This is the first column in a new series called “Sydney Pantry”, where we celebrate products made in Sydney and loved by Sydneysiders.
Pepe Saya’s rich and creamy cultured butter has been served with bread to diners in Sydney’s top restaurants and placed in pantries and fridges by those in the know for several years now. The company was founded in 2010 by husband-and-wife team Pierre “Pepe” Issa and Melissa “Mrs Pepe” Altman to supply Sydney eateries with a high-quality staple so they wouldn’t need to source it from abroad.
“All the top restaurants were importing their butter from overseas because Australian butter tasted like salt and water,” Issa tells Broadsheet.
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But Pepe Saya wasn’t always the preferred choice for upmarket establishments. Issa and Altman struggled to get their butter into restaurant kitchens, so they started selling their pats at Carriageworks Farmers Market on Saturdays and relying on word-of-mouth to get their product sold. Eventually they got the attention of Neil Perry of the Rockpool group, who also worked with Qantas and who began to serve Pepe Saya to business-class and first-class passengers. It was the boost the Sydney company needed, and from there the brand’s reputation began to spread.
In 2014 it opened its factory in Tempe to punters wanting to buy tubs of crème fraîche, buttermilk, mascarpone, and, of course, cultured butter. Now Pepe Saya operates out of a warehouse in Caringbah, south of Sydney, and has a team of 20 butter-makers who churn out 12 tonnes of butter each week.
The cream they use is sourced from farms in Picton, Wauchope and the Hunter Valley in NSW, and Gippsland and Allansford in Victoria. It’s matured, then a lactic live culture is added, and after that, the cream is fermented for 24 hours, then aged for up to four weeks. Once ripened, the cream is hand-churned in a batch (not industrial) churn. (Here’s more on how it’s made.)
There are a few things that distinguish Pepe Saya’s butter from others in the supermarket, according to Issa. There’s the culturing and long, slow ferment; the fact it’s churned in a batch churn, so it’s less processed; and then there’s the way the salt is added to the butter: dry, rather than inoculated into it via brine. “Pepe Saya butter is local and fresh-as,” says Issa.
“We have always approached the market from a viewpoint of asking the market what they want, and not telling the market what they need,” he continues.
Pepe Saya has expanded its range since 2010 to include both salted and unsalted butter, an organic range, butter for cooking, cream, ghee and buttermilk. Last year it also started making butter sheets for bakeries to use in croissants (including Woolloomooloo’s respected Flour and Stone) – before this, many bakeries around Sydney relied on imported butter sheets.
Issa reckons the best way to eat Pepe Saya’s butter is on hot, crusty bread, “but since Pepe Saya is a cultured butter, the cultured flavours will be released best when cooking with it,” he explains. “Try frying an egg with Pepe Saya cultured butter and you’ll get what I’m saying.”
Pepe Saya is available at the Caringbah factory, 10 Adventure Place Monday to Friday 7am to 3.30pm. It’s also at the following restaurants and cafes, and can be purchased online, from select supermarkets (Harris Farm, some Woolworths and Doorstep Organics), at Carriageworks Farmers Markets on Saturdays (8am to 1pm), Orange Grove Farmers Markets Lilyfield every Saturday (8am to 1pm) and the North Sydney Produce Markets on the first and third Saturday of every month (8am to 12pm).
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“Sydney Pantry” celebrates the ingredients made by Sydney’s greatest producers that have gone from cult classics to kitchen staples.
This article first appeared on Broadsheet on July 23, 2019. Some details may have changed since publication.