Home, home on the range

OVERLOOKING the Dial ranges to the south and the ocean to the north, the free-range animals at Mount Gnomon farm have a life many humans would envy.

Spread across the 37 hectares, the Wessex saddleback pigs, Shropshire sheep and various cows wander and graze at their leisure.

When you look into their contented brown eyes, you can see that they are happy and relaxed.

The animals' contentment is one reason why the meat from the farm appears on the menus of top- notch restaurants and sells out every weekend at farmers' markets across the state.

The other reason is that the animals at Mount Gnomon Farm are heritage breeds and untainted by selected breeding, giving them a unique and juicy flavour.

Owned by Eliza Wood and Guy Robertson, both from farming families, Mount Gnomon Farm is one of the biggest free-range farms in Tasmania.

"Animal welfare is really important to us," Ms Wood said.

"A relaxed animal scientifically we know, will produce a better quality product.

"Ours is not a hurried process, our pigs take twice as long to grow to the same size as a pig inside.

"We name our cows and our sows and let ourselves get attached to them, we go and scratch them and pat them and love them but you do have to try and have a bit of distance."

It is the Wessex saddleback pork that has really put the North-West farm on the gourmet map, even winning it best taste plate at the Taste of Tasmania last year with its pulled pork tacos.

(See the video online to see how to make your own.)

"At the Taste of Tasmania we did 9000 serves which, for two pig farmers who knew nothing about cooking is amazing," Ms Wood said.

"It was really exciting to think we could win against chefs with a recipe that we had just made up at home."

Despite being a "trendy breed" now, the Wessex saddleback came close to extinction only two decades ago and now Australia is the only country in the world where you can find them.

The farm has a range of different products from normal cuts like rolled loin and loin chops all the way through to small goods like ham, chorizo and bacon.

The farm's other meat products, beef and lamb are also very popular, but more seasonally reliant than the pork, which can be bred all year round.

With the help of a grant, Mount Gnomon Farm is building its own butchery and kitchen so customers can visit the farm, see how their products are made and maybe even learn how to cook with them.

"By breeding animals leaner, I think we have lost a lot of flavour," Ms Wood said.

"You need intramuscular fat and some fat on the outside of meat, you can always cut it off later if you don't want to eat it but that's what gives it moisture, tenderness and juiciness.

"You really can have a different eating experience with every breed of meat."

Mount Gnomon meat is retailed through specialty delis but Ms Wood and Mr Robertson prefer selling their produce direct to the consumer.

"Markets are a really good way of connecting directly with your customer and getting feedback," Ms Wood said.

"There is something really special about farmers' markets that we didn't really imagine, which was the boost you get from your customers and their support.

"If you think about farmers in Tasmania, they spend a lot of their time on the farm in tractors and working alone and we have massive mental health issues with farmers in Tasmania.

"But because farmers are getting this opportunity, now they can go out at the weekends and connect with their customers and other producers, and I think they are getting more of a sense of achievement."

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