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My Italian Christmas – a special encore post

29 Nov

So you know how TV networks call repeats of TV shows encores?  Well, I’m taking a leaf out of their book and posting a story I wrote for Taste.com.au  a few years ago about what an Italian Christmas is like in the little-known Italian town of Melbourne. Consider it a prequel to Nonna’s torrone recipe which we were meant to make together this week, but Nonna hasn’t been feeling the best, so it’s on next week, with a post to follow. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy what will be either very familiar or completely foreign, depending on the amount of wog blood coursing through your veins:

Roast turkey, mince pies and shortbread. This is what a foreign Christmas sounds like to me. The same goes for fruitcake, stuffing, pudding and Christmas crackers. Totally exotic.

My unfamiliarity with all things Anglo-Christmas is my family’s fault. My mother is Sicilian, my father is from near Naples, and I was born in Melbourne, but if what you eat is who you are then I am definitely Italian. No question. Or, to be more precise, southern Italian.

Like all good southern Italians, our Christmas meal starts with homemade pasta. In my house, these take the form of panzerotti. Now, the thing about pasta and Italians is that one man’s panzerotti are another man’s crespelle. By this I mean that depending on where you are in the tall skinny boot known as Italy, pasta often has the same name but can be something quite different. In casa Cammarano, however, the panzerotti are made by Romano, my father, and are precise little half moons of pasta filled with ricotta, parmesan and parsley, sealed with a fork, boiled in water, and served with a fresh tomato sauce. Perfect.

However, occasionally people who are not my father get involved in the making of perfection, and things inevitably go wrong. These people, Romano’s children and his mother-in-law, in particular, don’t particularly care if a complete circle has not been cut out of the pasta, making it impossible to create a proper half moon. Or they are sloppy in the way they seal the panzerotti, meaning when you cook them, they burst open and their ricotta filling is lost to the raging boiling water around them.

Sometimes, crazy people, like my mother,  put spinach in the filling and this not a happy Romano does make. He feels that spinach compromises the clean flavours of the fresh ricotta and I think he is right. (By the way, never ever buy the ricotta that comes in the containers at the supermarket – this is a criminal act in Romano’s book.)

While panzerotti were and still are the specialty of Mr Cammarano, my mother Lidia, or, as she hates to be called, Lil, always makes ricotta cake. The recipe for this cake goes way, way back to an ancient and sacred Italian cookbook that no one can remember the name of and has since been lost. But the cake lives on in the memory of Lidia, who will not share the recipe because it’s hers and hers alone. Even though she claims the book has been lost, I think she destroyed it to protect her ricotta cake-making monopoly.

But I digress. It is a delicious cake, no doubt about it. The pastry crust is short and contains orange zest. My mother doesn’t believe in making her own pastry – she outsources it to my grandmother, who brings it to her house already rested and rolled out, in a glass Pyrex dish with crinkled edges. The filling is fresh ricotta, cinnamon, eggs and caster sugar. There might be more, but Lil isn’t telling. It’s baked in the oven and then dusted with icing sugar. We eat it during the entire Christmas period – it is the fuel that keeps us going and propels us through everything festive from gift buying expeditions and loud card games to visiting friends and midnight mass.

Whilst it is starting to sound like ricotta is at the centre of my Italian Christmas, it’s not. Torrone is. Torrone is the Italian word for nougat but my grandmother’s version is not the snowy white version you are probably most familiar with. This one is made mostly of almonds and sugar, and is caramel brown in colour. To make it you must have the strength of 21 men, four oxen and three donkeys. Your hands must be capable of withstanding nuclear plant meltdown levels of heat. Or you must be my 89-year-old grandmother. She makes it, and has always made it, by herself. True, these days, she lets me or my mother occasionally have a turn at stirring it, but she waits impatiently as you try to churn the spoon, her eagle eyes watching for any signs of fatigue. It doesn’t take long – and as soon as you pause, she’s taken the spoon and is back at it again, and you’re left wondering why you’re standing exhausted while a woman four times your age, and a quarter of your size, is moving nearly 2 kilos of sticky, heavy sugar and almonds.

