymebank; and in raptures over the pure taste of artisan honey at Putake.
We were lucky enough to sample their rare Matagouri variety, which is only produced every three to four years because of the high temperatures required.
And this only scratched the surface. Marlborough is also home to great stone fruit, sea salt, olive oil, cured meats and much more.
And with 140 wineries, you're never short of something to wash it down with.
Things do taste better when you understand their journey and Marlborough is definitely the place to get up close and personal with some first-class food.
Getting there: Air New Zealand has several daily flights to Blenheim.
Further information: See marlboroughnz.com.