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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. 
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Italian or not, I heart Sirena tuna

18 Aug

Today I learnt something that probably everyone else in the entire world knows.

Sirena tuna is not and has never been Italian.

Its bright yellow and red tin, cute little fish and modest retro mermaid might all evoke 1950s Vespa-Lollobrigida Italy but the product is the invention of a canny migrant from the Veneto whose family is now worth  some $327 million, according to BRW’s rich list.

Can of Sirena Tuna

A true Italo-Australian: Sirena tuna, since 1956.

Carlo Valmorbida saw a gap in the market in 1950s Melbourne for tuna preserved in olive oil. Instead of importing it, he decided to service the increasing “continental” market by getting it made to his own Italian recipe. And so Sirena tuna was born.

Not imported from Italy like I thought, but made in Australia by Italians. Kind of like me.

According to a report by GJ Crough on the development of the Australian tuna industry (now there’s a thrilling read!), Sirena tuna was originally canned in Port Lincoln, from tuna fished off NSW. Later it came to be canned in Melbourne, which meant it was “located in the city where Sirena brand was most popular“.   Now,  like every other major  Australian brand, the tuna comes from Thailand, but it still tastes pretty damn alright.

As a kid, it was the only tuna my parents would buy. I remember it best on Fridays for school lunch. As good Catholics, it was always in my grease-paper wrapped sandwich along with fine strips of preserved eggplant.  Delicious.

Dieting made me try tuna in brine and springwater. This was a mistake. Cat vomit comes to mind.

Good sense brought me back to Sirena.  So cheers to Carlo Valmorbida, who died just last year, for being entrepreneurial enough to make it.  Below is my favourite Sirena tuna stand-by recipe – simple, but good, like all the best stuff.

Quick tuna sauce for pasta

  • Olive oil
  • 1 red onion, diced
  • 1 clove of garlic, squashed
  • 1 big tin of Sirena tuna
  • 2 cans of peeled diced tomatoes
  • Salt to season
  • A pinch of sugar (if it needs it)
  • Pasta to serve
  1. Heat the olive oil in a frypan over medium heat. Fry the onions and garlic till they are soft.
  2. Drain the tuna and then toss it in the pan. Break it up with a spoon and stir.
  3. Throw in the peeled tomatoes. Stir and let simmer till the sauce thickens a bit.
  4.  Season with salt, add a bit of sugar if it needs it and serve with pasta.

Bibliography

  • Crough, G.J. The Development of the Australian Tuna Industry. Sydney:Transnational Corporations Research Project University of Sydney, 1987.
  • “Families.” BRW Rich 200, May 26  June 29, 2011, pages132-143.

Dago tucker

21 Feb
Pasta

Aussie diggers wanted mutton over this...

In 1941, here’s how The Mail in South Australia saw Italian food and, as an extension of that, Italians themselves:

Dago Tucker

Australian troops in Libya have been solving the mysteries of Italian cuisine, and making queer dishes of Parmesan cheese, spaghetti, tomato extract, and olive oil from captured enemy stores. Because of water shortage, a soldier was seen bathing in Italian mineral water. —Cable.

In Libya da Aussies still pusha ahead,
Dey play a so well in da ruck,
Dey racea da transport like fasta da ped’
So turn to da Itala tuck’.
Spa water dey usea to hava da wash,
Da soap mixa up wid da fizz,
But somea dem maka da faces, by gosh,
When come to da catering biz.
Dey try on da tummy such queera da dish,
For mum’s kinda cooking dey certainly wish.

Dey gobble up yardsa da finest spaghett’,
When food in da dixie dey boil,
But people afraida dat some of dem get
Too mucha da oliva oil.
It might make ’em slippy, like Itala chaps,
If plenta da loota dey seize,
And breatha da digger it smella, perhaps,
Too mucha of Parmesan cheese,
Dey chew up da menus of Naples or Rome,
Bat rather have grub from da kitchen at home.
ANTONIO DI SEEBEE

In 2009, The Age reported the results of the BIS Shrapnel report Fast Food in Australia:

Italian was the most preferred cuisine in Victoria and South Australia. Thai food was No. 1 in NSW. For all other states and territories, Chinese was either top or equal top. Australian, English or traditional food came in fifth at 13 per cent, after Indian, Sri Lankan or Pakistani food at 17 per cent.

It did take 68 years, a World War and an immigration boom, but Australians these days, in the words of  eloquent poet Antonio di Seebee, no longer “rather have grub from da kitchen at home”.

“Dago Tucker.” The Mail, 8 February, 1941, 7.
Cauchi,
Stephen, “Italian fare to the fore in time of fiscal crisis.” The Age,  April 26, 2009, 13.