14 Tasty Things to Do in Milawa, Victoria’s Hidden Gourmet Region

September 27, 2023
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14 Tasty Things to Do in Milawa, Victoria’s Hidden Gourmet Region

September 27, 2023
Food & Drink, High Country
By Dave Dean
We may earn a commission from purchases you make after clicking links on this site.

Whenever you read about gourmet food and wine trails in Victoria, people always seem to talk about the same old places. There’s the Yarra Valley, of course, and the Great Ocean Road. The Mornington Peninsula often gets a mention, and the Macedon Ranges or Bellarine Peninsula show up now and then as well.

Somewhere I virtually never see discussed, however, is Milawa. That’s pretty odd, since this tiny town and surrounding area in the northeast of the state was the first place in the entire country to be officially recognised as a “gourmet region”, back in 1994.

What does that mean? Well, in practical terms, it means that you’ve got an absolute abundance of artisanal food and wine makers in a very small area, turning out high-quality versions of everything from wine, gin, and mead to cheese, mustard, olives, and plenty more.

It’s the perfect place to spend a day or two wandering from one little producer to the next, tasting everything on offer and picking up whatever you most love the taste of to take home with you (or devour in an impromptu picnic if you just can’t wait that long!)

That’s exactly the kind of thing that Lauren and I love to do when we travel, and since we spend so much time in the Victorian High Country anyway, let’s just say it wasn’t a hardship to fully devote ourselves to this task recently. We absolutely loved our time in Milawa, and genuinely can’t believe how little-known this region is.

Even if you’re not spending the night here, you should be able to take in most if not all of the places I mention below: you really don’t have a lot of ground to cover, and could easily cycle between everywhere on this list. If you are staying in Milawa, however, you’ll have a much more relaxed experience!

Let’s get started. I hope you’re hungry!

Note: everywhere I mention below is within a five minute drive of Milawa's main street.

Milawa Mustards

Jars of mustard, chutney, pickles, and chilli jam from Milawa Mustards lined up alongside each other on a wood-patterned bench
When you can’t decide which one to buy, just get them all!

Tucked away down a backroad just north of town is what, for me at least, is probably my favourite food producer in the area. Milawa Mustards doesn’t look like much from the outside, but inside the store, there’s some mustardy magic going on.

We were lucky with timing when we visited, on a weekday outside peak season, and were the only people in the store. That meant lots of opportunity to talk about all things mustard, a topic I didn’t know I was so interested in until right then.

The business has been running for over forty years, changing hands to the current owners back in 2010. They make a few different things, including jams, chutneys, and salad dressings, and of course a big old range of mustards.

Hot English, tangy garlic, mild honey; we tasted it all, and then did the same thing with the jams and pickles as well. So how were they?

Well, let’s just say that when you try everything on the menu, love it all, and can’t find a way to choose between them, the “buy five, get one free” offer basically sold itself. We didn’t walk in there expecting to buy half a dozen mustards and chutneys that day…but I am very much not sad that we did.

  • What: Milawa Mustards
  • Where: 62 Milawa-Bobinawarrah Rd, Milawa
  • When: 10am to 4:30pm daily

Milawa Cheese Company

Inside of Milawa Cheese Company store, with cheese, deli meat, and icecream displays on left side and range of boards, bottles, and other items on right. Customers shopping at far end.
Time to stock up on picnic supplies

Once you’ve devoured quietly tasted all the mustards, drive another minute down the road and you’ll find yourself at another wonderful way to give your credit card a workout. A complex of shops has all the ingredients for a delicious picnic right beside each other, and we decided to start at the Milawa Cheese Company.

The building used to be a butter factory, and back in the late 80’s the current owners decided to continue the milk-based theme. There was an impressive number of cheeses on display when we wandered in, and the staff member was only too happy to put together a (free) tasting platter for us.

I’m a sucker for blue cheeses, so the Mount Buffalo Blue was right up my alley. This strong, tangy goats milk variety had me reaching for my wallet before I’d even finished trying the rest of the range. Lauren particularly enjoyed the King River Gold, but honestly, there wasn’t a bad one among them.

As well as their own cheeses, which they handmake on site, the shop has a range of deli meats and several products from other producers in the area. Along with various honeys from Walkabout Apiaries, I spotted quince paste from Wagandary, jam from Oxley, and a bunch of different dips and spreads from the King Valley.

