Ah, the many rites of passage of growing up Italian in Adelaide. Your first Carnevale. Your first visit to Mercato – or predecessor Imma and Mario’s, age depending. Your first numb-fingertipped time breaking up sheets of frozen Buona Pasta ravioli into individual crinkle-cut pillows, ready to be boiled.

Love for the brand runs so deep that I’ve heard of Melbourne-based, Adelaide-born Italians stocking car freezers with ravioli for the journey back to a land barren of Buona Pasta. This SA great is available in SA only. “We can’t make enough!” co-owner John Corbo, whose parents Guiseppe and Iolanda Corbo started the family business in 1972, told Broadsheet.

It’s since become somewhat of an icon. “Buona” means “good” in Italian, and this pasta is indeed good. But the packaging is even better: essentially a three-dimensional Italian flag with a Buona Pasta crest flanked by two majestic lions filled with either ravioli or tortellini. “A lot of people recognise the box more than the actual [brand] name,” John says.

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While it’s been more than 50 years – and the second Corbo generation is now at the helm – the family recipes Guiseppe and Iolanda brought over from Italy have held strong. “From day dot, nothing’s changed,” says John. “They started making ravioli and we’ve stuck to making ravioli ... and tortellini. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it, right?”

That includes still selling the ravioli frozen in three-by-eight sheets, which have long been luring even the most fanatically “fresh is best!” nonnas to the freezer aisle because many believe it reigns supreme over its fresh supermarket counterparts.

“When they’re fresh they can only stay good for a little while,” says John. “When they’re frozen in sheets it keeps the quality a lot better – for as long as six months.”

Flavours are true to tradition, too: the ravioli come stuffed either with a hearty mix of beef (“the bestseller by far,” John says – it’s his favourite), or the lighter, fluffier combination of spinach and ricotta (this writer’s ride or die). There’s also beef tortellini.

But what has changed, slowly but surely, in half a century? Output. “We keep making and making and don’t really keep track,” says John. “But it’s increased a hell of a lot.” He figures they make “about three tonnes a week” now, a far cry from the early days.

“As an eight-year-old, I remember the machines coming in from Italy, and mum and dad setting up the tiny shop on Payneham Road,” says John. They sold mainly to Italians they knew before nudging into major supermarkets and continental delis from the ’80s.

Then, at the turn of the century, came a milestone moment: relocating to an expansive factory on O G Road in Klemzig: “You know you’re onto the next level when you’ve moved into a factory which is about 10 times the size ... with about three times the staff.”

Out back, several Italian-imported machines each do specific jobs: one makes the dough, another rolls the sheets, another adds the fillings and presses the ravioli. And out front? A no-frills factory shop with a freezer brimming with the whole Buona Pasta range.

For John, who’s been working in the business full-time since the ’90s, the most rewarding part is the familiar faces passing Buona Pasta down through generations.

“We’ve got a lot of regulars,” he says. “From the nonno bringing his little grandkids to our shop to now those kids, all grown up, bringing their nonno to the shop because he can’t drive anymore.

“It’s been phenomenal to see a number of generations buying our products for so many years ... And, of course, when you hear that a five-year-old loves ravioli, that’s just awesome.”

Buona Pasta products are available at most major supermarkets and continental delis.

Buona Pasta
59 O G Road, Klemzig

Mon to Fri 7am–5.30pm
Sat 7am–11am
Sun closed