It might seem a good idea, at this point, to give you some of the recipes for these tasty Christmas treats. However, my father would not give his recipe for panzarotti, on the grounds that you will not make them as well as he does. My mother would not give her recipe for ricotta cake, for the reasons stated above. My nonna, however, has provided her recipe for torrone. Because nonna is good and kind and just, and knows that as there’s no way you’re as strong as she is, trying to make it will probably kill you anyway… so look out for Nonna Maria’s Torrone in the next post (complete with pictures, I promise)! In the meantime, tell me if this Christmas is anything like yours?

How the gym is like cheese…

12 Oct
Cheese

A picture of raw milk Camembert here is so much better than a pic of me doing BodyStep. Trust me.

Last night in the gym, somewhere between the three-knee repeater and that tricky turnkey step, it occurred to me that BodyStep was to pasteurised milk cheese what freestyle step was to raw milk cheese.

Well, what do you think about in the gym?

Anyway, this thought was so profound, I nearly fell off the step. Allow me to explain. BodyStep, like BodyPump, BodyCombat and a number of other made up compound words, is a standardised fitness class developed by Les Mills International, a New Zealand company, available to gym goers in 90 different countries. It means that it doesn’t matter whether I’m in Manhattan, Milan, Mexico City or right here in Melbourne, one of their 90,000 certified instructors will teach me pretty much the same class.

By taking the choreography and music of the routine out of the hands of the local instructor, the Les Mills classes are examples of globalised, homogenised products, examples of what some academic types call the McDonaldization of the world. And it has its benefits. It’s been developed and tested by experts so it’s effective and safe. Also, as a gym goer, I know exactly what I’m getting and that’s ok because, overall, I think it’s a pretty good experience, though, sometimes, it can be quite boring too. Now, to alleviate this boredom, there is some local variety, as obviously the instructors bring their own personalities to the job. For example, the woman who took my class last night barely spoke and used mime to demonstrate what she wanted us to do. It was weird, though nice not to listen to “Strong body, strong mind” and all those other stupid things they yell at you while you’re sweating away as only a pig should. Once a set routine has been in circulation for a while, the instructor is allowed to mix up the songs so they can make a new routine out of old routines, also demonstrating a certain degree of local creativity.  These local differences are like McDonald’s serving specific menu items in different places, like the Teriyaki McBurger in Japan or the Lakse wrap served in Finland.

Now, here’s the cheese bit: It’s like pasteurised milk cheese because by making cheese with pasteurised  milk you kill off not just any bad stuff, you’re also killing off much of the local flavour of the milk, what the French call the terroir. Though it should be noted that the degree to which the local flavour is destroyed by pasteurisation is much debated and contested. Still,  just as your local BodyStep instructor can’t decide the actual moves or music of your routine, your cheese is without much of the bacteria that make it “of the place”. The result is your cheese is now a standardised and safe product. Sure, just like your instructor can teach in an individual style or mix up different routines, you can introduce local variety by following different methods and producing different styles, and while this might result in a perfectly satisfying cheese, it’s not likely that such a cheese would ever surprise you with its flavours or, conversely, be really bad.

Speaking of really bad, on Tuesday I took a freestyle step class for the first time with Pierre. Dear, sweet, French Pierre, who before the class promised me it would be “tres” fun, came up with the routine all by himself. And while Pierre was a “local” instructor and therefore came up with a “local” routine, it’s worth pointing out that he is also French, and that would’ve also factored into what he came up with. Now Pierre’s class was difficult. Really difficult. Pierre himself fell off the stage at one point, eliciting gasps of concern from most of the class but, I’m ashamed to say, a gleeful smirk from me – that will teach him for putting together the world’s most convoluted step routine! Pierre’s class was just too challenging for most of the participants and it was not safe.  Kind of like a bad raw milk cheese – sure it’s made with local, individual flavour, as the milk has not been pasteurised, but it’s not safe and could result in sickness, even death. However had Pierre’s class been better, it would’ve been like the raw milk Camembert I ate in Paris earlier this year – not just safe to eat, but unexpected, exciting and hitting taste heights I had not thought possible.

