Pie Times in the Southern Highlands

It’s not all upper crust in NSW’s Southern Highlands, with a pie-centric ‘feastival’ bringing hungry tourists to town.

Holding a pie in a bag
  • Chloe Cann
  • July 2018

Comfort food, portable snack, Aussie icon – the humble pie is also the ultimate crowd- pleaser. “There’s a pie for everybody,” says Steve Rosa, manager of Tourism and Events at Destination Southern Highlands, and otherwise known as ‘The Pie Master’. The universal appeal of the baked dish gave Steve and his team food for thought: in January last year they noticed the region was home to an abnormally high concentration of bakeries and other pie outlets – more than 30 for a population of 47,000, spread across 17 country towns and villages.

Meat pie on plate with cutlery
Meat pie on a plate

“Every town in Australia has a bakery and every one claims to offer the world’s best pies,” Steve says. “But nobody has the number of bakeries that we have in such a small space. We did some research and found that no one in Australia has [anything similar] apart from Ballarat, where they have a pie and beer weekend that involves seven local businesses. So we decided we could go one better than that.” Not only do the Southern Highlands now boast a Pie Trail that visitors can follow year-round, but the team came up with the idea of a month-long ode to the flaky pastry. Pie Time, held every June, is the jewel in the region’s culinary crown. Aside from the market stalls and pie cooking demonstrations that comprise the two-day PieFest, the wider Pie Time celebrations include pie tours in Kombis, army jeeps, trikes, limousines and bicycles, one-off pie and pinot degustation dinners at award-winning restaurants, pie cooking classes, paddock to plate experiences with local producers and plenty of local pie specials for the month.

Two rustic, home made pies on a board
Two rustic, home made pies

Fine pie-ning

Owner/chef of 11-time hatted restaurant Eschalot in Berrima, Richard Kemp didn’t participate in the inaugural event. “We didn’t get involved because we’re a high-end restaurant,” he explains. But after witnessing first-hand the “good energy” that Pie Time created, he was keen to jump on board the following year, presenting “a seven pie degustation. It’s something different!” he chuckles. “It’s a bit of a one-off for us.”

Richard’s pie plans extended well beyond the classic steak and mushroom. Lining the special menu were corn, coriander and lime empanadas (Latin America), pirozhki (Eastern Europe) plump with veal and sauerkraut, and a cassoulet pot pie (France) brimful of duck, beetroot and orange., all matched with local wines.

7 pieces mini pies in a tray
Party pies

Bounty of charms

Situated 100km southwest of Sydney, on the Great Dividing Range, the Southern Highlands is known as a wine region, with some 17 cellar doors proffering cool climate wines. But the region also boasts drawcards beyond food and wine. Steve earmarks the Southern Highlands’ heritage (Hillview, the official country residence of the governors of NSW, was built in the 1850s), themed trails (including antiques, books, gardens and more) and nature- based experiences (think bushwalking in national parks, mountain bike tracks and lots of lookouts) as standout offerings. Yet despite all these attractions – and the region’s close proximity to Sydney – historically, the region hasn’t garnered much attention. “It can be seen as a bit elitist, because a lot of people come into the region on weekends in their BMWs and Audis,” notes Steve. “But it’s not all about resorts and upmarket restaurants.” That perception looks set to change, with a 30 per cent increase in visitors for June, including many first-timers. More than 100,000 pies were also baked and sold. It seems the region’s new tourism high is all thanks to the pie.