Ciao Carlo. Leichhardt won’t be the same

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Last week the foodlovers of Sydney learnt that Carlo Colaiacomo, half of AC Butchery in Leichhardt had died. Just eight weeks after his beloved wife Angela, the A in the name.

Carlo was a much loved figure, and his shop one of the very first in Sydney to offer the kind of carnivorous products we omnivores hungered for. Especially smallgoods and sausages, great sausages.

One of those customers, Kim Terakes, had a few memories of Carlo to share. He recalled” Carlo pulling me aside one day in the shop and pointing to the ‘restaurant trimmed’ lamb cutlets. ‘The French did this, fuck them. Cut all the fat off the meat. No flavor any more. Fucking French’.”

But like many of us, Kim remembers walking into the shop, and Carlo saying, casually, one eyebrow raised ‘coffee mate?’ This was more than a butcher’s shop, this was visit to old friends. It speaks volumes that there were at least half a dozen of his Sydney customers at the funeral in Mudgee.

Who could forget the queues snaking all the way down (almost) to Norton Street at Christmas? Angela’s wonderful vinocotto (I’ve still got a bottle in the fridge). And big Carlo, presiding over the whole thing.

Below I’m pasting in a story of a visit I made to the family farm at Rylstone, original published in what was the Good Living section in The Sydney Morning Herald.

It’s a long way from Leichhardt to Rylstone, south east of Mudgee, where Carlo and Angela Colaiacomo (that’s Colee-arc-omo) of Sydney’s AC Butchery own a 73 hectare farm, with the totally inappropriate and unpronounceable Gaelic name of Aughnloo.

When this farm was brought to GL’s attention, we thought they were only raising organic beef and chickens. But wait, there’s more. Add geese, Muscovy ducks, New Zealand White rabbits, pheasant, partridge, quail, pigeons and pigs. There’s also one milking goat, a vineyard comprising some 6000 Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir vines, and fifteen olive trees with more to come of the last two items. Indeed, as the Colaiocomos have only owned Aughnloo for two years, it’s early days yet.

What Carlo and Angela have done is to create a mixed farm in the Southern European style. And the reason it’s possible to make a profit on such a quixotic enterprise is that they also own a butcher’s shop, so that almost everything that comes off the farm, ends up in Leichhardt. And that means their customers know they can always buy meat that has been raised, cared for and butchered by the man and woman behind the counter.

“There was one cow” said Carlo, “a real personality, we called her ‘mucca pazza’ (crazy cow – certainly not mad cow) “and when she finally came into the shop, her meat was beautiful, with very yellow fat. I’d say to customers, try this meat, it’s terrific, I knew the cow.” Not many butchers can offer that kind of personal hoof to hotplate service.

What’s even more remarkable about this enterprise is that, while Angela’s late father was, many years earlier, a farmer in Sicily, Carlo, far from being a ‘contadino’ (country man) was what his friend Carmello Torretta called a ‘concrete boy’: Carlo came here 32 years ago from Rome, where he last lived in an apartment overlooking the Piazza Navona.

We visited Aughnloo on a cold autumn morning, with a thick fog all but obscuring the view below the north facing farmhouse set high on the side of a steep hill. After a breakfast of bacon and eggs and a corretto (espresso with a nip) against the cold, Carlo and Carmello (Angela was in town that weekend) conducted a tour of the property, along with farm manager Steve Fuller.

But before that, Carlo showed off the kitchen garden, which is a dead give away that there are Italians about: broccoli di rape, rocket, thyme, various lettuces, all thriving just in front of a small chicken run raided daily for fresh eggs.

There have been good rains in the district recently – too good for some of the Mudgee vineyards – and the countryside is rich and green. Twenty seven cows in the mixed herd of around forty five are in calf and they’re all looking glossy and healthy, with plenty of rich mixed pasture to go around. Manager Steve Fuller reckons the property could carry 150 head, and that’s what he and Carlo are aiming for

We drive past the olive grove which, this year, didn’t give much of a crop. “Last year we got 25 kilos. This year, just enough for the table” said Carlo. On the other side of the property, beneath a shady pepper tree, a large run houses geese and Muscovy ducks. Carlo spots a hawk eying off the ducklings, Carmello chases it away.