While I’m on the topic, I feel Zumba, the class that urges you to “ditch the workout, join the party”, is worthy of mention. It’s interesting not so much because it’s another globalised format, but because of the way it appropriates the dances and traditions of other cultures to create a new form. In this way, it acts like a cultural translator, making it possible for an Italian-Australian woman in Melbourne to try different styles.  Nothing is sacred, one minute you’re salsa-ing like a Latin goddess with skin the colour mocha, as Ricky Martin might say, the next you’re pretending to wave away a bull, matador-style and then all of a sudden you’re jumping around like a Bollywood princess trying to look beguiling, but really looking like you just ate a really hot curry. Zumba, however, is problematic for me to think about at any great length for the simple reason that it sounds far too much like Zumbo, which reminds me of cake, something I feel drastically in need of after all this gym talk… macaron anyone?

A recipe for Italamingtons (aka Italian lamingtons)

28 May

If it’s acceptable to put vegemite in lasagne, kangaroo on pizza, and mango in a tiramisu, then surely no one can argue the toss when it comes to turning the lamington – one of Australia’s greatest afternoon tea cakes – into an Italian.

While wide-spread Australianisation of Italian dishes is common, the reverse is not. So I took the lamington – that small square of sponge cake, dipped in a chocolate icing and rolled in desiccated coconut – and created the Italamington – a bit difficult to say, but very easy to eat…

Italian lamingtons

It was not an easy process. While I believe in culinary innovation, I am against the outright bastardisation of national dishes (see Crimes against pizza for more on this view).

So, in order to ensure the respectful renovation of the lamington, a series of discussions were convened with a variety of experts to understand the true essence of this Antipodean symbol.  Notably, these discussions included the rather helpful Gaby from Nourished Within and the rather less helpful David, former afternoon tea correspondant at the Balmain Village Voice. Wine was also involved.

After much heated debate, it was decided that a cake could still proudly hold the title of lamington if it retained its traditional shape, was made from sponge, and was dipped and rolled. All other elements – the ingredients and the method – were up for grabs.

Controversially, we also decided that while purists believe the jam and cream sometimes found in the middle of the lamington to be heresy, a filling was not just acceptable in the making of this cross-cuisine sweet but vital in communicating its new found Italianità.

The sponge cake, as the foundation, was important. I wanted it to be as Italian as possible, so instead of the typical Australian sponge, I decided to be a tosser, I mean, to be as authentic as possible, and consult Pellegrino Artusi’s 1891 Italian food bible, Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well. While it only asked for four ingredients , one of them was “Hungarian flour” which needed to be “dried on the fire or in the sun”.  Also, as the KitchenAid had not been invented yet, it wanted me to work “the dough for half an hour”.

That all sounded rather too authentic for my liking, so I halved the recipe for the Italian Sponge Cake in the Larousse Gastronomique, and, miracle of miracles, despite involving the separation of yolk from white and the dreaded instructions “fold carefully”, all usual indicators of epic baking failure for me, the success of the sponge seemed to imply I could actually bake. Hooray!

Italian sponge cake

After letting the sponge go stale, I sliced it through the middle horizontally, drizzled it with Frangelico and, after downing a glass or two of the afore mentioned liqueur, was inspired to fill it with a mix of crushed hazelnuts, ricotta and espresso coffee. It was then cut into small squares, dipped in Callebaut dark chocolate and coated in crushed flaked almonds.

Frangelico on cake

Making the filling

Spread filling on cake

Sandwich cake together

Sponge cut in squares

Chocolate icing

Drizzling chocolate

Roll in almonds

Single Italamington

The verdict? Well, from the mouth of Romano Cammarano, a man not known just as my father but a critic of food so fearless he makes Anton Ego  look like Marcia Hines, “this is the best things you have ever cooked. You are allowed to make it again”.

