Leg ham, salami and sausages are the height of butcher’s art. I became aware of that fact one afternoon in a little Venetian shop, being caught in a passionate argument about salami processing. As he interrupted his colourful description of quality and art to serve clients, the butcher invited me to wait for a second, before resuming his speech after the patron left. Adding gesture to word, he made me taste his specialities to prove he was right. Then, a new client came, and time flew away in the warmth of the day.
From that moment, I deeply respected a butcher’s good work as something that is not that easy to perform. So when I found Balzanelli Smallgoods, I felt like the miner finding a vein of gold. Ham in their workshop is made from good quality Australian pork, and this makes the difference. It is a philosophy: ‘I am committed to support local producers. I don’t want to see them disappear and see us, as Australian consumers, rely on imports!’
Quality means also a minimum layer of fat, and a perfect ph level, which depends on the way pigs are killed. No gluten is used to make pieces of meat stick together and a reasonable amount of water and salt is injected, unlike those who use large amounts in industrial processing to make the meat weight heavier without any benefit in the taste.
Marco Balzanelli and his daughter Sandra guided me through their production site in Canberra to show me the smoking room where 150 hams were suspended. Marco designed the oven himself and feeds its fire with cherry wood. ‘It gives a sweet flavour, we found it to be the best timber as we don’t want an aroma that’s too overpowering’, explains Marco.
The company was created 30 years ago by Carla and Giovanni, Marco’s parents. They were not in the meat business when they arrived in Australia. Giovanni was a surveyor, working on a dam. But they had the dream of buying a farm, which they did some time after settling in. They had a few pigs. And as it is a family tradition in the region of Reggio Emilia, where Giovanni comes from, they started to make hams and salami for their own consumption. One thing led to another, they grew their activity, moved to the capital to bigger premises and sold the farm.
Now, the smallgoods company employs 12 people. Marco is at the head of the company working on the production in the back of the shop: ‘This is the place I like to be. It is more enjoyable to produce smallgoods for people than just cut meat in the front’. His wife works in the office. Coming from Sevilla in Spain, she added to the Balzanelli recipe book her own family recipe for chorizo, the very popular spicy Spanish sausage. ‘People love it. Australians are starting to search for quality, they are starting to cook and experiment. It is the European influence, but it is also linked with the success of cooking shows on TV. I think we have the leading products in Australia.’ Well, they’ve won silver and gold awards.
Balzanelli smallgoods can be found in fruit markets in Sydney, at delis such as Thomas Dux (NSW and Victoria) and Harris Farm (Sydney), from vegiestoyourdoor.com.au (Canberra region), at EPIC market in Canberra, and at their shop, 7 Isa Street in Fyshwick, Canberra.