Sweet dreams are made of cheese

Today I am telling you the story of Katia and Sabrina, two inseparable sisters and highly skilled cheese makers that moved to Melbourne a couple of years ago to become heart and soul of La Formaggeria, a little artisan cheese shop placed in St Kilda.

Their enterprise starts in their hometown, Fossanova, an old village part of Priverno municipality in the Lazio region, also known for the wonderful abbey where St. Thomas Aquinas, one of the founding philosophers of Medieval Catholicism, died in March 1274.

Fossanova’s origins date back to the Roman Empire as proved by the remains of a Roman villa used by Benedectine monks to build the first Romanesque monastery on this site. Around 1135 A.C. Cistercian monks settled down in the area, enlarged the existing complex and, famed for their water engineering skills, built a new canal, fossa nova in Latin, for swamp drainage. Fossanova was in effect a marshy valley, a perfect habitat for buffalos, water-loving animals able to wade easily across rivers and swamps.

Right here, centuries later, exactly in 1956, Katia and Sabrina maternal grandfather Raffaele Palmisciano, who had previously left the near Campania region to find bigger supplies of milk, opened a small cheese laboratory. Buffalo mozzarella has always been a product of central and southern Italy, due, as mentioned before, to the long-time presence of this bovine in the area, but Palmisciano factory was the first one producing officially buffalo mozzarella in lower Lazio.

The business got off the ground as soon as his son-in-law, Benedetto Cappadocio, an enterprising and capable milk picker, took the lead. In the meanwhile Katia and Sabrina grew up and considering the increase of local competitors, they were encouraged by their grandfather to take part in the cheese lab. Ready to carry on the family legacy the two sisters left the university, came back to Fossanova and found a cooperative, Latina Lat. With their energetic contribution they soon enlarged the business opening several stores around the area, exporting products to Sydney and making a big variety of new aged buffalo cheeses, like the wine-seasoned ones, being both qualified as sommelier.

If some of their efforts were paid off, as a matter of fact Latina Lat was awarded “Premio Roma” for the best Lazio cheese, the business related obstacles were still endless: local corruption, severe health inspections, a prohibitive burocracy and the vexing competition of the local biggest cheese factories. Because of these extenuating circumstances and after 56 courageous years of challenges and fights, in 2008 the Cappadocio family decided to close down. For Katia and Sabrina a new leading-edge project was imminent: moving to Australia, a dream come true thanks to Luca Calcaterra, manager of an Italian bakery in Melbourne they had met during a vacation in Italy.

“My wife grew up with their famous buffalo mozzarella” Luca says remembering the special day he met the Cappadocio sisters.

“We were on holiday in the area when we decided to buy some good stuff at their shop on the way to the famous Sabaudia beach. That was when I first met Sabrina. We had a lovely chat about Australia and I left her my business card with the promise to get in touch very soon to talk about an amazing project. After a few Skype calls and emails we finally decided to start a new challenge together, make cheese in Il Fornaio, the bakery where I work.”

It’s a deal! Katia and Sabrina packed their suitcases; cheese molds included, and took off toward the Southern Hemisphere to find a more peaceful life.“After 6 months of the new venture we decided that was the time to open a micro cheese lab, here it comes La Formaggeria”, the manager explains with enthusiasm.“Katia and Sabrina are the key players of the business. The core is the cheese, so with their passion and knowledge they’re driving La Formaggeria to its success with amazing products made in the cheese lab. Without them La Formaggeria would not exist.”

In the St Kilda shop the Cappadocio sisters are busy every day making several types of cheese like caciocavallo, stracchino, taleggio, ricotta and mozzarella, all made using fresh, local cow or buffalo milk whose flavour is enriched by the proximity of the ocean. “The traditional and spontaneous fermentation process is our point of difference in cheese making”, Luca says proudly. “We are a small artisan shop where we don’t use any chemical or preservative. Our cheeses are the most natural, healthy and true that you can find in Australia.”Passing customers and loyal ones crowd La Formaggeria during rush hours meaning that Katia and Sabrina hard work is very appreciated.

“After all the troubles we went through in Italy we can finally sigh with relief”, Sabrina says. “Australia is rewarding us with lots of satisfactions. We increased, for example, the production of buffalo mozzarella from 3 to 30 kilos per week in only two months, a proof that people love and trust us.”

I congratulate with them and ask if they miss home.

“Yes, we miss home, we miss our families”, Katia and Sabrina reveal and add: “With our experience we would also motivate and inspire all Italians struggling nowadays with crisis not to give up. We had this big opportunity and we hope to be a model for them.”

At La Formaggeria the menu is not limited to cheese, as plenty of wonderful other Italian style food is offered: optionally antipasto platters, sandwiches made with focaccia bread, veggies soups, healthy drinks and more to take home or dine in. While visiting the shop have a coffee seated at the community table, enjoy nice chats, pleasantly pick some Italian word every now and then and don’t forget to glance around!

On the open-shelves you can find selected hand-made items from local suppliers, the aim is to promote Australian and Victorian quality products, especially encouraging sustainable and organic little businesses.

With the motto “Poco ma sano”, literally small but healthy, Katia and Sabrina welcome you in their tiny and pretty cheese bar to have a great, genuine taste of Italian culture.