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Today marks the beginning of the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival 2013 – my equivalent of Christmas!

From 1 March to 17 March Melbourne and regional Victoria will be focusing on all things gastronomical – from coffee to potatoes to cactus to pastries. World renowned chefs will be arriving to the city to talk and cook at the same time that restaurants, wineries and producers will be celebrating all things local.

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Thanks to the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival I was invited to celebrate the start of the festival with a seat at the annual World’s Longest Lunch. On a perfect autumn afternoon I joined another 1230 people for lunch at a 500 metre long table set out under the shade of tree-lined Fitzroy Gardens.

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The entree by Stephanie Alexander was a turkey ‘prosciutto’ with slices of sweet figs, a rectangle of watermelon pickle and fior de burrata, accompanied by La Madre bread rolls dipped in Mt Zero olive oil. I loved the round of creamy, oozy cheese and the tang of the pickle, though discovered that turkey is a less flavoursome substitute for pork when made into a prosciutto!  The dish was matched with a 2010 Yering Station Village Chardonnay.

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The main course, also by Stephanie Alexander, was a saffron marinated roasted lamb rump with farro, spinach and mint and slow-cooked sweet peppers, matched with 2010 Yering Station Village Shiraz Viognier. Looking down the line it seemed that the plating was a little inconsistent – I received a large portion of pink-centred lamb while my neighbour got the greyish, well done end of the rump and a much smaller serving. I guess when you’re catering to so many people some inconsistency should be expected – I’m just glad I got the better version of the dish! Everyone agreed that the farro needed more seasoning (though I loved the popping texture of the grains) and the peppers and tomatoes added some lovely sweetness and colour to the dish.

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My favourite course was the dessert by Maggie Beer. It was a beautiful-looking plate – a wobbly baked verjuice custard crowned with glace cumquats, a sprinkle of sweet crunchy granola and candied peel. I could easily have eaten another serving of it! The dish’s peach tones were colour-matched by the bubbly pink NV Yarrabank Creme de Cuvee.

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While the World’s Longest Lunch was a one-off event, you can check out what else is happening at the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival by browsing the program at http://www.melbournefoodandwine.com.au/. And steel yourself for lots of posts coming up from the festival in the next two weeks!