An Aussie pie is a glorious thing. And the epicentre of this national dish – the pattypan of pie greatness if you will – is the Southern Highlands of New South Wales. Every June, the region celebrates Pie Time, a month-long festival to rejoice in all things pie.
Sweet or savoury, there’s nothing quite like a good pie. Pastry that’s simultaneously soft and crunchy, flaky yet tender. Filling that’s sumptuous, generous and rich. But few countries around the world have mastered this humble dish.
From the empanada to the Cornish pasty, pies in all forms have made their cultural mark on nations’ menus, but only as a sideline act. They’ve never been the star of the show. This raises – and perhaps answers – the question:
What is Australia’s national dish?
Pretty much every other country has one. The UK has her fish and chips, America her hamburgers, Japan sushi… perhaps Australia’s missing piece from the jigsaw puzzle of world cuisine is pie-shaped.
1st – 30th June
An hour and a half southwest of Sydney, in the Southern Highlands, pies are a big deal.
Throughout the month of June every year since 2017, this beautiful region becomes a haven for pie-based experiences not to be missed.
Eye on the pies
The pie is a ubiquitous snack for regional Australia, but here’s where to go in the Southern Highlands for the best pastry hit of your life.
Stones Patisserie, Bowral
If you’re looking for award-winning pies in one of the loveliest towns in the Southern Highlands, Stones Patisserie in Bowral ticks boxes. Owner Mark Stone, who cut his teeth in several Michelin Starred restaurants, has seen some serious success with his pies.
Taking out Best Pie and Best Artisan Pie 2018 for NSW/ACT with his incredible ‘head to tail’ pie, Mark’s on the lookout for this year’s winning recipe. His delicious winner was a mix of slow-cooked oxtail, beef cheeks and veal. I’d eat that!
Mark’s Hero Pie, a part of the Pie Time Festival that has 16 bakeries in the region baking their best pie, is the Superman – a generous beef bourguignon with peas, bacon, mushroom and a veal jus. It’s not to be missed.
Heatherbrae’s Pies, Sutton Forest
This roadstop pie shop is an institution in itself. Crafting superb pies that people come from far and wide to enjoy, Heatherbrae’s – owned and run by excellent pie man Russell Cox – has a delicious range of pastry-cased tastes.
You can see through to the kitchens here where the bakers work tirelessly to turn out high-quality pies fresh every day. And, as Russell explains, each filling is cooked to a specific recipe rather than making a base and adding flavours afterwards – a tactic less scrupulous, lower-grade pie merchants use.
Our recommendation: the Jillaroo – beef, bacon, cheese and onion. A superb pie.
Heatherbrae’s is also working with local winery Cuttaway Hill to bring their take on the Pie Time Festival’s Pies and Pinot. Enjoy a Cuttaway Hill Pinot Noir or Pinot Gris (I preferred the Pinot Noir) to go with a specially made Heatherbrae venison pie.
Cuttaway Hill is also taking part in the Sweetie Pie and Bubbles for Pie Time, and you can enjoy their traditionally-made sparkling with a sweet Heatherbrae pie.
And if you’re here at nightfall, Cuttaway Hill is doing Pie in the Sky, where you get to enjoy a glass of wine, a Heatherbrae’s pie and to peer at the stars through telescopes from the vineyard. If you get the chance to try the Cuttaway Hill Cabernet Merlot, do so. It’s great.
Pies and wine
With 17 cellar doors in the region, it’s a little baffling why the Southern Highlands isn’t better known for its wine. With a strong focus on Pinot Noir grapes, wineries in this region have come up with some excellent (and delicious) ways of incorporating pies into their cellar door experiences.
It makes sense that many of the region’s vineyards have taken up the popular Pie and Pinot challenge.
Southern Highlands Winery, Sutton Forest
Apart from the incredible sweeping views from the cellar door restaurant, there’s every reason to come to the Southern Highlands Winery. The Pie and Pinot here is tremendous – and possibly the best pie for Pie Time this year.
Head chef Marco Salvestrin has crafted a rabbit and Pinot Noir pie that will blow your mind. The rabbit is locally sourced and slow-cooked until it’s fall-apart tender. Marco practised for quite a while to get the perfect pastry for this pie.
The result is a short, crusty top and a rich base that suits the voluptuous filling. Along with the pie, you have wilted spinach, chilli and roasted onion, all fresh from the restaurant’s garden. And the sticky jus Marco has made to go with it all is better than any gravy.
