La dolce vita

How a Sicilian chef has recreated the quintessential taste of his homeland in Melbourne with his cannoli.

In August 2004 Giorgio Linguanti migrated to Melbourne without a word of English and got a job in a cheese factory, a move that ignited an enduring passion, despite describing cheese-making at the outset as “looking challenging”.

Having gained plenty of experience and perfected the art over four years working in two different cheese factories, Giorgio started his own business – That’s Amore Cheese – in 2008. He began with just one product, bocconcini leaf, which became a huge hit with some of Melbourne’s leading Italian Restaurants. Before long Girogio was also making burrata and smoked scamorza, hand-made cheeses just as popular with chefs as his initial offering, and the business grew rapidly. In 2010, That’s Amore Cheese took over Donnybrook’s cheese factory, before moving to a brand new, larger facility in Thomastown in April 2015 that enabled Giorgio to expand into the export market – today That’s Amore supplies cheese to more than 10 countries.

A long journey begins

Originally hailing from the Abruzzo region of central Italy, Dario Di Clerico began his culinary career in 2005 while studying at the Institute of Hospitality and Chefs of Pescara. As a student, Dario would travel around Italy to share his passion for food and further develop his cooking skills. Following his graduation in 2007, Dario moved to London and gained fine dining experience at Michelin Star Restaurant Waldo’s as Chef de partie.

“If you don’t believe in your product then no one else will, and subsequently your business will not work out.”

Dario moved to Melbourne in 2009 and landed a position as Head Chef at Yak Bar. Following his “from the paddock to the plate” philosophy, Dario began to explore fresh, seasonal Victorian ingredients and used them to create traditional Abruzzo dishes.

Two paths converge

In 2014 the long and winding journeys of the two food-fanatic Italians converged, with Dariojoining forces with Giorgio to take on the role of Executive Chef at That’s Amore Cheese. In August the following year the move to the new Thomastown premises meant space for a café featuring recipes that married Dario’s creativity and understanding of flavour with Giorgio’s cheeses. In 2018 the pair collaborated to produce authentic Sicilian cannoli using fresh That’s Amore Ricotta, launching an offshoot of the That’s Amore Cheese’s brand, Cannoleria.

“Cannoli are delicious Sicilian pastries made up of a delicate golden crunchy tube-shaped pastry filled with a creamy filling that is typically ricotta based,” Dario explains. “Cannoli in Sicily are definitely a staple and can be found in any pastry shop, and are usually filled on the spot to preserve the crunchiness.”

Initially they tested the feasibility of Cannoleria brand through pop-up stores.

“It was a relatively safe way of trialling our new product in various spots around the Melbourne area, and conducting some market research,” Dario explains. “We primarily wanted to test if a store with only one GOOD product could survive, and it did. The response was very positive.”

That feedback meant the decision to up the ante and open two permanent Cannoleria outlets was what Dario describes as a “no brainer”. The permanent stores – in Preston Market and South Melbourne Market – meant stability for the brand and the opportunity to build a regular clientele, and Dario says that they have already become “destinations” that are well and truly ensconced in their respective long-established market locations. Cannoleria now has three other full-time employees alongside Dario, as well as approximately 10 casual staff.

Natural is best

Despite the rapid growth of the business, there has been no compromise whatsoever in Dario’s commitment to using only natural, local produce.

“All our ingredients are locally sourced in Victoria, ensuring that are ricotta fillings are farm fresh and made in-house here in Thomastown,” Dario enthuses. “We are super-proud of the fact that all our 20 plus flavours are made naturally without using artificial colours or preservatives. We use fresh fruit, sourced seasonally and locally.”

He adds that the cannoli shells are made without lard and the home-made ricotta is produced with non-animal rennet, allowing him to fastidiously adhere to his vegetarian ethos.

Dario is adamant that anyone planning to make a success of a “niche” product has to be totally committed to, and passionate about it. “If you don’t believe in your product then no one else will, and subsequently your business will not work out,” he says. “When are you focusing on just ONE product the importance of quality is paramount, and there is no room for mistakes.” He insists that customer service it is also quite paramount. “We spend a lot of time training our staff in conveying to our customers what are products are all about, and how much they mean to us!”

This story first appeared in issue 27 of the Inside Small Business quarterly magazine.