Arancini Art, Puopolo Salumi & Vannella Cheese: blending Italian traditions with Italo-Australian business practices
With the step into the 21st century the Australian food landscape has become widely diverse, with this vast nation's food industry also heavily influenced by foreign values and trends - particularly in the urban areas.
Melbourne and Sydney, especially, are cities with a refined and blended food culture influenced by styles and traditions from Asia, South East Asia, India, Greece, etc. The Australian food industry is also to a large extent boosted by Italian migration and settlement; a steady process of culinary enrichment, colour and zest that began during the post-war period, when the first wave of Italians arrived on Australian shores. Today, Sydney/NSW and Melbourne/Victoria count on three important companies who specialise on particular foods and cater for the Australian market. These are "Arancini Art" (based in Epping, Melbourne) "Puopolo Artisan Salumi" (based in Laverton, Melbourne), and "Vannella Cheese" (operating from Sydney), which are all represented by "Food Art Distribution" as a main distributor in Victoria of these three important brands.
What do these individual companies focusing on the production of Italian food within and for the Australian market have in common?
-They are proud of their Italian culture and heritage and passionate about introducing their food traditions to Australia;
- They have a common business background and vision, outlook and strategy: all companies are founded by Italian migrants to Australia, they all produce Italian food, and all three companies respect the traditional food-making process, with their aim to offer healthy, high quality food to the Australian market and its consumers;
- They have shaped the Australian food industry and strongly influenced the introduction of new culinary habits within the broader multicultural Australian population.
This comparative study looks at how each company contributes to the growth of the Australian economy and also shapes and influences it, steeping Australia in Italian culinary traditions while at the same time stressing the importance of family and the collective, shared values and an appreciation of food also from an aesthetic and artistic point of view.
Jytte Holmqvist meets the CEO's of the three companies
BRINGING FRESH CHEESE CLOSER TO YOU
The only company of the three based in Sydney, "Vannella Cheese" originated in Conversano, Puglia, in 1983, and now collaborates with local Australian dairy farmers at Leppington Pastoral Company for cow's milk and Shaw River for buffalo milk to create its tasty cheese. As highlighted by "Vannella Cheese" General Manager and second-generation cheesemaker Giuseppe Minoia, 'our contribution to the Australian market comes from an insistence on only using fresh Australian milk for all our cheese by supporting the farmers and the farming communities'. Likewise, the "Vannella Cheese" company website declares, metaphorically and solidarically, that 'We embraced Australia and Australia embraced us.' According to Giuseppe, 'the Australian economy benefits by keeping people employed in the manufacturing and agricultural sectors. Italian food in Australia has never been stronger than it currently is. Most importantly, though, consumers are now wanting Italian products that are grown and made locally rather than imported products. Whether it be dairy, smallgoods or any other artisanal product, perception has changed and imported is not always better. For this reason, there is still some scope for locally-made Italian products and the demand is only increasing.
In addition to pointing out this important and interesting new 'glocal' trend, Giuseppe as a family member in the "Vannella Cheese" company also compares producers to educators. He argues that consumers are better informed, well-travelled and well-educated these days, understanding and appreciative of all the hard work that goes into producing artisanal products. Mindful of this and that they are dealing with intelligent consumers that eat also with their eyes, Giuseppe sees it as his job to 'inform them of the quality of locally made but also being able to trace the origin, which is not always easy to do with anything that is imported.' In other words, Australian consumers and companies with an appreciation for art, artisanal products and foreign culinary heritage traditions mixed in with the Australian culture, increasingly embrace and welcome the presence of readily available Italian-made products that do not need to be imported. In this way extra costs are avoided and the food products can be savoured by consumers who will immediately be able to discern the freshness of nutritious products that are healthy and also attractive to look at - as is, most definitely, artisan cheese made the traditional way. As summarised by Giuseppe in a reflective statement that pays homage to the company's comparatively humble Italian beginnings, 'We have moved our lives around our cheeses; first to Cairns, to be close to the dairy herds, and later moving to the city, to bring the fresh cheese closer to you.'
"Vannella Cheese" keeps the Italian heritage alive by producing stretched curd cheese, keeping to the same techniques and practices already developed in their native Italy but using local milk from Australia. That way the two cultures meet without either having to make compromises. Giuseppe concludes by stressing that 'The heritage continues, and the Australian economy benefits by keeping everything local'. On the company website, skilled cheesemaker Giuseppe Minoia keeps the Italian tradition alive in an embedded video where he shows us the beauty of this craft, stressing that the company name pays homage to his mother with the same Vannella surname and that cheesemaking has always been 'a lifelong affair' for his father, who is entranced by this art. "Vannella Cheese" produces strictly quality-controlled ricotta, bocconcini, buffalo mozzarella, burrata-style cheese, etc., and offers a wide range of delicacies to their Australia-based customers. It is Giuseppe's hope that 'the public out there believes in what we do and embraces the way we make our cheese'.