The Italamington is a triumph of Italian and Australian know-how and ingredients. Try it, and see what you think….

Italamingtons (Italian Lamingtons)

Ingredients

Sponge cake:

  • 1 cup caster sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 5 eggs, separated
  • Pinch of salt
  • ½ cup plain flour
  • ½ cup corn flour
  • Butter, caster sugar and cornflour to grease and dust cake tin
  • 1 tablespoon Frangelico (optional)
  • 220 g flaked almonds, finely chopped

Icing:

  • 220 g dark couverture chocolate, chopped
  • 1 cup thickened cream

Filling:

  • ¾ cup ricotta
  • 2 tablespoon thickened cream
  • 1 tablespoon hazelnuts, crushed
  • 1 tablespoon espresso coffee
  • 1 tablespoon caster sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Method

For the sponge:

  1. Preheat oven to 160°C.
  2. Grease a 20x20cm cake tin and dust with a mix of caster sugar and cornflour.
  3. Beat the sugar with the vanilla and egg yolks until well combined.
  4. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until stiff.
  5. Fold the egg whites into the egg yolks until just combined.
  6. In another bowl, sift the plain flour and corn flour together.
  7. Fold flour mixture carefully and quickly into the eggs.
  8. Pour mixture into prepared tin.
  9. Bake for about 40 minutes. The cake is done when it is light golden in colour and a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.
  10. When the cake is cool, slice through the middle and leave it to go stale (about a day).

For the icing:

  1. Put the chocolate and cream in a metal bowl.
  2. Sit the metal bowl above a saucepan of simmering water. Do not let the bowl touch the water.
  3. Stir with a metal spoon until the chocolate has melted. Leave aside to cool.

For the filling:

  1. Blend the ricotta, cream, hazelnuts, espresso coffee, sugar and vanilla in a food processor until well combined.

To assemble the Italamingtons:

  1. If using, sprinkle the Frangelico over the inside halves of both sides of the sponge.
  2. Spread one half with the filling and sandwich cake halves together.
  3. Using a serrated knife, carefully cut sponge into 25 small squares.
  4. Take one cake square, insert a skewer through the middle and rest over the top of a small bowl. Carefully drizzle the chocolate mixture over the square, using a knife to help it spread.
  5. Roll in crushed almonds and place square on wire rack to set.
  6. Repeat until finished and keep in fridge until ready to serve.

Bibliography:

  • Artusi, Pellegrino. Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2003.
  • Larousse Gastronomique. Great Britain: Hamlyn, 2009. 

Helmut Newton’s perfect cheese photography

24 Oct

When I think of photographer Helmut Newton I think of fashion. More specifically, I think nudie, rudie Vogue-like fashion. Which is cool, if you like that kind of thing, but I prefer food, in particular cheese.

So I did not expect the man responsible for (potentially not workplace-friendly)  this and this to be taking photos of this:

Perfect Cheese Co Parmigiano

And yet Berlin-born Newton, who served in the Australian army and became a citizen of our fine country in 1946, is credited as the photographer of the 1955/6 Perfect Cheese Co. Silver Anniversary souvenir booklet:

Perfect Cheese Co Souvenir Booklet

You might know the Perfect Cheese Co. better as Perfect Italiano which is what it became in 1996. But, back in the 30s, way before it was part of multi-national Fonterra, the Perfect Cheese Co. was a small family-run operation started by one Natale P Italiano and his lovely wife Maria. Here they are, photographed by Newton:

Natale and Maria Italiano, Perfect Cheese CoBy the time this booklet came out, the Perfect Cheese Co. was known throughout Australia and was doing very well for itself – having increased production from 2,000 pounds in 1930 to 900,000 pounds in 1954. According to Randazzo and Cigler, the company is also credited with pioneering sheep-milk production and producing the first pecorino cheese in the country.

