When a chance encounter brought a goat’s cheese farmer to Carmelo and Sogna Ocello’s restaurant 20 years ago, they didn’t know their life would take a brilliant turn and result in one of Sydney’s favourite fromageries.
“He was visiting from Queensland and selling his cheese at a local market,” Sogna tells Broadsheet. “He needed someone to take over the market for him when he travelled back to Queensland and we volunteered. We didn’t realise at the time, but this would ignite our passion for cheese.”
That simple market stall they started at Fox Studios in 2001 evolved into Formaggi Ocello, a cheese store and Surry Hills institution that now stocks the city’s largest range of fine Italian, French, Swiss and Australian farmhouse cheeses. Now, after 14 years, Formaggi Ocello has moved into new digs, almost right next door.
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The new space allows the Ocellos to focus on what they do best: bring international formaggi to Sydneysiders. “This store is smaller than the last one, but it has more focus on an interactive customer experience. All of our cheeses are located behind the counter, and we encourage customers to walk through and select what they want, then we cut it in front of them,” says Sogna.
With 200 cheeses to choose from, it’s hard to know where to start. Sogna is able to recommend a few favourites. “Our Ciresa gorgonzola dolce latte al cucchiaio is one of our most popular products,” she says. “It’s gooey like a dip so instead of cutting it, we serve it with a spoon straight out of the wheel. ‘Al cucchiaio’ actually means ‘with spoon’. Then there’s the cremeux [de] Bourgogne with black truffle, which is super creamy with an earthy layer of truffle in the middle. It almost has a whipped texture – it’s so smooth it melts in your mouth.”
Then there’s the burrata that’s airfreighted every fortnight directly from Puglia. “We are the only shop to import this and it’s the freshest burrata you can find in Sydney,” says Sogna. Other favourites include the French Marcel Petite Comté with its sweet, fruity yet nutty flavour and la tur, which is a buttery, soft cheese from the Piedmont region of Italy.
Beyond cheese, the store stocks an extensive range of delicacies that are perfect for putting in a hamper as a gift, or for putting together an impressive cheese board: gourmet Italian crackers, truffle honey, olive oil, prosciutto and prosecco.
Formaggi Ocello also now reaches well beyond Sydney.
“One of the reasons we wanted to downsize was to focus on our online store and virtual events,” says Sogna. “Our entire range is available online, and we deliver to customers all around the country.”
And if you don’t know what to choose? “Our cheese club is the perfect way to try something new. Each month we select new cheeses based on what’s in season or what we are loving at the moment.”
Cheese enthusiasts can also join a monthly virtual cheese and wine night, with ripe and ready cheese and matching wines delivered to your door, and tasting notes delivered through a live Zoom presentation.
Shop 17/425 Bourke Street, Surry Hills
(02) 9357 7878
Tue to Fri 10.30am–5.30pm