McLaren Vale’s Chalk Hill Collective has a new member. Cucina di Strada, a casual Italian “canteen” from the team behind Pizzateca and city offshoot Madre, joined Never Never Distilling Co and Chalk Hill Wines on the sprawling property earlier this month.

“We’ve realised that the best collaborations rely on your relationships with people who are better at things than you,” says Never Never brand manager Sean Baxter. “I love Italian food, and Tony [Mitolo] has been doing incredible work at Pizzateca so we felt it would have been remiss to pass up on an opportunity to work with him.

“He works in the region and is someone who has a real authenticity when it comes to the food he’s making.”

Cucina di Strada (which means “street food” in Italian) sits on the deck between the distillery and cellar door. It’s the work of Tony Mitolo, his aunt Annarita Mitolo and Madre owner-chef Ettore Bertonati. “We didn’t want to do what we did at Pizzateca here,” Mitolo says. “The way people interact with the space up here is very different – it’s about sharing and [taking] your food out onto the lawn, or to the bar for a few gins.” Here, the team – which includes some of Mitolo’s cousins – make pinsa, not pizza. “It’s more like my nonna’s style of pizza, rather than the Napoletana style we do at Pizzateca,” says Mitolo. “Whenever I was at her house she’d have the pinsa ready for us so we could grab it as a snack, for dinner, or even cold for lunch the next day.”

Part-pizza, part-foccacia, the pinsa dough is hydrated for 72 hours, which makes for a crunchy, structured base able to withstand a stack more toppings than a soft, chewy Neapolitan base.

The Rosso – which is topped with baby Roma tomatoes, basil and garlic – is Baxter and Mitolo’s favourite. “I really like the salami pinsa too,” Baxter says. “It’s all the things a salami pizza should be – oozy, spicy, unctuous and perfumed.”

The pinsas come served on a paddle that you can take back to your spot on the lawn. “We’ve always wanted to do it, but it fits this kind of setting,” Mitolo says. “There’s something effortlessly beautiful about the little serves of Italian food you can get to eat on-the-go [in Italy],” adds Baxter. “It’s all celebrating easy eating, and that’s what we wanted to ensure it was like here.”

Other menu items include arancini, meatballs, paninis, house-made Italian cakes and gelato.

While the eatery has its own distinct character, there are identifiable nods to its Vale and city counterparts. “There’s still the same sensibilities,” says Mitolo. “We still make all our own passata, my father takes care of that four months of the year.

“My grandfather had pizzerias in the ’60s and you couldn’t buy canned tomatoes then,” he adds. “You couldn’t buy pitted olives then either, or canned mushrooms, so that’s why we do all our own.”

Olive oil and olives are prepared by the local Scarfo family behind Diana olive oil, and much of the produce is either grown by the team or sourced from local farms. The family cures its own meats, too. “Nothing is brought in, other than the Parmigiano Reggiano,” Mitolo says, “It’s all done in the kitchen.”

Never Never opened its distillery door in February – after years of anticipation – before promptly shuttering in March due to Covid-19 restrictions. While the closure allowed time for product development (accelerating the release of a collaboration with Chalk Hill Wines, Grenache Gin), Baxter is excited to welcome people back to the property.

“We can’t wait to show people what we can do up here now,” he says. “And there’s no better time than right now to explore local.”

Cucina di Strada
56 Field Street, McLaren Vale
Hours:
Thu to Mon 11am–5pm

cucinastrada.com