A third-generation German butcher is using traditional recipes and techniques to make exceptional smallgoods in Central Victoria, writes Richard Cornish.

What is it?
Oakwood Smallgoods Co is a boutique maker of German- and European-style smallgoods producing a range of over one hundred smoked and preserved products. From pâtés to hams and sausages, Oakwood specialises in traditional German favourites such as blutwurst (black pudding) leberkäse (liver loaf) and delicately spiced weisswurst. They also make exceptionally good hams, bacons and cooked sausages such as kabana and cheese kransky. Made to traditional European recipes, Oakwood Smallgoods Co products are known for their consistent quality and deep, rich flavour.

Who’s producing it?
German-born Ralf Fink landed in Melbourne alone and unknown with a bag full of butcher’s knives and his faithful dog already in quarantine. He had left Germany after the Global Financial Crisis looking for a new life making smallgoods, having spent eight years training in Germany to become a fleischmeister, or master butcher. “I had trained in Frankfurt since I was 16,” says Fink. “My father and grandfather were butchers before me.”

Fink found work with top butchers in Melbourne and moved on to become a consultant working for the smallgoods industry. He was on a very comfortable salary when he was driving through Castlemaine when he saw a 19th-century wool mill being transformed into an artisan food hub and inspiration struck. “I knew I had to give up my career and return to my roots,” he says. “I needed to pick up the knife again and smell the woodsmoke in my nostrils.” He started work on the new butchery and smokehouse in September 2017 and opened the doors in 2018.

Where is it?
The Mill, Castlemaine is that artisan food hub, and it produces some of the most beautiful scents in regional Victoria. There’s the smells of coffee roasting, bread baking, beer fermenting and curd being cooked for cheese. When Ralf Fink is smoking his hams and bacons, the courtyard is filled with the smoky tang of Australian red gum and German beechwood. His pork is sourced from Otway Pork in the Western District and the beef from Eden Rise Farm, Sedgewick in central Victoria.

Why it’s different
Ralf Fink is a stickler for European tradition. He doesn’t cut corners and is determined not to scale up his business simply to seek more profit. “People say to me, ‘you should get bigger’, but I know when that happens you lose control,” he says. “We have a business now that is perfectly manageable by a small, passionate team. Success follows passion.”

Who’s a fan?
Mitch Weston from G McBean Family Butchers in the Prahran Market says, “Oakwood is 100 per cent traditional. It’s getting harder to find real, cold-smoked bacon. It’s quite rare in Australia. But Ralf is the real deal”. The butchery also stocks Oakwood’s old-school Strasbourg sausage and Fink and his team make their wagyu pastrami and jerky.

Cody Jones, cellar door manager at Tellurian Wines near Heathcote serves Oakwood smallgoods on the cellar door’s tasting platter. “We love the capocollo and the wagyu bresaola,” says Jones. “Ralph is good at what he does, there is a flavour profile that matches something in all our wines. There’s a nuttiness that works well with the whites, a meatiness that matches the grenaches and an earthiness that parallels our shiraz.”

Where can I get it?
Oakwood Smallgoods Co, The Mill, 9 Walker St, Castlemaine; Ripe and Cured, Queen Victoria Market; Gertrude Grocer, Fitzroy; G McBean Family Butcher, Prahran Market; What’s Fresh, Kyneton and Ballarat; Creswick, Torquay, Kyneton, Woodend, Riddells Creek and Daylesford Farmers’ Markets.


By Richard Cornish