Perched high above Port Phillip Bay, Blue Range Estate is a surprising find. The journey involves travelling through the back blocks of Rosebud’s sprawling suburban hinterland, housing estates that scramble up the foothills of Arthur’s Seat in search of that all important bay view. Following the signs, a narrow gravel track winds up the side of the range, and eventually a sea of white net covered vines indicate you have arrived. The winery, with its cosy tasting room and raised platform deck with market umbrellas, is a fine place to fritter away a sunny afternoon with a wine and a snack.
Blue Range is not like the other wineries in the nearby Red Hill wine district. It is unpretentious with very friendly service, a small wine tasting area and an outside dining area. Franc De Cicco and his wife Filomena established the winery 30 years ago. Frank must have been a very industrious man, as he also ran a cheese factory in Coburg, an inner Melbourne suburb of Melbourne. The winery is now run by the Melone family, Cosi, Jo and their four children.
My sister and I often travel up to this winery in the sky to share a light lunch and a bottle of wine, thanks to our obliging chauffeurs! The menu is made up of spuntini, small bites of light Italian style dishes designed to go with the wine. The food is simple and tasty, but I doubt that much of it is house made. It’s cheap and works well with the sensational wines. We ordered the calamari fritti, the arancini, and Tuscan sausage with artichoke, a bottle of the 2009 chardonnay and the sensational vista was free. Other menu offerings include flat breads with various toppings and antipasto platters.
The vineyard produces Pinot Noir, Merlot, Shiraz, Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio. The wine list consisted of aged wines from 2009 to 2010: no youngies on the list at all. The 2009 vintage wines were made by Frank the founder, while some of the 2010 wines were made by a visiting Italian winemaker. I suspect the current grape crops are sold to nearby wineries. It’s a great place to visit if you want to taste an 8-year-old Pinot Noir, which is an exceptionally good drop.
Roll out the barrel
The upper deck- was once a restaurant.
De Cicco family
Blue Ridge Barrels
The tasting room
A sea of vines
It’s a good idea to do a full wine tasting before you choose a bottle to go with your bites. A tasting puts you in a festive mood and the sommelier or assistant needs to be well-informed and cheery. This young member of the Melone family was the perfect host, with lots of great stories to go with it. His Italian ancestors came from Benevento, the city of witches in Campania. There are some great folkloric legends about this region, a new little Italian nugget for me to explore further.
Cellar Door open from Thursday to Sunday 12pm-4pm (weather dependent, alfresco dining)
Address: Blue Range Estate, 155 GARDENS ROAD, ROSEBUD.VICTORIA. Ph 59 866560
It is hard to imagine a world without pasta. Italian style pasta was unknown to most Australian households until the 1970s, despite the presence of Italian pasta manufacturers here in Melbourne. One of the earliest producers of quality pasta, Nello Borghesi, established La Tosca Company in 1947 in Bennett’s Lane, Melbourne. They eventually moved to a larger factory in Brunswick in 1971.
“Before then, Melbourne’s Italian community were largely the only customers of this fine pasta. By the 1970s many new Italian restaurants emerged: it was, for many families of Anglo-Saxon background, the first time they had tasted real pasta beyond spaghetti or macaroni from a can.” ¹
Dried pasta could be bought in supermarkets, especially around Carlton and Brunswick, but it was still unusual to eat pasta at home regularly, and when it did make a regular appearance, it came only in one form: the ubiquitous Spaghetti Bolognese.
