I’m four years old, hungry, riding shotgun on a pile of pillows in nonno’s tiny, white ’80s BMW. We pull into the driveway of a cream-brick house on St Bernards Road in Magill and I sigh, anticipating yet another round of rough cheek-pinching by one of his compari (close friends). But as we bypass the front door in favour of the garage (standard), I’m met with something far more inviting: a taralli treasure trove.
Taralli – the doughnut-shaped southern-Italian snack – sit at the intersection of breadsticks, crackers and pretzels. And they’re the lifeblood of the Viscione family.
Italian migrants John and Anna Viscione started Continental Taralli Biscuits, now a third-generation family business, in their Magill garage in 1975. Almost 50 years later, it’s still there.
I’m sitting out the back with their daughter Sonia when John and Anna emerge from the house with freshly brewed macchinetta coffee and biscotti.
The couple migrated to Adelaide in 1969 from San Martino, a small town in Italy’s south (Sonia points it out on a towering map on the wall behind me). John’s friend built him a wood oven and he started baking bread, and then taralli, which he learnt how to make at a pasticceria (pastry and cake shop) in Italy.
“When I started, too many people didn’t know [about taralli],” says John. So, after losing his job at fridge manufacturer Kelvinator, he fired up the wood oven. At a time, he says, when the average weekly wage was $34, “I went around the area to sell my product and made $95 in one day”.
As the back of the garage became a fully-fledged factory, the front became a shop. It was a natural progression. “People in the community knew someone was baking bread and biscuits, so they just flocked in,” says Sonia. “We have this sweet 90-year-old man who’s been coming since the beginning, when he used to ride his bike here.”
In those days, it was mainly Italians looking for a taste of home. And they would buy up big. “The mother and father would come here, and not buy 1, but 10 kilos, because they knew everyone in the family liked [them],” John says.
As the years passed, others started hopping on the taralli train. The business expanded into local supermarkets, then national ones, and even began shipping internationally for a few years. Now its products are stocked in supermarkets, Italian delis and fruit and veg stores across the country.
After 50-odd years, John insists he’s finally retired. “I gave [my children and grandchildren], the new generation, a chance to carry on the business,” he says. But as we’re chatting, he slyly pulls a business card from his wallet and hands it to me. “I still look [at] what they’re doing all the time, though.”
Stepping out of the back door into the factory, it’s like Willy Wonka meets Cinema Paradiso. (With hair nets.) Not what you expect to find behind a residential garage door.
In one room, a mesmerising conveyer belt carries hundreds of identical taralli from a machine (a new one, which can churn out 250 kilos in an hour – 190 more than its predecessor), operated by John’s 22-year-old grandson, the production manager. In another, trays of taralli swirl gracefully inside two huge gas rotary ovens.
These taralli are made using a recipe that dates back to the early 1900s. The three key ingredients are flour (from Laucke Mills), olive oil (from Willunga) and white wine (from Aldinga Bay Winery). They’re boiled, then baked – not fried. “That’s why people can eat so [many]!” John quips.
At the shop, you can still pick them up by the kilo, but they now come in conveniently sized 150- and 250-gram bags, too. Choose from three classic flavours: fennel and olive oil, olive oil and sea salt, and wholemeal with fennel.
There’s also a range of more adventurously flavoured tarallini (mini taralli) – think kalamata olive and thyme; rosemary and sea salt; and garlic and black pepper. Plus, a few sweet options such as crisp almond bread, and pistachio-and-cranberry, and almond biscotti.
I’m a vocal advocate for taralli as a standalone snack, but they’re just as good with cheese, cold cuts and dips, on grazing platters, or as croutons.
And while it might’ve been two decades since my last visit here, not much has changed – I still leave with more taralli than I know what to do with.
The Continental Taralli Biscuits range is available at the factory shop or online. Stockists include Coles, Drakes and IGA supermarkets, select Italian delis, and fruit and veg stores.
Continental Taralli Biscuits
57 St Bernards Road, Magill
Mon to Fri 9am–5pm