  • What: Milawa Cheese Company
  • Where: 17 Factory Road, Milawa
  • When: 9am to 5pm daily

Milawa Bread and Milawa Kitchen

Food counter with baguettes, pastries, biscuits, and drinks for sale. Pie warmer in the background, along with shelves holding a range of items from retro cake makers to plants and bottles.
When it all looks so good, the hardest part is making a decision!

Right alongside the Cheese Company sits Milawa Bread. You can’t complain that businesses don’t make it clear what they sell around here!

Adam and the team turn out some seriously impressive loaves, and they’re popular: when we visited on a weekday lunchtime, many were already sold out. Get in early if you want to pick from the full range: you can choose between whole loaves and pre-sliced.

That range includes baguettes, ciabatta, and focaccia, but it’s the sourdough that really shines. They’re currently baking five different kinds, from Italian and French varieties through to fruit and spelt, and it’s some of the best you’ll find anywhere in Victoria. There aren’t any gluten free options, however.

There’s also an impressive range of loose-leaf tea in the shop, along with packs of cookies and other sweet delights to take home with you. Or devour in the car in the next five minutes. Not that I’d know anything about that.

Attached to the bakery is the Milawa Kitchen, a cafe run by the same team that focuses on local produce. There’s a big covered outdoor dining space along with several indoor tables where you can enjoy a sandwich, pie, or pastry, along with pots of tea and coffee from Proud Mary, one of my favourite roasters in Melbourne.

  • What: Milawa Bread/Milawa Kitchen
  • Where: 25 Milawa-Bobinawarrah Rd, Milawa
  • When: 8am to 4pm daily

Wood Park Wines

Two glasses of red wine, with more wine being poured from bottle into one of the glasses
Time for a tipple. Rostislav_Sedlacek/Shutterstock.com

Just around the corner from the cheese factory, Wood Park Wines is the perfect place to grab a drink to go with all those picnic supplies you’ve just been buying. The winery itself is a few kilometres away out towards Whorouly, but this small cellar door is where you go for tastings and to buy a bottle or two.

Wood Park produces a surprising range of varieties for what is still a relatively small winery: everything from pinot noir and shiraz to chardonnay and pinot gris, but also more unusual options like prosecco, roussane, and zinfandel.

If you’re not familiar with some of these wines, just ask for a tasting. There’s no need to make an appointment (or at least, I didn’t): just walk in and the friendly staff will sort you out. I was impressed by the variety on offer: this isn’t one of those tastings where you get a tiny splash of three wines and that’s your lot!

If you’ve got a bit more time, they also sell wines by the glass, including the reserve vintages. Grab a seat at one of small number of tables just outside, bring your own bread and cheese from next time, and create an impromptu lunch!

  • What: Wood Park Wines
  • Where: 17 Milawa-Bobinawarrah Rd, Milawa
  • When: 10am to 5pm daily

Walkabout Apiaries

Large white and yellow roadsign for Walkabout Apiaries honey, with plants growing up around the bottom.
Sign for Walkabout Apiaries in Milawa

When it comes to artisan food production, cheese, bread, wine, even olives don’t feel all that unusual–but what about honey and mead?

Walkabout Apiaries, on the main road in Milawa, has seen three generations of the Whitehead family involved in beekeeping and the production of a range of bee-related products. It now has three main lines: a range of different honeys, craft mead, and beeswax candles.

Bloody Good Honey is probably the most popular of the lot (clue’s in the name as to why, I guess), but that’s far from the only option. Try the ironbark, bush, or orange blossom for something a bit different, or a jar of the raw honey if you prefer it just as it came from the hive.

Even more than the honey, it’s the mead that really got me excited. It’s rare to find anybody making it, and while it’s a bit of an acquired taste, I always try it anywhere I see it. The taste changes depending on what the bees are eating, with flavours from blueberry and redgum to raspberry and spiced all on offer.

The farm shop is currently closed to the public, but I’ve had a chat to the owner, who advised there are several places nearby that stock the company’s products. Redbank Wines and The Olive Shop both offer mead tastings in Milawa, as does John Gehrig Wines in nearby Oxley.

There’s sadly nowhere doing honey tastings right now, but you can buy the full range at many stores in Milawa. Honey, mead, and candles are also available online direct from Walkabout Apiaries, so it’s easy to keep yourself stocked up once you get back home.

  • What: Walkabout Apiaries
  • Where: 1531 Snow Rd, Milawa
  • When: Farm shop currently closed

Milawa General Store

Exterior of Milawa General Store, an old brick building with a sign advertising that it's also a cafe, coffee shop, and takeway.
Who doesn’t love a good general store?

