Every weekend, at his Italian grocery warehouse, Stefano de Blasi sells fresh mozzarella he makes himself. Word has got out via Twitter and he’s moving about 50 kilograms of tender white curd every Saturday and Sunday.
‘‘I love it,’’ de Blasi, 25, says. ‘‘I learnt to make cheese when I was at school. Some people had music lessons; I had cheesemaking lessons.’’
Learning to stretch cow’s milk curds isn’t the only lesson that has paid off for de Blasi. He and his cousin, Edoardo Perlo, run a successful wholesale operation and a rustic-looking retail outlet selling imported and local food products in Sydney.
De Blasi grew up in San Remo, Liguria, in Italy listening to stories about selling food. His father had a frantoio, or olive mill. In the mid-1980s, his father sold his successful olive business to the national company Menu and stayed on to work as a production manager. He is still there at the age of 62.
His son went to university to study English, French and Spanish and lived abroad in the Canary Islands and Spain. Three years ago, he arrived in Sydney with Perlo, also 25. Both were on the run from their Italian mammas.
‘‘I wanted to improve my English,’’ de Blasi says.
‘‘I picked the place farthest away. I love my mother but, even here, she rings me every day and do you know what she asks me? ‘What did you eat?' ’’
De Blasi has no problem finding something to eat. He is standing in a vast space surrounded by rainbow-coloured pasta sheets, a dozen American gourmet salts, organic Australian olive oil, Genoese coffee, tinned hearts of palm and a fridge stuffed with olive products, dairy and locally made salume.
Behind him, racks hold 25-kilogram bags of flour, five-kilogram tins of tomatoes and four-litre bottles of vinegar.
Tinned tomato and olive products, produced under the family’s Casa Gusto label, were the starting point for de Blasi and Perlo; they set up as importers two years ago under that name. Six months later, the cousins added wholesaling and distribution to the business, then began bringing in other food products from Casa Gusto as well as other brands.
It was only a matter of time before their wholesale clients started asking for local ingredients and products. The bulk of their clientele is Italian restaurants and, believe it or not, kosher catering and cafes. Casa Gusto products have been certified kosher and halal for 25 years.
In November, the cousins moved their burgeoning Sydney wholesale operation to its current location, in Alexandria. When The Grounds opened in April and tables were at a premium, 100 people wandered into the Casa Gusto warehouse looking for somewhere to spend an hour.
‘‘I’ve always had Eataly [the mega Italian food retail chain] in mind,’’ de Blasi says, ‘‘and when that happened, I said to Edoardo, ‘Let’s do it.’’
They hammered together shelving from timber offcuts they found behind The Grounds and painted them white. Black texta marks the prices of organic grains and seeds, condiments, pasta – from mass-produced to artisan – Sicilian extra virgin olive oil, aged balsamic vinegar from Modena, tinned Spanish sardines and Passion8 muesli made in Sydney. ‘‘We go through 40 kilograms a week,’’ de Blasi says.
Now he is away from home, de Blasi says he is really starting to appreciate the products of his native region. Gold-tinged pesto sauce, basil-scented lemonade, tiny taggiasca olives and bottled water, all from Liguria, are on the counter to be sampled and decanted, then displayed and appreciated.
41 Bourke Road, Alexandria, 9690 2406.
Mon-Fri, 8am-6pm; Sat-Sun,
Freshly-made mozzarella (Sat and Sun only), $2.50/125g.
Saltworks vintage merlot salt, $6/100g.
Marella rainbow lasagne sheets, $25/100g.