ORANGES, lemons, mandarins, limes, grapefruit and tangerines will be the main attractions when Mildura’s fourth annual Zest Fest kicks off tomorrow.

A celebration of the region’s iconic connection to citrus fruit, the week-long festival aims to showcase the Murray-Darling industry which produces 25 percent of Australia’s citrus fruit.

Mildura’s central business district traders will paint the town orange by decorating shopfronts with citrus-themed displays.

Local eateries will also participate in the celebrations with Feast Street restaurants, cafes and bars offering diners citrus-inspired menus and drinks.

Mildura cook Stefano De Pieri praised Zest Fest’s message that encourages people to eat local produce and hailed citrus as “the king of all things.”

“It’s a fundamental pillar of cooking that you can’t do without, or at least life wouldn’t be as zesty!” Stefano said this week.

“You think about how many cuisines depend on citrus, think about Asian cooking – without lime it wouldn’t work.

“In Middle Eastern cooking, preserved lemons are used a lot, in Mediterranean cooking a little  lemon juice goes a long way to enhance a dish.”

Stefano has always been an advocate of citrus, and frequently incorporates the fruit into his restaurant menu.

“We put citrus in all of our desserts especially in winter, we make a mandarin brûlée and an orange cake made with almond meal,” he said.

“I think (in the hospitality industry) we should adopt citrus all year round, there are hundreds of variations on the theme, so when visitors come here it would be nice to know that they will always be met with a citrus experience.”

Stefano says there is an abundance of ways that citrus can be used in cooking, and that it is one of the easiest ingredients to implement in dishes.

“If you are cooking a piece of fish, squirt some lemon over it, if you are braising some dishes, add some mandarin peel, if you are making a quick risotto, grate some lemon skin over it. It goes with everything, it has infinite uses,” he said.

Among the Zest Fest festivities, Mildura City Heart will be running the annual marmalade competition, where locals are invited to enter their best jar of the citrus spread for judging.

The winner of the Marmalade Master and People’s Choice Award will be announced at the Marmalade Breakfast in the Langtree Mall on Saturday, August 13.

The event is free to the public and will also include citrus-inspired cooking demonstrations, market stalls, live entertainment and kids’ activities.

Zest Fest will officially launch tomorrow morning at the Sunraysia Farmers Market from 8am. For more information about Zest Fest visit www.milduracity.com.au.