We visit the rabbits, two of them  giving a vigorous demonstration of the expression ‘to breed like a rabbit’, and stop for a while in the pigeon hutch, listening to the calming ‘plomplomplom’ of its residents.

Within the space of an hour we see more meat on the hoof, claw and paw than many city people see in a lifetime. And the satisfying thing is, we know that most of it, eventually, will make its way to Leichhardt.

(AC Butchery is  still at 174 Marion Street Leichhardt, 9569 8687.)

 

aaad5e857d60a7b04faba1f410d929f0Carlo and Angela’s daughter Licia is on the left, and Angela is second right, on Carlo’s left.

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Australia Day Squabbles. And a Solomonic solution

I buy The Weekend Australian firstly to read Review for great literary and film criticism and the occasional Indigenous story from Nicholas Rothwell, the best whitefella writing on the subject.

Then there’s Inquirer, the home of the rabid right and the loonies – with occasional humorous pieces from Maurice Newman, the comb-over king and doyen of the Old Men Shouting at Clouds division of commentary. There’s Golum Henderson and the anti-environment reporter Graham ‘Don Quixote Lloyd’ and others, leavened only by the token voice of reason, Peter Van Onselen.

But this week, a bundle of disparate views on the Australia Day debate. Paul Kelly, Geoffrey Robertson and Noel Pearson. I’m not going to touch Luke Slattery’s valiant but ultimately risible defence of Lachlan Macquarie (sample: ‘It’s true that he did order that any aborigines killed in the action be strung up on trees – but he does not order his men to kill for this purpose’ a truly humanitarian action). I’ll start with the Oz’s Elder Statesman, Paul Kelly.

The premise of his piece is summed up in its headline ‘The nation needs to embrace its two truths’, a worthy ideal. But from there it is all downhill. A combination of whitepslaining and Greensbashing

‘We should exist neither in perpetual grievance nursed by the indigenous peoples and those, like the Greens, who recklessly exploit their grievances, nor in the complacency of those Europeans (with a capital E unlike ‘indigenous’ without as against current usage) who still pretend there was no dark side to the civilisation we enjoy.

An almost reasonable statement, if stripped of the mandatory – for a Murdoch hack – swipe at the Greens Party. Which doesn’t stop there. Later, he blusters:

‘The self-interested cynicism of Greens leader Richard Di  Natale is gob-smacking. With his eye on stealing future votes in inner-city Melbourne, Di Natale announces        changing Australia Day will be a priority…during the rest of the year since the day is about theft and genocide.’

Of course it is only Di Natale using the day for political gain, not  Turnbull wedging  Shorten by demanding that he speak ‘proudly and passionately’ in favour Australia Day. Which he didn’t. It is here we see Kelly nervously looking over his shoulder for the approval of His Lordship Rupert who once invoked all of his journalists not to ‘…let the bloody Greens ruin’ Australia. They haven’t had a chance yet.  And besides the two majors are doing a wonderful job without them.

But here is the killer. Kelly reminds us that Phillip said that ‘The convict colony that the began would, one day be “the most valuable acquisition Great Britain ever made.’ Acquisition? Yeah sure, in the same way that a bank robber acquires the contents of a bank’s safe. It wasn’t an acquisition. It was stolen.

And just one more thing. Without the Greens standing up for social justice (which is one of their four principles) by campaigning to change the date, the weighty yarns adorning the pages of the Inquirer would not be there, and they would be, as usual, full of the usual climate change denying anti-progressive political clap-trap.

Actually Di Natale should be applauded for spearheading the campaign that gave us a week free of Gollum Henderson’s whining. Alas we still have to suffer our eyes to glaze over another tortuous and semi comprehensible piece by Albrechtsen on the ‘Moral vanity of a virtue-signaller’ whatever the Rupert that is.

But now to Geoffrey Robertson’s spirited and well-written defence of Arthur Philip which founders on two important points, although many others are well made. Phillip did care for his ‘human cargo’, did insist that the ships of the first Fleet were well-provisioned and did write the admirable injunction ‘There can be no slavery in a free land.’ Sadly, there was, but it was long after Phillip had gone. But what cannot be forgotten is how quickly Phillip’s attempts to ‘bond with the Aborigines’ gave over to Georgian arrogance and brutality.

