When it comes to authentic Italian cuisine, there is no shortage of options in Melbourne. With a longstanding Italian community whose influence permeates much further than touristy Lygon Street, Melbourne’s north is home to specialty shops selling imported goods and homemade delicacies to satisfy your inner European. Think mozzarella and salami hanging from ceilings, shelves stacked with Tuscan olive oils, wheels of parmesan cheese and cabinets filled with homemade pasta and organic tomato sauces. It’s enough to make your belt unbuckle itself.
There is no better time to explore some of the best Italian specialty shops of the north and create your own rustic Mediterranean feast, no nonna required.
Alba Cheese Factory
The Alba Cheese Factory has a small shopfront that has been servicing the Italian community for years. While Alba sells a full range of cheeses, it’s the hot ricotta that brings all the connoisseurs to the yard. From Sunday to Friday mornings, the cheesemakers serve up steaming ricotta and whey straight from the vats – bring your own saucepan and tea towel to have it filled and they will show you how to wrap it to keep the bounty warm. This Sicilian specialty is traditionally eaten hot by the bowlful with chunks of crusty ciabatta and serves as a whole meal in itself. Alba also offers tubs of cold ricotta and ricotta salata (dried and salted) to grate onto pasta as well as an array of other delicious cheeses.
Pasta Al Dente
Venture into Pasta Al Dente and on the left you will find wood-fire oven number one with its mountain of crusty panini, olive ciabatta rolls and half-moon mezzaluna loaves (just to name a few). To the right, wood-fire oven number two pumps out freshly made pizzas to take away. But the heart of this store is its freezers filled with gourmet pastas. If you can get past the plastic packaging, the five kilogram bags of frozen ravioli and tortellini will have you set for weeks. This haven for the time-poor is not just about pasta though – find hand-made arancini, pizza balls and meatballs all ready to take home and pop in the oven. There’s even a deli so you can pick up some prosciutto on your way out.
King & Godfree
One of the oldest licensed grocery stores in Australia, King & Godfree occupies a grand corner spot between Lygon and Faraday Street. If the neatly stacked bottles of San Pellegrino aren’t enough to lure you in, the rows of imported wines, spirits and beers might do the trick. Free wine tastings are run most Friday and Saturday afternoons where visitors can mill about among the wine shelves and taste the offerings of the day. There are aisles dedicated to everything Italian such as artisan pastas, cold-pressed olive oils, condiments and gourmet sauces. With a fully stocked deli and plenty of bread on hand you can pick up everything you need to create an impressive feast.
With its espresso restaurant next door and pizzeria and mozzarella bar down the road, DOC is the master when it comes to European cuisine. Despite its modest size, DOC Deli is loaded with specialty imports, smallgoods and an eclectic range of international and locally sourced cheeses (stilton from England, Saint Agur blue from France and truffle Pecorino from Italy). With fluent Italian spoken across the counter and homemade arancini changing hands, it’s easy to forget you’re shopping in inner Melbourne and not in a Roman marketplace. DOC’s signori are super happy to show you what’s what – a slice of mortadella goes perfectly with that pecorino, by the way. Don’t miss the fresh artisan pastas, made by hand in front of your eyes.
Sophisticated and sleek, Enoteca Sileno has been around since 1953 and everything is premium – from the olive oils and balsamic vinegars to the vincotto and preserved black summer truffles. For Christmas and Easter, the panettone are delicately hand-wrapped and filled with gourmet fillings such as gianduia cream (a hazelnut chocolate cream from Piedmont), pear and fig. It has an enormous range of wines and an impressive selection of delicacies for your antipasto plate. Everything is labeled with the product’s origin so you can gloat about your pesto from Liguria or the Prosecco that was flown in from Treviso. There is a restaurant on site and they run cooking classes as well.
In the heart of bustling Brunswick Street, this little Italian cafe and deli is a great spot to enjoy lunch with a cup of coffee, and to stock up on Italian foodstuffs. The space may be small but it is put to good use with shelves of Mediterranean specialties lining the walls. On the ground, diners sit among stands laden with imported flours, packets of pasta, stocks, oils and other necessities. But it’s the deli counter that’s the stuff of Italian-kitchen dreams. The delectable deli items will inspire even the most mediocre of cooks and might even have you humming Volare on your way home. Bulbs of garlic, chilli and even a few multicoloured colanders hang from above. A sister store opened up on Smith Street recently and offers similar fare with a slicker fit out.
Mediterranean Wholesalers is a Sydney Road staple. Devotees flock here for everything from saucepans and ceramic donkeys to canned beans and cleaning products. It’s like the Costco of Italian imported goods – they have it all, and you can buy in bulk. The pasta aisle stretches for days and is stocked with every shape and colour you could imagine. Pasta in the shape of your ear? No problem. Ribbon pasta with multi-coloured stripes? Go crazy. Or grab a traditional hand-crank pasta machine and have a go yourself. The deli holds serious specialties like San Daniele prosciutto, capocollo, bresaola and loads of Italian cheeses. There are even aisles dedicated to Italian wines and liquors you haven’t seen since your 2007 Contiki tour – meloncello anyone? Grab a trolley and plan to spend quite some time here.