By Lana Guineay
Kangaroo Island is unlike anywhere else on earth, so it’s no surprise that a local producer is aiming for a world first: to be the birthplace of fig wine and fig wine vinegar.
More often seen on our cheeseboards and in salads, most of us haven’t considered a fig in our wineglass.
But it’s just the kind of out-of-the-ordinary idea that excites Dan Pattingale, owner of The Figgery – and is set to further strengthen the region as an innovative food and beverage destination.
As producers of sweet sticky figs and fig syrup, The Figgery’s 300-tree orchard, situated amongst the pristine wilderness of Stokes Bay on KI, is a local success story.
Ex-shearer Dan moved to the island in 1978 and says he “just loved it”.
“It was a wild place. If you want to live on Kangaroo Island, you have to realise you’ll be in isolation even though we’re not far away from the ‘big island’,” he says.
After starting a family-run olive orchard on the north coast, Dan was also experimenting with figs from his garden tree by making sticky figs.
“Everyone I gave some to said ‘oh wow!’. So I ended up planting two acres.”
That was 2013. Today you’ll find The Figgery’s products stocked in South Australian supermarkets and retailers, in restaurants, and pantries across the country.
Dan’s latest big idea – to ferment figs to make wine and vinegar – has seen the small business receive a $34,000 grant through the latest round of the Advanced Food Manufacturing Grants Program (AFM).
The idea started with a lucky accident.
“Andrew Maronich from SARDI was looking at my figs, and I showed him a barrel of syrup that had become infected by some wild yeast and had started to ferment,” Dan says.
“In fact it has now been fermenting quietly for six years and could be another product, but that’s another story.
“We were both very interested, we could see that it was possible to ferment fig juice. The fruit has a lot of un-fermentable fibre in it, which is probably why no one has done it before.”
The program will see Dan collaborate with Andrew Maronich from the South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI), and scientist Dr Tommaso Liccioli Watson from the University of Adelaide, to research, develop and market the innovative products by fermenting fig juice.
The AFM grant supports projects which develop new or improved food products or manufacturing processes, by bringing together research and technical experts with SA businesses to solve development and processing challenges.
Under the auspice of the South Australian Food Innovation Centre, PIRSA has partnered with Food Innovation Australia Limited to co-invest in AFM grants, helping to drive innovation in South Australia’s food industries.
The success of the project would make The Figgery the world’s first producer of 100% fig wine vinegar.
“Fig vinegar is already available, but it will have started out its life as a grape wine vinegar which is then infused with figs and labelled as fig vinegar,” Dan says.
“When it’s developed, ours will be different – it will be a true, 100% fig wine vinegar.
Currently in development stage, Dan says he is looking forward to the challenge of creating the ground-breaking products.
“To have the opportunity to work with some of the best researchers in Australia is exciting and I am fortunate to have the opportunity,” he says.
SARDI sub program leader Andrew Maronich says the production of vinegar derived solely from fig fruit would be technologically challenging and complex, but presents a unique opportunity.
“Opportunities to develop a healthy and innovative food product like this with almost guaranteed commercial success do not come that often,” he says.
“Fermenting fig juice to produce fig wine is expected to be the project’s biggest challenge and a world first if it’s achieved.”
A world first – but what will it taste like?
“I haven’t tasted it yet!” says Dan. “It’s still early days. I have a tonne and a half of figs in the freezer while the research is being done.”
Without the grant, Dan says the idea would never have come to life.
“I have a million ideas, it’s really great when you think of something, but without money you can’t go ahead… without the grant I wouldn’t even be contemplating it.”
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