They say that good things come in small packages. Travelling to the sleepy town of Musk, just outside of Daylesford in regional Victoria, the sentiment rings true. For it is here that we find the Jurcan family and Istra Smallgoods, the farm that has become all but legendary among food lovers Australia-wide.
The seeds were planted 39 years ago, when Livio and Lidia Jurcan decided to sample the Australian lifestyle for a couple of years. Through some twist of fate, they never left. But it wasn’t long after settling in Melbourne that Livio and Lidia began to yearn for the cured delicacies of their native region on the Adriatic coast of Croatia. “It really started up about 17 years ago,” says son and Istra owner Bernie Jurcan. “Originally, it was just a small backyard business kind of thing.” But with more and more requests pouring in from friends over the years, Jurcan says that the business has “just grown and grown”.
“We used to do maybe two or three pigs a week and now we’re up to eight tonnes a week!” he says with a laugh.
It’s no secret that there’s been a strong revival in quality smallgoods in Australia, with independent producers providing some of the best in the world. For the Jurcans, when it comes to creating what are considered some of the finest pork smallgoods in Australia – including bacon, chorizo, prosciutto, pancetta and salamis – the old ways are the best, with all of their methods dating back hundreds of years. “The way that we do it is all through things that dad learnt from his parents when he was a kid back at home, and it’s that generation to generation thing,” explains Jurcan. And it seems that delicatessens are not the only ones in the midst of a love affair with Istra, with St ALi, Three Bags Full and Proud Mary amongst the many cafes vying to serve up their goods.
But with the demand for the finest products, so too comes the pressures of supply. In a market where many competitors feed pigs with growth hormones and nitrate to boost weights and meet sale demands, Jurcan admits to being aware of the pressure but assures that the traditional methods at Istra aren’t set to change any time soon. “We don’t mass produce and we don’t do anything to speed up the process,” he says.
“We stick with a good product and do things traditionally. Our prosciutto takes 12 months from start to finish, where others will do it in three months, and we could go down that path, but the original methods work and create a wonderful product. While it would be great to make more money, if you lose the quality, what’s the point in the long run?”
And if Livio and Lidia’s journey to the other side of the world was unplanned, so too was Bernie’s ascension in the business. “I had no plan of doing this at all. I went off to university and came out to help a little bit and just got stuck here,” he says with a laugh.
“But one day, when I have children, I imagine I’ll teach them the same methods that I’ve learnt from dad and it might continue on again.”
36 Wheelers Hill Road, Musk
(03) 5348 3382