The souvenir booklet – which you’ll find at the State Library of Victoria  – is well worth seeking out. In both English and Italian it shows just how close the Italianos were to the Italian migrant community they primarily, but not exclusively, served. Who else would have a Catholic priest write the dedication to what is essentially a marketing exercise?

At the same time, they weren’t limited by the dairying traditions they knew from the old country. Amongst the mozzarella and the ricotta, you’ll also find fetta in brine, kasseri and grated cheese in little packets. More evidence to support the fact that success in the food industry for Italians in Australia came from adapting to a new market, not exporting food traditions wholesale.

As for Helmut Newton, who knew you could go from fetta to fashion (or pecorino to near-porn) in the span of a single lifetime…

Bibliography

  • Helmut Newton Foundation . “Biography.” Helmut Newton Foundation. <http://www.helmut-newton.com/helmut_newton/biography/> (24th October 2011).
  • Perfect Cheese Co. Perfect Cheese Co. – Silver Anniversary 1956, South Melbourne, Vic. : Freelance Press,1955.
  • Randazzo, Nino & Cigler, Michael. The Italians in Australia, Melbourne : AE Press, 1987. 

Thoroughly modern macaroni

6 Oct

Just when you think you know how 19th Century Australians cooked their pasta, along comes a recipe that changes everything.

Before we go on, however, you have to know there was no such thing as pasta in the 1800s – it was called macaroni. And it was most commonly cooked in a sweet pudding , much like a rice pudding, in a bake of some sort, like macaroni cheese, or as an accompaniment or garnish to different meats  (ox tongue garnished with macaroni anyone?).

There were, of course, exceptions, mostly revolting-sounding ones which involved brown gravy and batter, but none are as exceptional and out of place as the recipe below:

Maccaroni Dressed with Oil.

Take two cloves of garlic, slice them very finely crosswise, and set them to boil in a gill of fine olive oil, adding during the process two or three anchovies, well washed and boned, and cut in small pieces, and a dozen or more olives, cut in two and stoned.  When the slices of garlic assume a golden color, pour the whole over 1/2lb of boiled string maccaroni (Vermicelli or Spaghetti) well drained; mix well, and serve.

It comes from Australian Town and Country Journal in 1890 and, culinarily for its time, it’s a freak.

Not only does it contain garlic and olive oil – both at least a good seventy years away from real acceptance in the mainstream Australian pantry; it doesn’t contain any kind of protein – unless you count anchovies – which I don’t;  and it mentions spaghetti – which, while not unheard of in this period, is rare. The recipe is not prefaced with it being Italian, or foreign or unusual in anyway. It’s just a normal recipe for normal housewives, unlike any others before it, and a good way ahead of any others that follow it.

Unfortunately, there’s no author given for the recipe and that is a real shame, because they should be congratulated for their foresight…  of course, this could mean the recipe was plagiarised, in which case I take the congratulations back…

Bibliography

“Maccaroni Dressed with Oil,” Australian Town and Country Journal,  26 April 1890, 34.

Australian ricotta – Part 2

9 Mar
Dairy Board Ad

It's a carnival of Australian cheese and ricotta is well and truly on the float. From The Australian Women's Weekly 10 October 1973.

The 1970s open for ricotta with still more advertising from the Australian Dairy Board who are seemingly obsessed not only with making sure that we know it is “Australian Cheese. The most protein for the least money”, but also how on earth to pronounce it. Say after me everyone: ri-co-tta. Now that wasn’t so hard was it?

Perhaps it’s understandable that the ADB was keen for us to have a firm understanding of what ricotta was, because in the 70s and 80s, the cheese suffered from a bad case of SMD – schizophrenic media disorder – especially in The Australian Women’s Weekly.

First it was bad for our heart. In a 1975 article entitled A Doctor’s Advice on How to Avoid a Heart Attack, Dr Irving Levitas, the man who made sure smoking was never the same according to the author of the article, makes it clear ricotta is bad news:

There are a number of cheeses made with skim milk, including mozzarella and a Norwegian cheese called Jarlsberg. You don’t have to stop serving lasagna, for instance; just substitute skim-milk mozzarella and leave out the ricotta cheese.