‘The Borghesi found it challenging at first to introduce the pasta to the Anglo-Australian consumers. The Italian Australian market also had to be convinced that the product was as good as that which they could make themselves. The pasta would be made in the mornings, then delivered in the afternoons in the family van. It was a very labour intensive process and the whole family would help in the production. Deliveries were made to most Melbourne Italian food outlets and restaurants, such as Florentino’s, The Latin, and Mario’s. By the 1960s, the clientele grew to catering for weddings and non-Italian cafes, and then the business really took off. In the 1960s, the delivery of dry pasta was replaced by frozen products.”¹
The Borghesi business and I became very well acquainted in 1997 when I decided to take a job at La Tosca Pasta Company in Victoria Street, Brunswick, a suburb of Melbourne. This short-lived factory job was wedged between one era of teaching and another, a time when I felt lost in my search for meaningful work. I took the job thinking that it might be interesting to work in a completely different field, to do some physical work for a change, and that the Italian staff might help me acquire a better grasp of idiomatic Italian. I had finished a degree in Italian, followed by three years translating an autobiography. Without daily interaction in Italian, I feared that I might lose the language. So off to La Tosca I went.
Our working day started at 8 am precisely. We would begin by moving the racks of drying spaghetti, linguine or tagliatelle which had been stored on wooden drying rods in darkened rooms overnight. The pasta was carefully scooped off the rods, taking care not to break any of the brittle strands, and bundled neatly onto the bench for packing. Each stack was then weighed to a precise weight: after a while it was easy to gauge this visually. The pasta was placed in small boxes, ready for the machine to wrap and seal with the La Tosca logo. These packets were then placed in large boxes, twenty to a box, ready for the delivery trucks. The work was relentless and swift: there was no time for conversation beyond the conveying of basic instructions.
At 10 am on the dot, a whistle would sound, and a short Neapolitan woman would yell “Andiamo,” let’s go. All activity ceased instantly, machines and work stations were abandoned, the factory floor silenced by the call to coffee. We climbed the narrow stairs in single file and gathered in a cramped morning tea room above the factory floor for a piccolo cafe ristretto, made in an old beaten up aluminium Napolitana by the Andiamo lady. Ten minutes later it was back to work. Huge dough mixers gyrated above, operated by men on platforms, moving effortlessly in a noisy industrial ballet. Other machines chugged permanently in the background- pasta cutters, ravioli stuffers, packing machines- the factory floor was alive with mechanical noise. The strong coffee kept us going for more back-breaking work, boxing, stacking, wrapping, then sweeping, constantly inpiedi for the 8 hour working day. I lasted for about 6 weeks at the La Tosca Pasta factory- the unremitting noise eventually drove me demented, my legs longed for that moment of rest and my back was trashed. I began to consider other forms of paid work.
In that short time, I came to admire the endurance and stamina of these women who had worked in factories since migrating to Australia in the 1950s and 60s, sturdy middle- aged and older women, dressed in sensible and spotlessly clean factory uniforms, standing solidly on concrete floors in stockinged legs and sensible shoes. The work was hard and relentless. They made the pasta that Melbourne came to love.
Melbourne’s Italianita´can be found far more easily without taking such drastic steps, as I was to discover. Inner city libraries specialise in Italian film and magazine collections, there is a local Italian newspaper, Il Globo, an annual Italian film festival, numerous Italian regional and cultural clubs as well as fresh markets, delis, restaurants, and Italian supermarkets. Melbourne’s Italian manufacturing centred around pasta, cheese making, salami and shoes, though this was far more pronounced in the last century than it is today.
Zuppa di Ceci con Maltagliati-Chick pea soup with Pasta Offcuts.
I recently made a large batch of pasta and after cutting the square shapes for some cannelloni, I was left with a nice pile of maltagliati, irregular shaped off cuts. ( I often call these cenci or stracci too ) These little pieces make a wonderful addition to a rustic soup, which can be thrown together in minutes, becoming a meal in a bowl. Like many good Italian recipes, my quantities are approximate. The soup is designed to be eaten at once- any soup with pasta is not suitable to be eaten the next day. The amount below makes three good serves.
2 -3 large garlic cloves, chopped finely
one stem fresh rosemary, leaves stripped, finely chopped
4-6 anchovy fillets
one dried chilli, finely chopped
a generous glug of EV olive oil
cooked chick peas- around two cups ( if using canned chick peas, drain off well and rinse off that awful preserving liquid)
one vegetable stock cube with water or home-made stock, vegetable or chicken.