Is a cute rural village even worthy of the name if it doesn’t have an old-school general store? I’ve come across several of them dotted around Victoria, and while the one in Wye River is at the top of my list, this one in Milawa is well worth a few minutes of your time.

Like any good general store, it stocks most things you need, several things you probably don’t, and sells hot meals and coffee if you’re in need of refreshment. In reality it’s probably more of a fast food joint than a general store, but who am I to argue with the branding?

Housed in a lovely old brick building on the main road in the heart of Milawa, it’s the place to get crackers and cans of drink, burgers and bread rolls, pies and pizzas, gelato and gourmet sausage rolls. You can eat in at one of the several tables inside, or take your purchases away to enjoy elsewhere, whatever you prefer.

  • What: Milawa General Store
  • Where: 1605 Snow Rd, Milawa
  • When: 9am to 3pm Mon and Wed, 9am to 7:30pm Thu-Sat, 9am to 7pm Sun, closed Tue

The Olive Shop

Five bags of different "The Olive Shop" olives arrange in a semi-circle on a stone bench, with two small white bowls of olives in front and a small empty white bowl to place olive stones into. Person standing behind with arms folded.
Now, which one to try first?

Olives are a bit of a divisive subject. Personally, we love them, but we’ve got friends who’d rather walk over hot coals than pop one in their mouth. Each to their own, I guess, but if you’re in the olive-loving camp like us, you’ll want to drop into The Olive Shop as a matter of urgency.

Right on Milawa’s main street, the store is quite a bit bigger than it looks from the outside. That’s fortunate, since there’s everything from craft beer to dukkah, dips from the King Valley, honey from a few hundred metres down the road, and plenty more. Even so, pride of place still goes to all things olive.

Our tasting consisted of four varieties, two from Greece and two from Spain. They were all very different and it was hard to pick a favourite, which is almost certainly why we ended up buying the medley bag that had a mix of them all.

Tastings are only free if you buy something afterward, but given how good the olives are and how much other stuff is available, leaving the store emptyhanded feels like a major challenge. It’s certainly not something we managed to do!

I didn’t find the vibe as friendly here as the other places in the area, but there’s no going past the wide variety of food and drink on offer. If it’s delicious and produced nearby, there’s a good chance it’ll be somewhere in the shop!

  • What: The Olive Shop
  • Where: 1605 Snow Rd, Milawa
  • When: 10am to 4pm daily

Milawa Bakery Cafe

Wide range of pies, pastries, sausage rolls, and quiches inside a pie warmer.
Decisions, decisions…

Right alongside The Olive Shop, Milawa Bakery Cafe is a great spot to grab a coffee and a quick bite, especially if you can grab an outdoor table on a nice day. We arrived around lunchtime and the place was buzzing with hungry customers keen on a bread roll or something from the extensive pie collection.

Lauren went for an egg and bacon roll and declared it excellent. I enquired about dairy-free options for the pies, expecting a single vegan version at best, and was happily surprised when the friendly staff member rattled off several different flavours. I chose lamb and rosemary, and would do so again in a heartbeat.

That catering for dietary restrictions runs throughout the business, with many gluten-free and vegan options available as well. That includes some of the cakes and pastries, so you should be able to find something for the whole family when you stop in.

They also make a pretty good coffee, and there’s a good selection of soft drinks on offer too. Somewhat unusually, it’s also a licensed venue, with local wines and craft beers on the menu. Like many places in Milawa, supporting other nearby producers is a big part of what they do.

  • What: Milawa Bakery Cafe
  • Where: 1605 Snow Rd, Milawa
  • When: 8am to 4pm daily

Brown Brothers Winery

Large bar area at a winery, with wine glasses and tasting notepads set out in central section. Shelves and fridges of wines behind the bar. Multi-coloured stone floor and wooden roof beams.
The tasting area at Brown Brothers winery

Just off the main road that runs through Milawa, Brown Brothers is easily the largest and most well-known business in the area. This family-owned winery has been putting out high-quality wines for over 130 years, across four generations of the Brown family.

That popularity translates to large crowds at weekends and holidays, so try to visit outside those times for a more enjoyable experience. We last popped in mid-week just after Easter, and there were only a few other people in the restaurant and tasting room.

Speaking of the tasting room, you’ve got a few options there. The basic tasting at the bar costs $10pp, where you can choose five regular wines from a limited list. It’s a good way of getting an overview of the company’s wines, and doesn’t require a booking; ideal if you don’t know when you’ll be passing through. It’s the one we went for.