Governor Arthur Phillip had orders from George III to ‘endeavour, by every possible means, to open an intercourse with the natives, and to conciliate their affections, enjoining all subjects to live in amity and kindness with them’. Unfortunately, the locals wanted nothing to do with these newcomers, and stayed away from them after February 1788. This so frustrated Phillip that he kidnapped a local called Arabanoo by subterfuge. Arabanoo was then dragged, bound hand and foot, to the Governor’s table, and in that way was the first Indigenous inhabitant to dine with Europeans. But worse was to come.

In December of 1790, when Phillip’s gamekeeper, McEntire, by all accounts a nasty piece of work who had been accused by local Aborigines of shooting and injuring them (corroborated by Watkin Tench) was speared and killed. Phillip sent a squad of subalterns and others to find, capture and cut off the heads of six ‘natives’ or, if they cannot be caught then they should be shot, or if they can capture the six, two were to be hung and the four remaining to be sent to Norfolk Island. Thus George’s command to compassion did not last the year.

And finally to the only blackfella in the section. The wise but often flawed Noel Pearson. This time, wisdom is displayed, and a solution of elegant simplicity offered.

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Under the heading ‘Let us honour the before and after’ Pearson suggests that’ The observance of Australia day could commence on January 25 – the eve of the proclamation of British sovereignty and continue into January 26.

This would, he writes, ‘straddle two sovereignties’, that of the First Nations and that of the British. His argument is long and carefully reasoned, but can be summarised thus: ‘Linking January 25 and 26 would be a noble compromise between the old and the new. It would bring together honour, empathy, remembrance and celebration’

And so should say all of us. For all his faults, Noel Pearson is a jolly good fellow. And outthinks and outfoxes all the whitefellas surrounding him.

 

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Returning to the Scene of our Times #2

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Over the intervening 25 years, I’d been back, alone, several times, for short periods, never longer than a week. And leaving was always a wrench. But this time, and late last year, De and I returned to the valley and stayed for ten days.

We stayed, not in Fornalutx (and upon reflection were relieved we hadn’t) but in a comfortable apartment in the heart of Soller, with views down to the torrente – which runs through the town, fed by the melting snow off the Tramuntana. In times past, the torrente ran thick with garbage and discarded household goods. I once rode an old mattress with a friend down to the Port one winter when it was raging. But today’s Soller has acquired civic pride, and the torrente outside our window was alive with noisy ducks of many varieties, which we fed daily with stale bread.

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The craggy peaks of the Tramuntana, with dark green vegetation scrambling up their sides above the olive groves, were also visible from the window of our apartment, as they are from practically every building in town, a reassuring reminder of the human scale of the town.

We were there in early November, which means, in a small town with a large tourist population in season, that many restaurants were closed. But this suited us. We had a well-stocked kitchen and we knew where to go to stock the larder. To the deli in Calle Luna, still run by Pep, who taught me about Jamón so many years ago. It’s the gastronomic centre of town, selling the best sobrasada, a raw pork sausage cured with pimentón, which holds a similar status on the island to Vegemite in Australia, except that it is an artisanal and not an industrial product: the finest cheeses from the island and further afield; a wonderful selection of local wines and much more to please the palates of two Australian gastronauts.

I recall years ago when I first noticed the scungy looking legs of jamón on the carving rack. Pep offered me a slice. I’d never tasted anything like it. He told me the price, even then something like $150 a kilogram. I blanched. He said, ‘Señor, who eats a kilogram of ham?” I bought 100 grams. This time, we visited daily for wine and other delicacies.

I loved that Pep was still there, his shop was still there. Coming from a city where food is dictated by fashion and fad, I love that I can return here in 5,10 years time and know that I will always be able to get the dishes I love and remember. In a Spain currently obsessed with what the author and journalist Xavier Domingo called ‘the scourge of creative cuisine’ on the island of Mallorca the time-honoured dominates.