Fresh pasta offcuts/maltagliati
Italian parsley, finely chopped
black pepper to taste
grated Parmigiano to serve
Using a heavy based saucepan, add the oil to the pan and gently fry off the soffritto, the garlic, anchovy, chilli, and rosemary, pressing the anchovies to a paste as you go.
Add the chickpeas and stock to cover (or water and stockcube). Bring slowly to the boil, then add the pasta pieces. Fresh pasta should cook in two minutes- if the pasta has been left overnight, allow a little longer. Taste as you go. Season with black pepper. Serve with ample parmesan cheese.
The idealised version of Tomato Day (tomato passata or purée making day) generally occurs in Melbourne some time between mid February and early March. In recent years it has become a staged event, promoted by celebrities who may or may not have Italian heritage, and who may have dubious reasons for popularising it, or by farmers markets and community groups with more noble motives. Traditionally, the day has been heralded by large hand painted signs along the arterial roads of the less fashionable suburbs of Melbourne, often in front of abandoned warehouses or petrol stations. The signs read:
Pomodori per Salsa or Si Vende Pomodori e Uva
or ‘tomatoes for sauce or tomatoes and grapes sold here’. Large boxes of tomatoes, usually sourced from commercial tomato farms, arrive at these places in late summer. Perhaps we could call them tomato pop up shops? Gli Italo- Australiani have always bought tomatoes in 20 kilo boxes for their annual passata or tomato puree making day but as Melbourne’s Italian born demographic ages and slowly dies out, the tradition now relies on the younger generation and others interested in home preserving.
This event came sharply into focus for many young Australians, especially those of Italian heritage, with the release ofthe film Looking for Alibrandi, one of my favourite Australian movies, which won the Australian Film Institute award for the best film in 2000. Following its success, the book on which the film is based, by Melina Marchetti, was studied in English in most schools, and the film was included in the year 12 Italian optional study on Emigrazione Italiana in Australia. Check out the opening scene from the movie:
If only I could have a tomato day once every summer. When you grow your own tomatoes, the crops will decide when, and how often, you make passata di pomodori. Roma tomatoes or other varieties of plum tomatoes, like San Marzano, are the preferred tomatoes for bottling (canning) as they have thick skin, few seeds and can safely sit around on benches, developing more intensity of colour and flavour, for at least a week. When I get around 5 kilo of deep red coloured tomatoes, usually once a week during January and February, it’s Passata Day again!
The tomato passata recipe should be kept simple. I use only tomatoes and a basil leaf. It is not a recipe as such, but a method. Gather all your equipment before hand and seduce a friend into helping.
For pureeing the tomatoes, I use a hand cranked mouli with the finest attachment. It’s hard work turning that handle! I am dreaming of a small, electric version and am putting in an early request so that Father Christmas or La Befana or someone impersonating either will buy me one next year. In the meantime, very good results can be obtained with a mouli.
The Method and Equipment.
tomatoes (I usually process between 3 and 5 kilo at a time)
fresh basil leaves
passata jars and lids, sterilised
some large bowls
tea towels- to drain the wet tomatoes and to place under the bowl and mouli to stabilise.
Gather your tomatoes and wash them. Cut a cross in the skin with a sharp knife (it helps loosen the skin) and remove any stalks. Boil up kettles of water, add the tomatoes to a large bowl and cover with boiling water for 1 minute or less, then scoop them out of their bath and dry on a tea towel. You may need to do this step in batches, so have more boiling water ready to add to your bowl and tomatoes.
After draining, cut them in half and put them in a mouli with a disc on the finest setting and puree, which removes all the skin and seeds. Sit the mouli over a bowl of the same size to catch the puree.