 In 1977, however, the Australian Dairy Board (those guys again), made us an offer we couldn’t refuse:

 We promise to keep your food interest high, your calorie intake low with these tasty and delicious Dairy ideas.

 Ricotta was part of the promise and the ad suggests eating ricotta as a dip or mixed in with fruits like strawberries, pears, pineapples or melons.

Diet Dairy Foods

Dairy dieting with ricotta. From The Australian Women's Weekly, 7 December 1977.

Ricotta’s status as a diet friendly food seems to explode from this point onwards. If you wanted to follow the diet plan in How to be Forever Thin in 1976 you could have “1 medium size serving of ricotta or cottage cheese”.

In a 1981 Weight Watchers article trumpeting foods which were “off the banned list and on the programme”, you were allowed 1/3 cup ricotta cheese with a ½ cup of  grapefruit segments, a slice of toast, a teaspoon of margarine and a beverage for breakfast on Day 6.

While ricotta was firmly entrenched by the early eighties as the dieter’s friend, we also see it feature in several fatty friendly forms – the ricotta cake, pastry and slice – hence the schizophrenia.

In 1977, Mrs C.L Angelico of North Ringwood, Victoria won $15 for her “not too sweet” Italian ricotta cake. It was quite different from the 1979 Italian ricotta cake recipe in an “All Occasion Cakes” feature which called for packet chocolate cake mix and lashings of Grand Marnier. 

Italian ricotta cake made from a chocolate cake packet mix... just like in Italy! From The Australian Women's Weekly, 1 August 1979.

In 1978, it’s Miss J Kaufler of Haberfield, NSW’s turn to claim the $15 prize for “a rich, buttery pastry (which) holds an unusual filling of ricotta cheese, cherries and nuts.”

The lesson out of all of this? Ricotta will make you lose weight. Unless you add a bucket of flour, sugar, eggs, milk and chocolate. Then it won’t. Really, I should’ve been a nutritional scientist with deductions like that…

There might be a part 3 in the next few weeks to bring ricotta up to the present day, but if you missed the first sizzling instalment, be sure to check out Australian ricotta – Part 1.

“Australian Fresh Cheeses Explained,” The Australian Women’s Weekly, 10 October 1973, 45.
Guinness, Daphne, “A Doctor’s Advice on How to Avoid a Heart Attack.” The Australian Women’s Weekly, 20 August 1975, 18-19.
“Low calorie, high interest (it’s dairy dieting).” The Australian Women’s Weekly, 7 December 1977, 166.
“How to be forever thin.” The Australian Women’s Weekly, 6 October 1976,  25-26.
“Prize recipe.” The Australian Women’s Weekly, 15 June 1977, 87.
“Prize recipe.” The Australian Women’s Weekly, 5 April 1978, page 98.
“All Occasion Cakes,” The Australian Women’s Weekly, 1 August 1979, 86
“Weight Watchers Magazine Supplement.” The Australian Women’s Weekly, 10 June 1981, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 9, 10.

Australian ricotta – Part 1

25 Feb

Some people understand the cost of living by the price of bread or milk or McDonald’s hamburgers. For me, it’s ricotta. A staple in my kitchen, I could not live without the stuff. Fresh, soft and still warm, I cannot resist scooping a few teaspoonfuls out of the container while I’m putting away the shopping. Days later, I’ll eat it with jam or honey on toast, with spinach in a pie, on spaghetti with eggplant and tomato, or stirred through pasta, made into a sauce with a bit of hot water, a handful of parmesan, a grating of nutmeg and a sprinkle of pepper. Comfort food at its best.

 But back to the index. When I lived in Leichhardt, in Sydney’s inner west, I used to buy ricotta for around $7.99 a kilo.

Later, when married life saw me move to the food wasteland that is Maroubra Beach, I had to make the admittedly-short journey to Maroubra Junction where I paid a shocking $10.99 a kilo.

