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Piggery Café: A Melbourne gem that's as ethical as it is delicious

Tucked away in the small community of Sherbrooke, Piggery Cafe is pushing back against excessive culinary fanciness with a rigorous and straightforward approach to food.

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Armed with their no-frills philosophy, Piggery Café is churning out exquisite simple fare.

Melbourne’s menus are awash with edamame, bonito flakes, yuzu curd and other ingredients that have diners reaching for the dictionary. The Piggery Café, tucked away in the small community of Sherbrooke, 45 minutes outside Melbourne, is pushing back against excessive culinary fanciness with a rigorous and straightforward approach to food.

“We’ve put together a very simple menu,” says Justin James, executive chef of the café. “What makes the Piggery the Piggery is that each product we use has been thoroughly thought out. Is it ethical? Is it sustainable? Is it local? Is it biodynamic? It’s not a trendy café where you’re going to order eggs on toast, and then the toast is made with beetroot powder. It’s simple, it’s food you want to eat and there isn’t any fluff.”

Most of the Piggery’s produce is sourced from within a few kilometres of the café, from the farms and fields of Burnham Beeches. Much of the café’s vegetables are grown or gathered by Spurrell Foraging, who provide standard produce like artichokes, beetroot and carrots, as well as specialty items like wild seaweed, flowers and honey. Sourcing food locally means the Piggery’s menu must be revised periodically to suit what’s in season.

“I will never, never get a tomato in winter,” James says. “We live in a world where people think they can have anything at any time, but that doesn’t mean we should have it. I believe in not overcomplicating things. I think it’s harder to do that. You need more creativity.”

The Piggery’s cosy and casual ambience and selection of warming burgers and smoked meat dishes make it well-suited to Victorian winters. The café’s shareable tarts and pies also lend themselves to chilly Melburnians on the way back from a rainforest walk. And like everything else, the Piggery’s desserts are seasonal, organic and free of unnecessary curlicues.

Most popular on the Piggery’s menu are their smoked meat cuts. Victoria’s smoking ban hasn’t gone into effect in the Piggery’s kitchen, where an outsized smoker turns out hundreds of kilograms of pork belly, lamb shoulder and chicken wings, all infused with cherrywood smoke. The smoker was handcrafted by SC Smokers, manufacturers of Australia’s biggest barbecue, among other things. Chefs must arrive at 5am to stoke the smoker for items like beef brisket, which requires 12 hours of continuous attention to prepare.

After the cherrywood imparts a dark, mahogany hue to the meat, it’s spritzed with an admixture of white vinegar, apple juice and sugar to keep it moist and to help set the tasty, caramelised “bark” on the outside. After spritzing, the meat is placed in foil and kept moist with beef stock, honey, butter or apple juice. An hour later, the beef brisket, pork belly or chicken legs are ready to be served up with pickles and slaw.

Visitors can also meet the other residents of Burnham Beeches – namely, the 12 rescued emus responsible for laying the jumbo eggs served by the Piggery, the 20 alpacas that graze the Burnham Beeches trufferie and the pet pigs Bubble and Squeak.

When the Piggery fills up on weekends, the Benny Burger food truck is there to catch the overflow. With a menu influenced by the that of the café, Benny Burger offers dishes ranging from the familiar – standard beef, fish and chicken burgers – to the “Chang,” a Wagyu burger topped with beetroot relish, “Benny sauce” and a fried egg.

“We have the same philosophy of quality ingredients and sustainable, ethical provenance,” James explains. “You can grab a blanket, sit on the lawn, enjoy a burger and let the kids run wild if you’re not willing to wait to get a seat at the café.”

Diners who want to burn off a few kilojoules from their smoked brisket can take a shot at lawn bowls and croquet, with equipment free to use with a deposit. At the Piggery, lawn bowls isn’t just for seniors, says James – it’s proven a popular postprandial activity for families and couples.

Future plans for the rustic countryside of Burnham Beeches are surprisingly grand: over the next three to four years, Piggery will be accompanied by a brewery, a second restaurant and possibly a dairy, says James. To draw in larger crowds, Burnham Beeches’ iconic Streamline Moderne mansion will be refurbished as a luxury hotel, where guests will be able to hunt truffles on the adjoining 500-tree trufferie, and later have their find professionally prepared for them.

“My philosophy is to keep things simple,” James says. “Excellent execution and technique using the best produce are all you really need.”

Find Piggery Cafe at 1 Sherbrooke Rd, Sherbrooke.