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