Still, I realised I was better off than the poor ricotta-ripped off in Manly who were paying $15.99 a kilo. As for David Jones, in the city, they were suffering and continue to suffer similar stupid prices for a product that is not even a cheese – rather it’s a by-product of it.

In Melbourne, my home town, at the much loved Footscray Market, you can get it for $4.99 a kilo. And that, right there, is why I’m moving back to Melbourne.

All of this, however, got me thinking about when this most versatile of dairy products made its debut in the great brown land of Australia.

 The first mention of it I have found is in Tasmania’s daily newspaper, The Mercury, in 1930. In a short account of Christmas in Rome, the author describes the meal on Christmas Day as starting with soup:

…in which there are “cappelletti”, little cases of macaroni in the shape of hats, which contain a mixture of meat, brains, and “ricotta”, a kind of cream cheese.

It’s not till 1943 that there’s evidence of my favourite whey-based product for sale. The Cairns Post features an ad for Brightways Grocery where I would’ve been able to pick up 2 pounds of ricotta for sixpence. I’m not sure where that would sit on the index today, but what is surprising is that ricotta sits amongst the not-very-Italian ingredients of gooseberry jam, beetroot and the mysterious-sounding luncheon beef.

Perhaps the reason this ad wasn’t more targeted at the small Italian population of North Queensland was because many Italians there had either just been released from internment following Italy’s surrender to the Allies, or they were still incarcerated. Either way, anti-Italian sentiment in Queensland was running high.

 By 1954, however, back in Tasmania, it’s all about the Italians. A classified ad in The Mercury reads:

AAAAAA. TELL YOUR ITALIAN FRIENDS we have now BACCALA, Coppa, Bologna, Salame, Ricotta, Olio, Polenta. THE PANTRY, 37 Elizabeth St.

In the 1960s, ricotta became an ingredient that was featured in the odd Australian Women’s Weekly recipe, usually with the caveat that it could be substituted with either cottage cheese or cream cheese.

Publication in the Weekly generally means you’ve made it into the mainstream but in 1966, the Australian Dairy Produce Board thought the public still needed to be educated about the cheese and, maybe more importantly, where it’s from. An ad for “Australian ricotta” went something like this:

Ricotta ad

This ad appeared below an advertorial recipe for Heavenly Cheese Cake, which featured creamed cottage cheese, on 28 December 1966 in the Australian Women's Weekly.

The preoccupation with making sure the public understood that ricotta was now Australian continued into the late 60s. In a 1968 cookbook add-on about cheese again in the Australian Women’s Weekly, ricotta is one of many cheeses featured. Its provenance is given as “Italy” and we are told it cost “about 50 to 60 cents per lb”, however we are also told that it was one of many cheeses that used to be imported but was now made in Australia.

I find it quite hard to believe ricotta was ever imported, as it’s a fresh and highly perishable cheese. But if the bible of Australian womanhood says it is so, then it must be so:

cheeses of the world

Ricotta cheese is in the top left corner behind the glass of cottage cheese in this editorial spread from The Cheese Cook Book, an add-on to the Australian Women's Weekly on October 9,1968.

This brings us up to the 1970s which brought us flares, punk rock and a constitutional crisis. But you’ll have to wait for Part 2 to find out what happens next in ricotta’s journey from a cheese for the eye-talians to a common ingredient many of us eat and cook with all the time. Bet you can’t wait, right?

“Christmas at Rome.” The Mercury,5  February,1930, 4.
“Brightways Cairns.” Cairns Post, 30 September, 1943, 2.
“AAAAAA. TELL YOUR ITALIAN FRIENDS.” The Mercury, 14 January 1954,19. 
“Heavenly Cheese Cake.” The Australian Women’s Weekly, 28 December 1966, 6.
“Cheese adds that gourmet touch.” in The Cheese Cook Book in The Australian Women’s Weekly, October 9, 1968, p 2-15.