Pour the puree into a jug then pour into sterilised jars. Add a small basil leaf to the jar, and leave a 3 cm gap from the lid.
When all the jars are filled and capped, fill a large preserving pan with water (as tall or taller than the jars or bottles). You may add a folded teatowel to the base of the pan to stop the bottles rattling around- I usually don’t bother with this. Add the jars to the cold water, bring to the boil, boil for 30 minutes, then leave in the water bath for a day. You may hear the caps pop indicating a good seal.
Store in a cool dark place for up to 3 years but they probably won’t last that long. Add to pasta sauces, casseroles, and soups during winter.
Used tomato passata bottles can be found in op shops (thrift stores) or can be purchased new. In the past, tomato passata was made and cooked in beer bottles but this practice is slowly dying out too. New lids are also sold in many Italian kitchen ware shops in packets of 20.
Dean Martin sings ‘Cha cha cha d’amour” in the background; locals drop in for a quick chat or a coffee, groups greet each other warmly with ‘auguri‘ or buona sera‘. Introductions are swift- meet Dino or Toni- as working men greet their friends and gather for an antipasto or a hearty bowl of pasta and a glass of rosso. Poking one’s head in to greet the chef at work in the semi open kitchen seems to be the norm. The style is distinctly Italo- Australiano and I feel very much at home here. Front of house is a charming young waiter from Milano, no doubt working on a 457 working visa, like so many other young Italian camerieri in Melbourne, and the pizzas are truly excellent, dare I say, the best I have had in a long while. At $13- $15 for a large hand crafted thinly crusted pizza, they are a steal. But here’s the sad news. Cafe Bellino in Victoria Street, Brunswick has less than 90 days left to run! Like so many others in the district, the couple responsible for the excellent cooking here is about to retire. The signora is looking forward to spending time with her grandchildren: restaurant life is hard work, she explains. The young Milanese waiter hopes to be able to work for the new lessee, but no one really knows what kind of business will replace the beautiful little Cafe Bellino.
It’s a common story around the inner suburbs of Melbourne, as more Italian couples reach retirement age and sell up. A recent closure was Cafe Mingo in Sydney road, when Jo, his wife and helpers retired. Their simple Italian restaurant became home away from home for many. I loved the way that Jo would slide over a complimentary plate full of sweet wafers and a tall bottle of grappa at the end of a meal. Sweet memories. The place has since become an Indian restaurant. It’s always empty, there is no licence and no ambience. It has lost its soul. Last week when we dropped into La Bussola Ristorante e Pizzeria in Lygon Street east, we found that retirement had struck again! La Bussola, home of the simple pizza and cheap pasta, a warm retro space where you could bring your own wine or buy a caraffa di vino da tavola for $10, has become the Compass Pizza Bar. The emphasis is now on the word “bar” as this seems to be how the young Brunswick cafe managers make their money. It’s all about mark up and less about the food. We were ushered into the old retro space but shock horror, a head-phoned DJ had been installed, playing extremely loud music at 6pm. We were told curtly that our BYO bottle was not welcome, and no, we couldn’t pay extra for corkage or glasses. We promptly left. Another wonderful family run institution had become gentrified and in my humble opinion, wrecked. Crap bottled wine, of unknown source and vintage, was offered at a starting price of $32 a bottle. Most were more costly.
The simple joy of stepping out for a pizza or a bowl of pasta with a shared a bottle of wine is quickly vanishing. I have nothing against licensed restaurants. Most of the old style BYO places hold full licences as well, offering the diner a choice. What disturbs me are the ridiculous mark ups on wine at these new hipster places. Take a bottle of ordinary wine that retails for $8 and mark it up to $35 or more. Why? Isn’t turnover and ‘bums on seats’ more important in these leaner times? Cheap, affordable wine, as well as BYO wine, has made the Melbourne suburban restaurant scene dynamic and lively in the past. These practices enabled families to regularly dine out at their local restaurant, introducing children to restaurant life and the culture of food. Simple places with prices to match. Hipster joints with their huge mark ups on wine will attract only one type of customer, young affluent singles and childless couples. A sad trend indeed, and one that would never happen in France!