We also renewed our acquaintance with the butcher in the market, another Pep who still made wonderful sausages and sells scrawny, flavoursome chickens. It was winter, and although the vegetable stalls were limited, wild mushrooms were abundant. We ate well at home.

I have always had a thing about the little pies they call empanadas de guisantes or sometimes empanadas de xixols, a local word for peas. Having tried them from several bakers in Soller, I’ve chosen this one from a a little baker behind the cathedral, Forn de Can Frau, as the best. Moist, crusty pastry. Now you know.

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We had come to the island after 15 days on the mainland, mainly in Andalusia, and had eaten there both well and very badly ­–­ the worst meal the most expensive. But the very best meal we had was in Palma at Celler Sa Premsa which has been there since 1958. I first ate there in the early 1970s. This time I had as a main what I would have had then. How do I know? I have it every time. Lechona, baked suckling pig, with perfect crackling and moist, sweet meat. To start, plump preserved white asparagus on a large plate with a large handful of pimientos de pardon, and a dollop of allioli.

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Another memorable meal was the pamboli at S’Hostal in Montiuri. What’s pamboli? Literally bread (pa) and (amb) oil (oli). Another Mallorquin culinary cultural touchstone. When first we lived in Fornalutx, a young girl from the village took to visiting us, ostensibly to practice her English, but always at lunch time. Lunches were a feast of leftovers from the fridge, cheese, olives, left over meat, left over dishes, fruit…everything. After a few meals like this she said to us “you eat something different every day for lunch,” We replied “yes, what do you eat?” “Pamboli” she replied.

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We had our pamboli at S’Hostal with a friend from those days, Tomás Graves and his wife Carmen. Tomás’ book Bread and Oil examines every principal ingredient, and all the ways that pamboli can be embellished: with seasonal vegetables, cheese, jamón and other embutidos (cured meats). Tomás, along with his late brother Juan and others, had a rock and roll band, the Pamboli Band. We couldn’t have had better companions for this meal in this small town in the centre of the island, known everywhere for its – pamboli.

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During our first stay on the island, a plan was announced to build a tunnel through the Tramuntana to open up the Soller Valley to Palma. This plan was vehemently opposed by many in the valley, including me

At the time, to get to the valley was not easy. You could come by boat to the port, or drive the coast road through Deía, a precarious journey skirting precipitous drops to the sea, or drive over the mountain, an equally precarious and difficult road involving some sixty switchbacks. Or you could catch the small and very slow train from Palma.

These natural barriers meant that you really had to want to go to Soller and the villages of the northwest, as you really had to want to go to Shangri La. And while it was not the mysterious place described in Lost Horizon, Soller was a haven, a bubble cocooned from the outside world.

In August of1 990, the second year of our migration to Mallorca, the talk of war with Iraq was on every front page.

I recorded in my diary a conversation at that time.

“They say the war will start tomorrow.”

“Oh really? (pause) I wonder if you can buy soy sauce in Soller?”

The inaccessibility of the valley added to the unreality of such a thing as the invasion of Iraq although, in reality, Iraq was not that far (and the war didn’t start until January 1991). We worried, those of us against the tunnel, el tunel, that when finished it would burst that bubble.

The tunnel was built, but the bubble remains intact. Whether that is a good or a bad thing, I’ll leave to one side. But it does go some way to explaining the way we immediately sank back into life in Soller. It took only two days. We wanted to stay. It was as if we had never left.

Yes, the streets and the villages were filled with the ghosts of dead friends. And yes sometimes the changes were overwhelming ­ – there was yet another tunnel on what had been the old road to the Port – but in essence it was the place that we had grown to love 25 years ago. Let me leave you with one story.

We were walking through Soller one day, past the railway station. ­There’s a lovely old train to Soller which is priced out of reach unless you’re a resident or a wealthy tourist, it used to be much cheaper. The extra money earned has been spent on upgrading the station and adding an art gallery. That day, there was an exhibition of Miró graphics and Picasso ceramics. In a railway station.

To go back to that question, can you go back? In our case, most definitely yes. But would we want to live there again? Alas, no. You can only migrate once. But we will most certainly go back as often as we can. It is still in our hearts.

 

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