The $15pp version is more customised, letting you choose up to ten different wines in a seated setting. If you’re really serious about your wines, the $20pp tasting opens up the entire cellar in a 45-minute tasting session. You’ll want to book in advance for both of these.

If you’re interested in learning more about the story of Brown Brothers, they also offer a guided tour of the winery and cellar door. It gives a behind-the-scenes look at the winemaking process, and provides an interesting glimpse into the family’s history. It runs for two hours from 10:30am on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, and costs $55pp.

Finally, like most wineries, there’s a restaurant onsite as well. It’s mostly a fairly high-end affair, with set lunch and degustation menus (no a la carte), but there is a more casual “snack” menu available as well. You can’t book for the latter, but if you’re after the full lunch experience, definitely reserve it in advance.

  • What: Brown Brothers Winery
  • Where: 239 Milawa-Bobinawarrah Road, Milawa
  • When: 9am to 5pm daily

Goldrush Ballooning

Directly over the road from the cellar door, Brown Brothers has its own airstrip for light planes. More interestingly for most visitors, this is also where Goldrush Ballooning takes off from when conditions are right.

If you’ve never done it before, hot air ballooning is an absolute delight. Firing up the burners first thing in the morning and then drifting silently across the landscape couldn’t be less like regular plane flight. I love it, and this is arguably the best place to do it in this part of Victoria.

The whole experience takes around four hours, from meeting in the pre-dawn darkness to enjoying a prosecco breakfast at Brown Brothers or King River Cafe afterward. The flight itself lasts about an hour, slowly drifting across the fields and vineyards of the beautiful King Valley.

Like any ballooning experience, it is weather-dependent: things like fog and strong winds will keep the balloon on the ground. For that reason, it’s best to book your trip early in your stay if you’re in the area for a few days, so you can reschedule if the conditions aren’t playing nice.

Flights start from $385pp, with breakfast $30 extra. That’s for a group flight (minimum four people): you can also book private flights, which costs from $1490 depending on the number of people and day of the week.

  • What: Goldrush Ballooning
  • Where: 239 Milawa-Bobinawarrah Road, Milawa
  • When: Just before dawn when conditions are right!

Hurdle Creek Still

Rusty metal sign saying "Hurdle Creek Still Stillhouse", hanging from metal chains on wooden pole. Grassed paddock and trees in the background against blue sky.
It’s definitely time for a gin

An idea that was born from an aversion to getting up and driving to work in the morning and an appreciation for the calming effects of a libation poured over ice in the evening time.

So say the good folk at Hurdle Creek Still, a boutique gin distillery that’s been operating from a family farm a few kilometres south of Milawa since 2016. I couldn’t possibly argue with their mindset, nor the quality of their gin.

They do all the distilling onsite in the Stillhouse, an old farm shed converted into a still, bottling plant, and cozy tasting room. I’d highly recommend the $10 tasting, by the way, whether you’re a seasoned gin drinker or someone new to the delights of this age-old spirit.

Hurdle Creek makes half a dozen different kinds of gin, with locally sourced grain and native botanicals, many of which they grow themselves in their own garden. There are also a few liqueurs and aperitifs on the menu, including a great seasonal Yuzu variety.

You can buy the gins in anything from 30ml taster to a full-size 700ml bottle, and while they’re obviously more expensive than the mass-produced stuff you’ll get at your local bottle shop, they’re also a completely different experience.

Drop by, have a chat to the distiller, try a few different options and see what you think!

  • What: Hurdle Creek Still
  • Where: 216 Whorouly-Bobinawarrah Rd, Milawa
  • When: 10am to 4pm Mon and Thurs, 10am to 5pm Fri-Sun, closed Tues and Wed

King River Cafe

Ok, so King River Cafe is technically in Oxley, but since it’s still just a five-minute drive west of Milawa, I’m including it here.

You’ll understand why when you walk in the door of this delightful little restaurant. The food is seriously impressive whether you’re visiting for breakfast, lunch, or dinner: it’s all homemade, with many ingredients sourced from the local area.

It’s a popular spot, partially because there isn’t much else in area in the way of sit-down meals until you get to Wangaratta, but mostly because it’s so good that people come from Wangaratta (and much further afield) just to eat here. Book ahead if you can: there’s a good chance you’ll be waiting a long while otherwise.