Friendly proprietor and chef, Cafe Bellino, Brunswick.
If you’re in the area, footloose and fancy free or loitering with intent and in need of a drink, a coffee, or a bowl of something authentically Italian, try Cafe Bellino, 281 Victoria St, Brunswick VIC 3056. ( Just around the corner from Sydney Road). Open from 10 am to 10 pm. Closed on Sunday. You only have 80 days left.
Cha cha cha d’amour
Take this song to my lover
Shoo shoo little bird
Go and find my love
Cha cha cha d’amour
Serenade at her window
Shoo shoo little bird
Sing my song of love
On the way to the Flinders Ranges and the South Australian outback, it is customary to stay in the historic town of Burra. In the past, and I mean less than ten years ago, Burra was a sleepy historic town: attractive, but definitely ‘olde worlde’. Today, the town is buzzing with new energy. More old houses in the back streets are being restored, the Burra Hotel has a new publican and chef , and the arrival of an Italian Osteria in an old tin shed is an exciting addition to the town. One can sense the brio! Given that Burra is only 200 kilometres from Adelaide, it was bound to happen.
After setting up camp at the central but extremely basic camping ground in town, we wandered the historic streets of Burra in search of a cleansing ale, or to be precise, a cleansing Coopers Pale Ale. This search wasn’t long or arduous. The Burra Hotel is centrally located and has had a makeover since our last visit, but still retains that old pub feel, that is, spruced up but not gentrified. Michael, the new publican, had just taken over some days before and he certainly enjoys a chat. The menu looked great, and we would have stayed, but something caught my eye on the way : this sign, on this shed.
An osteria, La Pecora Nera, in the middle of a little outback town? A beacon in the twilight. Off we trotted after our beers to find a packed and thriving authentic pizzeria and osteria complete with domed wood fired oven and a noisy, convivial atmosphere. We were seated at one of the larger communal tables. Wine is displayed on the wall shelving, so it’s a matter of choosing one and taking it to the table. Our 2009 Mt Surmon Nebbiolo from nearby Claire was the perfect wine for the occasion. ( $35.00)After ordering, a plate of rustic wood fired bread, drizzled with good oil, arrived at the table. Really good bread, really good oil. Then a Pizza perfetta arrives, a Napolitana with a fine, thin crusted base, ( $17.00) large enough for two.
We ordered a delicious cheesecake to share and then the lovely Clare did the rounds of all the tables with her limoncello bottle. It’s mid week and no one wants to go home.
Clare and her partner Paolo run this successful osteria: Paolo is the pizzaiolo and Clare makes everyone happy with little extras. It is indeed authentically Italian. Suddenly we feel like guests at her party.
I can’t wait to go back to Burra, but next time for a longer stay, to walk around the town at leisure and to stay in a little renovated Cornish miner’s cottage.
Are we there yet? Still trying to make it to the outback, it was necessary to pass through McLaren Vale, one of the many notable wine growing districts of South Australia and certainly worthy of another diversion. With 74 cellar doors open for tasting, is it possible to drive through this town, without sampling a wine or two?
After setting up camp, we wandered along a section of the inviting walking track, the Shiraz Trail, and whoops, found ourselves in the vast estate with winding driveway that enters Serafino winery and restaurant. It was early evening. The Serafino restaurant, like some Pavlovian experiment, seemed to be beckoning us to its door. My semi feral camping appearance, hat not fully disguising unruly hair, allowed me to emerge from this spell. We wisely turned back to our little home on wheels.
The next morning, all scrubbed up and ready to face a new day, we drove up the fabulous driveway, past the lake with friendly geese, and entered the Serafino cellar for a quick wine tasting. The young attendant informed us that morning wine tastings were a good idea as the palate was still untainted! Excellent news. At 10.30 AM, I felt justified, if not virtuous, by sampling a few of the range on offer.
