Since 2013, John and Linda Stanley have been passionately farming chestnuts and creating chestnut products on their 70-acre Nannup farm, Chestnut Brae. The husband-and-wife duo farm naturally without pressure on animals or the land using regenerative agriculture and are enthusiastic about educating the public on not only the health benefits of chestnuts but also the health benefits of organic farming.
Each year they harvest 12 tonnes of chestnuts between March and June from their 36-year-old trees with 60% of the total yield used to create value added products including chestnut flour and chestnut fed pork.
Chestnut Brae is the only organic sweet chestnut farm in Western Australia. John and Linda peel, process, and mill all the chestnuts their selves on the farm. They have a beautiful Austrian wooden stone grind flour mill to make silky soft fine chestnut flour. Their range of chestnut products is produced in small batches includes roasted chestnuts, chestnut ice-cream, chestnut ale (from Blackwood Valley Brewing), chestnutella, chestnuts in syrup, chestnut chutney, chestnut mustard and chestnut puree.
During chestnut season their heritage Wessex Saddleback pigs are pasture raised so that they can enjoy the fresh chestnuts. The Stanley’s are advocates for the best prosciutto in the world coming from Parma, Italy where the pigs are fed whey from the parmigiana factory and chestnuts. The Stanley’s also believe the best ham in the world comes from Spain (Jamon Iberico) where the pigs are fed acorns and chestnuts. Knowing this, their aim is to follow the European methods as closely as they can to produce the best pork and in the not-too-distant future, charcuterie in the southern hemisphere. They also have a small flock of Wiltshire sheep that they feed the chestnut peelings so that they have chestnut fed lamb available once a year.
The Stanley’s chestnut production and value adding is really a world affair. The pair travelled to Italy and France to see how chestnut farmers grew and marketed their chestnuts and find out what products could be produced. They came back with 300 recipes for chestnut products and a vision of how to develop the farm. They have implemented some of the industry’s best practices and now use an Italian chestnut harvester, a Korean peeling machine, a Chinese commercial dehydrator and Austrian chestnut flour mill.
John and Linda’s innovations haven’t gone unnoticed as they have been featured on ABC News and were the recipient of the 2016 Winning the Innovation in Agriculture Award, and the 2021 Bronze medalist in WA Tourism Awards for Food Excellence in Food Tourism. They have also been finalist in 2020 SW Business Micro Business Awards, 2020 SW Business Food & Beverage Manufacturing Award and the 2019 finalist in Tourism WA for Food Tourism. A credit to their hard work and dedication to learning about the industry.
Chestnuts are a versatile nut that can be used in both sweet and savoury recipes with or without its inner skin. John Stanley’s favourite is recipe with chestnuts is pudding, whilst Linda can’t go pass some homemade chestnut trail bars.
Fresh chestnuts are 60% water, so they need to be scored with a cross prior to cooking. Linda recommends that once cooked they need to be wrapped in a towel and kept warm while they are being peeled. This makes them easy to peel.
Fresh chestnuts, unlike other nuts, are a perishable crop. To avoid chestnuts drying out, store in an airtight container, paper bag or perforated plastic bag in the crisper compartment of the fridge. Low temperatures just above freezing and high humidity are the secrets to long chestnut life. Place a damp paper towel in with them and they should last a couple of weeks. For long-term storage Chestnut Brae ready peeled chestnuts are vacuum sealed and will keep about a year in the freezer.
Autumn is the season of colour and activity at Chestnut Brae. It is harvest time. Sweet Chestnuts fall to the ground in Autumn – April and May and John and Linda encourage people to come for “Pick Your Own”. The pair welcome visitors to their farm and offer Chestnut Experience Farm Tours to show guests sustainable ethical farming.
The farm is also a member of the Organic Garden Trail and the Blackwood River Valley Food Trail. The garden surrounding the homestead and the guest farm stay boasts mature English Oak, Ash trees and heritage roses that add to the European feel of the hidden valley. In Spring the two chestnut orchards are a blaze of colour with thousands of daffodils.
If you are interested in trying some Chestnut Brae products, enjoying a farm stay or learning more about their operations through a farm tour, visit www.chestnutbrae.com.au
Photographs supplied by Chestnut Brae.