Postwar European migrants settled on the New South Wales-Victorian border, transplanting the skills and ambience of the continental butchery.

Story By Sheridan Rogers

It's a frosty winter Tuesday morning in the Victorian border town of Wodonga and butcher Robert Formichi is so cold he can barely move his lips to talk. He’s just received a delivery of 18 white headless female pigs and is due to begin processing them. “It takes us all day to bone them out by hand,” he says. “There are only two of us and we take out all the muscles and tendons, sort the meat into different grades, then do the mincing.” They average 75 to 85 kilograms in weight with about 10 to 13ml of fat.
“We spend a lot of time cleaning and preparing them before we progress to making the various smallgoods [which include sausages, salami, prosciutto, pancetta and ham]. We use the shin and back skin in our ‘cotechino’, minced separately then seasoned and put into sheep’s skin casing. We never use offal or the skin from between the legs or tits because it gives a sour taste. Many people use extra garlic and spice to offset that but you can smell it as soon as you walk in. When people taste our cotechino, they say, ‘Oh my god, that’s how it used to taste’. There’s nothing like it to warm you up in the middle of winter.”
Robert’s story is typical of the families of postwar European migrants who settled in the Albury-Wodonga region, many of whom brought their skills and age-old recipes for everything from pastrami and smoked beef mettwurst sausages to pancetta and black puddings with them to Australia. They set up continental butcher shops complete with their own smokehouses in the border towns. Today, thanks to fathers passing their specialist and often highly guarded knowledge onto their children, many of these traditions are still alive and well. Back then, there was no refrigeration and the best way to preserve meat was to cure and smoke it.
“In those days we’d light a fire to get the desired colour in the smoke on the concrete floor and the meats would hang from the ceiling,” Robert says. “Then we’d unhook it and put it into a water copper to finish cooking. We no longer do it that way but the methods – the salts and seasonings and how long we cure the meat before smoking – are all the same.”

This story excerpt is from Issue #57

Outback Magazine: Feb/Mar 2008