Pairing Pinot Noir with this pie was a relatively easy job for CEO and winemaker Eddy Rossi – especially with Marco using the wine in the pie. The result of the pairing is incredibly satisfying.
Even more satisfying is the price: $22 for your Pie and Pinot lunch here during Pie Time – that’s not bad!
Centennial Vineyards, Bowral
Everything about Centennial Vineyards on the outskirts of Bowral has a delightful old-school feel. From the broad sandstone grandeur and fountains of the country manor homestead to the bright luxury of the restaurant, Centennial Vineyards says elegance.
The impressive cellar door boasts an extraordinary tasting menu of some 30+ wines – from sparkling to sticky. If nothing else, you should try the Reserve Rondinella Corvina, a rare varietal that only one other place in the country grows.
For Pie Time, Centennial Vineyards is putting on a Pie and Pinot that’ll make you move to the Southern Highlands. The braised beef brisket and tunnel mushroom pie they make here is incredible.
The pastry is dense, almost like a suet pie – delicate yet substantial – and the filling is absolutely divine. This pie comes with a glass of Pinot Noir, as you’d expect.
If sweet’s more your floor, Centennial are running the Sweetie Pie and Bubbles – an exquisite apple, ricotta and mulberry pie. This comes with a glass of the vineyard’s Brut Rosé.
If you can imagine either of these two for $15 each, you’re better at guessing prices than I am. What a bargain. And Centennial Vineyard wine members can enjoy this pie experience for free.
Pies and history
As you’ll see when you visit the award-winning Southern Highlands Welcome Centre, there’s a lot of history to the humble pie. The display at the Welcome Centre explains the pie’s legacy from Ancient Egyptian times all the way to how Australia has become the eye of the storm.
Military Vehicle Tours and Centennial Vineyards
Perhaps not immediately obvious in its connection to pies, a tour in a military vehicle over Pie Time does in fact culminate in crust.
Basing himself at Centennial Vineyards, restoration expert and owner of Military Vehicle Tours Vinh Tran is taking pie-folk on a 15-minute drive around the vines of this beautiful winery before they commando roll into the cellar door for their pie and wine.
Not only do you get a unique behind-the-scenes view of the winery, but also a unique experience of travelling off road in the shotgun seat of one of Vinh’s 50 Jeeps or from the back of his personnel carrier.
Vinh is a wonderful fella and is putting his takings from the tours over Pie Time to Vietnamese orphans and people affected by the Vietnam War.
You can book your tour on the Southern Highlands tourism board website here. Tours go every 30 minutes during Pie Time.
Fairground Follies, Bowral
Tucked away in a warehouse in Bowral, this musical museum of fun and fairgrounds is rarely open to the public. A collection of antique musical machines made to entertain folk as far back as the 1800s, Fairground Follies is a living history of happiness.
Curator and owner Craig Robson has opened Fairground Follies to Pie Time with two opportunities to see the wonders of yesteryear – 1st June and 15th June – and have a tour of the collection. Your ticket also includes an apple or fruit pie and a hot drink. Proceeds go to help Meals on Wheels.
So roll up, roll up! Come see pre-clockwork gravity-driven musical machines, a steam-powered carousel, a 1950s Decap Robot Orchestra and incredible violin machines that play 4 violins and a piano at the same time.
Pies and painting
Round the corner from the Southern Highlands Welcome Centre in Mittagong, the pretty little Glass Café is the perfect setting for a pie, paint and wine mash-up.
But this raucous medley doesn’t end there. The pie is locally sourced alpaca, slow-cooked and combined with fresh corn, coriander and cheese. And the painting – you’ll be using pie condiments rather than oil or acrylic. Think ketchup, brown and mustard!
The event doesn’t need much help from the Pinot to be a lot of fun, but the wine really is very good. Book your tickets here.
Pies and bikes
If you’re looking for a way to burn off the pies as you go, Cycle Tours NSW makes it as easy as possible.
Take a tour of the vineyards for Pies and Pinot on one of these amazing e-bikes. Once you get started, the battery kicks in and zooms you off with power-assisted pedalling. Now that’s the way to cycle!
There are quite literally hundreds of things going on in the ‘Southern Pie-lands’ over Pie Time this June. It’s all about having fun and enjoying a bit of life in the upper crust.
While you’re there, why not work out the area and circumference of the top of your tart; it’s the real reason Archimedes developed 3.14 – and where ? got its name!