"Vannella Cheese" is most definitely embraced by the Australian market, contributes to the local economy and food industry and is successfully moving into the global future. The company has secured a strong position on the market and collaborates well with local Australian farmers, perfectly blending local Australian dairy products with Italian traditions, designs and practices.
AN ARTISTIC CREATION INCORPORATED INTO THE AUSTRALIAN CULINARY DNA
Who doesn't love arancini? An artistic creation within themselves, these delicacies are the perfect accompaniment to greens and a salad but can also be readily enjoyed on their own. And who doesn't know "Arancini Art" who counts as its faithful followers and clientele the Melbourne-wide market and community, with its many iconic restaurants respectful of Italian tastes and traditions and including these delicious creations on their eclectic menus? "Arancini Art" also supplies 'renowned businesses across Australia' and advises organisations nationwide to submit an enquiry online or request a visit from a sales representative. The company caters to nationwide food events, which reflects further business insight and an overall sense of cultural sensitivity and inclusiveness.
It all started in the mid-1990s when "Arancini Art" founder Riccardo Siligato opened an increasingly busy restaurant near the cinematically significant Fontana di Trevi in Rome (made even more famous by Roberto Rossellini in one of the most iconic, sensual scenes of 1960s classic La Dolce Vita, featuring Marcello Mastroianni and Anita Ekberg and where Italian and international cinematography meet). By 2009 the Siligato family moved to Melbourne bringing their local Italian traditions with them. As soon as they arrived, they immediately saw the business potential in making and selling handcrafted arancini to Australian cafes and retailers.
Riccardo currently runs his company here in Melbourne with wife Josanne Rizzo and Massimo Minutoli - loyal friend and indispensable partner since 2016. They started without ostentation, very humbly, working hard and with the dedicated support of Adrian Lo Giudice from the Teren Group, lifetime friend and owner of the premises where they settled. The business has since experienced significant growth and it now counts as part of their staff professionals and hard-working employees who in a collaborative spirit have managed to keep up 'the pace of the demand' and market needs. This has also been achieved through new cutting-edge equipment that, under the expert supervision of Gerry, Production Coordinator at "Arancini Art", has helped increase production speed, quantity and quality consistency of products.
Commenting on the changes from past to present, Riccardo and Massimo say that the Australian market and economy have deeply changed in the last 10 years. 'When we came here, a lot of Italian products, specialties and traditional meals were strictly confined to family habits, among them arancini. Today you can find arancini nearly in any pub! They are not necessarily our arancini, but they are on the menu: they are part of the Australian culinary life-style.'
We can easily say that what happened is not just due to their efforts and activity, it's more a combined effect of several factors, but still it's worth more than a consideration.
As explained by the company owners, and to provide comparative insights, 'in the last 10 years a second wave of Italian immigrants - in which Riccardo, Josanne and Massimo perfectly fit - arrived in Australia and started to bring fresh, renewed and more contemporary ideas from the Italian cuisine; not only the old recipes of nonna, but the new wave of the most updated Italian life-style. Think of the Aperol and Campari Spritz, the Italian aperitivo (quite different from the Anglo-Saxon happy hour), pizza made in the very traditional Italian way baked in a wood pizza oven, gnocchi and tortellini and many other things like arancini, olive ascolane and our polpette di melanzane.'
Flowing with the stream and somehow directing it, Arancini Art introduced a series of products other than arancini. They also started to import and distribute Italian quality food and ingredients through a new business arm called Food Art Distribution. Every product they make or distribute aims at simplifying the life of chefs from all nationalities to prepare properly done Italian dishes. More specifically, the company mission with the combined offer of the two business units, is to 'assist and support other businesses to enhance their productivity optimising their resources in terms of space, staff and time offering consistency in quality and prompt response whenever Italian food is concerned'.
From a different perspective, another amazing trend pushed by Italian habits is taking the scene: cooking at home. And here again, like Arancini Art and Food Art Distribution, many Italian companies are flourishing, helping those families that want to eat well but struggle with their cooking abilities and/or time.
Flattering the Australian market and its customers with their culinary skills and creations, "Arancini Art" serves both the local and wider community offering quality food with steadfast professionalism, exquisite attention, and a deep awareness of current trends and tastes. Always mindful of its own company mission and vision, "Arancini Art" not only loves what they do - as declared on the company website - but seduces individual customers in Australia, businesses and the market as a whole into 'loving that they do" and what they offer us, in turn. The company shapes and influences Australia by bringing fresh new and more contemporary ideas drawing from the Italian cuisine.