The owners call this place a cafe, but the presentation and quality of the food is better than many restaurants I’ve visited. If the weather’s nice, try to nab a table outside in the garden; if not, it’s nice and cozy inside. Wherever you’re sitting, I can highly recommend ordering the potato rosti!

  • What: King River Cafe
  • Where: 1143 Snow Rd, Oxley
  • When: 10am to 10pm Wed to Sun, 10am to 3pm Mon, closed Tues

John Gehrig Wines

If you’re looking for a very different cellar door experience to what you’ll find at Brown Brothers (above), head over to John Gehrig Wines in Oxley. This small winery, run by a husband and wife team that’s part of six generations of winemaking in the area, offers relaxed, informative tastings in a lovely vineyard setting.

Along with a wide range of full-bodied reds, award-winning whites, and refreshing sparkling options, they’ve also branched out into several fortified wine varieties as well. Having lived in Portugal for a few years, I’m always very partial to a good port: the Durif Vintage is particularly impressive.

There’s no fee for tastings (always a welcome surprise), and they’re happy to arrange shipping around the state and further afield. That’s especially convenient if you’ve cycled there from Milawa or somewhere else nearby, or if you’ll be flying back home after your time in northeast Victoria.

Pop in, say hi to the friendly winery cat, and try something new!

  • What: King River Cafe
  • Where: 80 Gehrigs Ln, Oxley
  • When: 10am to 5pm daily

Cottonwoods Organic Farm Shop

Interior of a small wood and corrugated iron farm shop, with sign saying Cottonwoods Organic Est 2016 on the counter. Jars of preserves on counter, with bags of dried fruit, pumpkins, limes, and other food items in background.
How nice is this little farm shop?

A few minutes drive east of Milawa on the main road, keep an eye out for the sign for Cottonwoods Organic Farm Shop. The owners run a small accommodation business with a couple of cottages, along with the farm gate shop at the front of the property.

It’s a delightful, rustic little store, full of local eggs, jams and preserves, pickles, and whatever fruit and vegetables are in season at the time. We last stopped by in April 2023, and pumpkins were definitely on the menu, along with plenty of other late-season produce.

Everything is organic and pesticide-free, so if you care about what’s going into your body, this is the place to shop.

There’s often someone nearby who’s happy to chat about what’s going on around the farm and sell whatever you’d like to take home with you, but if not, there’s an honesty box on the counter as well. It’s unusual to see one these days, but they were everywhere on the side of the road when I was growing up: it’s a nice reminder of those times.

  • What: Cottonwoods Organic Farm Shop
  • Where: 2137 Snow Rd, Markwood
  • When: If the door is open, it’s open!

Where to Stay in Milawa

Despite its tiny size, Milawa does have a few good accommodation options. They’re reasonably priced for the area, but do fill up quickly, so be sure to book in advance. If everything in town is full, Wangarata almost always has rooms available, and is only 15km away.

At the luxury end, you can’t go past Lancemore. It’s a super-fancy resort hotel, nestled among the vines at Brown Brothers Winery, with stunning rooms and remarkable views from pretty much anywhere in the building.

The onsite paddock-to-plate restaurant is absolutely worth eating at at least once: it’s by far the most high-end dining experience you’ll find in the area. With a range of sunrise (east) and sunset (west) facing rooms, including suites, it’s absolutely the place I’d choose for a special occasion.

If your budget doesn’t stretch quite that far, I’d suggest checking out Milawa Muscat Retreat. It’s on two acres of land on the main road to Oxley, about a three-minute drive from Milawa. The standard one-bedroom suites are the best value, with a kitchenette, separate living area, and a sunny outdoor porch or balcony to enjoy all that wine you bought from the cellar doors earlier in the day!

Arguably the biggest highlight, however, is the great breakfast that’s included with every stay. Bacon, salmon, eggs, cereals, fruit, yoghurt: it’s all there, and it’s all delicious. Don’t pass it up!

Finally, for cheaper accommodation that’s still surprisingly nice, take a look at Factory Lane B&B. It’s a cozy little self-contained unit on a large property that’s easily walkable to everywhere in town, but away from any traffic noise. There’s a little kitchenette inside, and outdoor tables and chairs to spread out all your supplies for an evening feast. Breakfast is included, making it even better value.

All images copyright Everything Victoria unless otherwise noted

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About the author

One half of the team behind Everything Victoria, Dave loves camping, hiking, and finding new and inventive ways to spend all of his money on coffee. Originally from New Zealand, he moved to Melbourne well over a decade ago, and has been exploring this wonderful part of the country ever since.

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