The Swiss army knife of spreads

Pillar of Salt’s Vegemite dust pushes the taste boundaries
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How Vegemite is so much more than just an Aussie icon. Nicolas Rivet reports.  

 

It’s the age-old question that many Australians can’t seem to agree on an answer to. What exactly is the best way to eat Vegemite?

Despite first appearing on supermarket shelves across the country in 1923, the great debate over how the widely popular yeast extract should be enjoyed remains unresolved.

Among the 80 per cent of Australian households who keep a jar in their pantry, most would argue that there is simply no better combination than Vegemite on toast. However, it’s the Vegemite-to-butter ratio that seems to be the cause of controversy.

Apparently, the only thing consumers can agree on is that Vegemite is about as undoubtedly Australian as throwing another shrimp on the barbie.

But with the ongoing dispute still seething, is it possible that Vegemite’s versatility is being drastically overlooked?

Possibly, but a trendy Church St cafe, a single mother and a booming bakery franchise have made waves of their own by adapting and incorporating the salty spread in a number of interesting ways.

For Pillar of Salt assistant manager Paul Denovan, Vegemite has helped put the charismatic cafe on the map.

After a nationwide competition held by the iconic brand called for local cafes and restaurants to put forward their most creative Vegemite-inspired dish, Pillar of Salt claimed first place with their Vegemite and beef brisket sliders.

“We really wanted to push the boundaries and think outside of the box for this one … It helps that we all love Vegemite here so much,” Denovan says.

The winning dish combined slow-cooked beef brisket with a deglazed Vegemite and red wine sauce. Although no longer available on the menu, it proved to be one of the cafe’s most popular items.

“It was all about trial and error,” Denovan says. “The chefs experimented a lot.”

Today, Pillar of Salt’s love of Vegemite lives on through their thick cut Vegemite salted chips – a side dish that incorporates dehydrated Vegemite that has been baked and blended into a Vegemite dust.

“It’s pretty cool to have something on the menu that people read and react to immediately,” Denovan says.

“With Vegemite, you either love it or you hate it … It’s good in a way because it gives people a chance to try something other than the go-to smashed avo on toast.”

Denovan attributes the obsession with Vegemite to the feeling of nostalgia it triggers for Australians all over the world.

“It’s something we’ve all grown up with. In a way it’s a very traditional part of our culture … Back in the day, a lot of people would use Vegemite in their cooking.”

This is all too familiar for mother-of-two Joyce Vincent who considers Vegemite to be a key ingredient in many of her home-cooked meals. For her, there’s no better salt substitute.

Vincent says she can use Vegemite in just about anything and has done so for as long as she can remember.

“It’s like adding a bit of a kick to your cooking … Some people use stock or seasoning but I use Vegemite instead.”

Like Denovan, Vincent says the distinct taste of Vegemite reminds her of her childhood – particularly growing up in Mauritius.

Vincent’s mother would use Vegemite purchased from a retailer known for importing Australian products. It eventually became a staple item in their household.

“During the cyclone season, we would have to stay indoors a lot of the time and Mum would make us lentil soup with Vegemite … Whenever I think of Vegemite I always think of that.”

Vincent gradually learnt how to cook by watching and helping her mother in the kitchen at a young age.

“There are little tips and tricks only a mother can teach you,” Vincent says. “I would see her use Vegemite in soups and sauces and now I do the same.”

It’s a technique Vincent hopes will continue to be passed down her family line.

“I already know that when my kids think of Vegemite they think of me the same way I think of my mum.”

In Melanie Plunkett’s case, Vegemite is just as easily appreciated in the workplace as it is at home.

As part-owner of Bakers Delight in Casey Central, Plunkett accredits a lot of the store’s success to the company’s signature Cheesymite scroll – a spiral of baked bread filled with cheese and Vegemite.

“They’re delicious,” Plunkett says. “Absolutely everybody loves them. Children, grandparents, all kinds of people.”

Having been an essential product of the franchise for over 20 years, it goes without saying that the famous Cheesymite recipe is a well-kept secret.

“We sell out of them almost every single day,” Plunkett says. “It’s definitely one of, if not the top selling product.”

Bakers Delight’s Cheesymite scroll
Bakers Delight’s Cheesymite scroll

On busier days, Plunkett’s staff may be required to bake a first batch of scrolls before dawn and a second around midday in order to meet demand.

Despite their success, Plunkett isn’t convinced that the much-loved Cheesymite scroll would have the same effect outside Australia.

“I just don’t think they’ll get it,” Plunkett says. “We all love it here because we’ve been brought up on it … For people who have never had it before it’s a very weird taste.

Plunkett believes that any overseas success for Vegemite could compromise it’s proudly patriotic stature.

“I think the Australian market is the only market for Vegemite,” Plunkett says.

Still, it continues to be celebrated as one of the country’s most admired – and evidently adaptable – creations.

For Denovan, a shy serve of Vegemite on buttered toast with a side of smashed avocado is the way to go. Vincent prefers a much more generous amount to accompany her freshly baked bread and butter while Plunkett likes to start her morning off with her Vegemite version of a grilled cheese.

Regardless of how it’s eaten, it’s safe to say that the savoury superstar is keeping the country’s happy little Vegemites as bright as bright can be.

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