There's been a real shift towards self-sufficiency in recent years, with more and more people willing to keep chickens, tend a vegetable patch and perhaps even learn how to brew their own beer, bake their own bread and make their own cheese.
Yet none of this is new to Elisabeth Fekonia of Permaculture Realfood who has lived off her 6 acres of land (complete with pigs, cows, goats and bees) at the Sunshine Coast for the past 20 years. And she's now sharing the secrets of her self-sufficiency in a series of workshops covering a broad range of topics - including baking sourdough bread, fermenting foods, organic gardening, seed saving and cheese making.
I signed up for a Permaculture Realfood session titled 'Cheese Making and Introduction to Fermented Foods' at the Peace Hall in Windsor. 'Cheese making is all about being in control of your curd,' Fekonia instructs, as a participant carefully stirs a cauldron of warm milk to which has been added rennet and a pinch of cheese bacteria. By the time the class concludes, three hours later, it will have been transformed into a solid block that will, within days, firm into feta.
We also learn how to make the soft spreading cheese known as quark, as well as a host of other fermented foods which Fekonia promotes for their health-giving properties. There are cabbage-based dishes such as kimchi (from Korea) and sauerkraut (from Germany); and Japanese ferments such as miso and kombucha tea. We even take home part of the kombucha 'tea beast' - a fearsome-looking fungus which is crucial to the fermentation process - being careful to tear it by hand rather than cut it with a knife (given that contact with metal kills it, apparently).
There is plenty of opportunity to sample foods Fekonia prepared earlier. My Permaculture Realfood favourites were the miso on sourdough bread, and a fermented fruit paste comprised of dates, prunes, nuts, seeds and ginger, with a taste reminiscent of Christmas cake (but so much healthier).