Leaving us with some famous last words while at the same reflecting on the future, "Arancini Art" and its company directors declare that 'We believe that what "Segmento" is doing with this special issue of the magazine is great: it gives us pride for our efforts and gives people the opportunity to know more about the strong impact that the Italian cuisine - one of the healthiest in the world - is having on the Australian economy.'
CATERING ARTISAN SALUMI FOR INCREASINGLY HEALTH ORIENTED CONSUMERS
With a main webpage featuring an exuberant meat display that brings to mind the vivid food paintings by 16th-century Renaissance painter Vincenzo Campi, hyperrealist Luigi Benedicenti, or Sicilian painter Renato Guttuso1 (or even a palatial scene from Gabriel Axel's drama/romance movie Babette's Feast, 1987) "Puopolo Artisan Salumi" offers meats that are a veritable feast to the eye. Focusing on 'gourmet handcrafted salami and air-dried cured meats', this individual producer - like the other two, cheese and arancini-producing, companies also marketed and promoted by Food Art Distribution - has been around since 1978. It has since emerged as a new business unit under the same company name honouring family traditions and caters for 'Melbourne's best restaurants and delicatessens'.
A family-owned company that produces and distributes Australia-wide, "Puopolo Smallgoods" is the brainchild of Vitangelo who in the 1960s emigrated to Australia and with that 'brought with him centuries-old recipes, unique to southern Italy and the art of traditional food making'. In 1978 sons Nick and Chris came on board and, thanks to Nick's skills as a butcher, have since developed an increasingly successful business focusing on smallgoods for foodservice. After Nick's premature retirement, the third generation took the roll with Vito and Michael that soon started a 'New Puopolo' where customers are offered 'gourmet air-dried "salami" and cured meats made according to the most authentic "artisan" method which guarantees a mouth-watering, healthy and genuine outcome'.
In a huge market of $4 billion that has been consistently growing for the last five years it is likely to see this positive trend continue for the next five. The new business arm Puopolo Artisan Salumi is making a significant impact on the Victorian segment of gourmet food retailers and high-end restaurants.
The new company directors Vito and Michael Puopolo proudly emphasise that they not only support the local economy thanks to a strict purchase policy that gives exclusive priority to Australian farmers and producers, but work in such a fashion that they help increase the demand for traditional and artisan-made Italian products. As a key point within their marketing strategy there is this idea to provide training to retailers educating them about the difference between industrial and handmade products. Giving the right information, producing healthy and high-quality products, teaching people about the differences in ingredients selection and natural aging methods compared to heat-treated products is a real help for setting good standards within the Australian market and shaping positively the culinary habits of the Australians.
Michael and Vito believe the Australian government, in turn, could do more to rely less on imported products and goods: 'We believe that the Australian government should support the local manufacturing industry more. We can import know-how, technology and machinery, but importing a ready-to-be-sold product made overseas with pork imported there from here does not help reduce our impact on the environment' hence why 'producing locally is better for the economy, for the earth and for future generations'.
Local production, add the owners, has raised quality levels which are comparable to (and sometimes even better than) quality levels offered by imported smallgoods. Importantly and by way of explanation, 'In the smallgoods industry, import is very strict and limited. This is an additional reason why the quality of locally produced smallgoods must be higher and higher'.
In short, there is now an increased demand for healthy, high quality gourmet foods in Australia, with customers becoming increasingly health-oriented and discerning. In this climate of more conscious eating and food choices, the Italian food industry has carved out an important space for itself as a leader that knows what customers want and that is now also influencing other companies and enterprises. Catering for an increasingly diverse market here in Australia, "Puopolo Artisan Salumi" always protects and respects the Italian heritage and the Italian ways and traditions.
With this in mind and by way of conclusion, Vito and Michael, as representatives for "Puopolo Artisan Salumi" today, stress that they are genuinely bringing into Australia the culture of new products (they are one of the few producing Speck, Bresaola, Prosciutto Cotto, and Mortadella the Italian way) and they teach consumers how to use, taste, enjoy them.
Please note, as an additional effort to enhance the legacy of their Italian heritage linked to an incredible knowledge about the endless variety of Italian salumi, Vito and Michael have accepted to give their contribution, featuring on Channel 31 with a series of 10 episodes from the Regional Italian Cuisine show 'in which we will be describing the history and the origins of our most renowned products. We must remember that the production of some of the Italian salami and cured meats dates back to before the rise of the Roman Empire! We are talking of more than 3000 years ago when the Etrurians were living and flourishing in Tuscany'.
"The ultimate aim of this important, environmentally aware Italian food company operating within an Australian market context is 'to inform people and allow them to make better and healthier choices for themselves, their family and the planet'.