The wines are listed in categories, from Serafino Terremoto (the big reds) and Reserve wines, followed by lighter styled vintages. I always lean towards the Italian varietals and was pleased to see their ‘Bellissimo’ range included Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, Fiano, Pinot Grigio and the Spanish variety,Tempranillo. I am a big fan of Nebbiolo, knowing only a few companies making an Australian version, so this was a little heavenly moment. Thankyou Bacchus. Given the offer of free postage, a few cases were ordered and sent home. I joined the Serafino wine club, and even though I missed the chance to enjoy the restaurant, I am a happy camper.
We tried two other wineries, dropping into Hugo Wines to pick up a couple of aged Shiraz, and a bottle of their award-winning olive oil, then we were safely on our way. Only the Clare wine growing district ( home of divine Riesling ) could lead us further astray before making it to the outback, but we had happily spent out wine dollar in McLaren Vale.
It is worth reading Serafino (Steve) Maglieri’s story of migration from Campobosso, Italy in the 1960s, as a young man with little English and $20.00 in his pocket. Another remarkable Italo- Australiano!
You don’t have to look far to find Italianità in Mildura and the surrounding district, Sunraysia. Many of you may know of the famous restaurateur from Mildura, Stefano de Piero, not only noted for his fine cuisine at the Grand Hotel some years ago, but also through his series, ‘A Gondola on the Murray’ and various cookbooks. Not so many know about the thousands of Italo -Australiani who contribute to the farming community around the district. Although first generation Italians now make up less that 2% of the population, second and third generation Italo- Australiani make up a significant proportion of the population and have contributed much to the town, its culture, agriculture and the arts.
A quick tour around the Sunraysia Farmers’ Market, held every first and third Saturday of the month, will provide you with some irresistible provisions for touring the district. An important consideration, when buying fruit and vegetables, is to take into account any State border crossings. As Mildura sits in Victoria, close to South Australia and New South Wales, quarantine laws demand that one must forfeit most fruit and vegetables on entering another State.
This is enforced by officials upon entering South Australia and through signage and the voluntary depositing of goods on entering Victoria and New South Wales. The borders can be confusing upon entering/leaving the Sunraysia district which seems to have some extraordinary quarantine lines within Victoria itself. It’s all about protecting South Australia and the Sunraysia district from fruit-fly.
Some demographics from a past census will show that 353,000 Italian migrants arrived in Australia in the post war period, from 1948 through to 1970. Most of the Italian born are now aged over 60. They have kept alive many of the farming traditions learnt from pre-war times and this is particularly evident in preserving techniques and salame making.
The wine industry in the Sunraysia district makes up 80% of all Victorian wine grape production. The highways linking Mildura with Swan Hill are lined with farms selling wine, olive oil, citrus fruits, avocados and vegetables. If you haven’t had a chance to visit the farmers’ market, there are plenty of roadside stalls with honesty boxes selling all kinds of fresh produce, on both sides of the Murray river in each state.
Vittorio is from Sicily but has lived in Melbourne for most of his adult life. Like many other Italo- Australiani who migrated here in the 1950’s and 60’s, he is getting on in age. He is now 84 years old, is stooped and in pain but this doesn’t deter him from hardwork. In fact, it keeps him going.
He sells vegetable seedlings and plants at weekend and country markets which are grown under shade cloth in his inner suburban backyard. He nurtures thousands of seedling plants like children, each one individually tended and cared for.
They are strong and resilient- just like Vittorio himself. He speaks a crazy mixture of two languages- Sicilian dialect and Australian English. It’s a strange mixture, making conversation quite difficult, but we get by.
These tomatoe bushes were given to me as a Mother’s Day bunch of flowers. Why not mother’s day in November? Vittorio è un angelo.