Tuesday, December 8, 2009


I’ll get the grumble out of the way first.

One night this year I visited Formaggi Ocello for the first time. I am ashamed to admit this. I should have been there much earlier as this amazing cheese providore in the inner east of Sydney has been open now for many months and is an absolute must for cheese-lovers. Cheese freaks. Food aficionados. Anyone with a tastebud or two.

It has perhaps the longest display cabinet of cheeses in this city, and the shop’s shelves and refrigerators are packed with anything to partner your formaggi that you could ever want or think of – we’re talking syrupy balsamico, relishes and olives and Italian-style conserves, bottled figs – the works.

All this, and a huge and tempting cheese room. And herein lies the grouch.

Just at the entrance big glass windows allowed us to gaze in on a large room stacked with giant wheels of Grana Padano, balls of ash covered cheeses and wedges of other things. I say ‘other things’ because the sign on the door firmly said: ‘Staff Only’, so we could explore no further. There was to be none of that rapturous gasping-in of cheese fumes as the door opens; no involuntary cries of ‘I want to live in here!’ (that’s me); no judicious fingertip pressure on a rind here and there; no voyeuristic reading of labels and trying out the pronunciation; no……. well, no interaction with the stars of the show.

No lingering, to-be-relived-later, whiff of washed rind clinging to our clothes or hair, either.

I was disappointed, although I could understand the reason. Hot and unhygienic customers could disturb the room’s carefully maintained balance. These cheeses, their maturation and their prime condition is what the shop is about, after all, and absolute cleanliness is required where cheese-handling is concerned.

A few times in the past couple of years I have caught up with the shop’s owner, Carmelo Ocello, at various farmers’ markets around town where he and his heady products have become ubiquitous. One time I bought an amazing cow’s milk cheese, testun al Barolo, that is matured on the residue of nebbiolo grapes which add quite another dimension to the flavour. Another time he persuaded me to buy a ‘real’ stracchino and I knew then he meant that this soft silky one had been made far in the north of in Italy. Each time, my purchases were carefully wrapped in heavy white paper, just like the true gifts they are.

The thing I like most is that Ocello not only imports the cheeses, he brings their stories along for the trip as well. He knows those makers by name. He has visited their dairies – some of them very small – in distant corners of Europe. But before you huff and say, why not Australian cheeses too, I have to say he does also stock the best from this country as well, including Victoria’s multi-award-winning Holy Goat and a handful of others.

We’d all end up with mental indigestion if I even attempted to list the cheeses in this place. Ocello keeps about 200-250 on show at any one time, but in the spirit of this blog – highlighting the unexpected – here’s just one for starters.

Formaggi Ocello is perhaps the only place where you can order a ‘cheese wedding cake’! Yup! Wheels of premium cheese stacked and lightly decorated with fruit and flowers. I’ve seen a brochure about it. So it must be true.

You know, I reckon many wedding guests might be happier with a wedge of this to take home than fruitcake.


Formaggi Ocello, Shop 16, 425 Bourke St, Surry Hills (St Margaret’s), NSW. Parking available under the building – one hour free. Phone 02 9357 7878, www.ocello.com.au

Open weekdays 9am to 8pm, Saturday 9am to 6pm, Sunday 10am to 6pm. Order an alcoholic drink during ‘Aperitivo’ at the shop every weekday from 5pm to 8pm and enjoy the Milanese-style custom of receiving a complimentary appetiser.

Also market stalls at: EQ Markets, Moore Park, Wednesday and Saturday; SMH Good Living Market, Pyrmont, 1st Saturday of the month; Northside Produce Markets, North Sydney, 3rd Saturday of the month.


This is the first of what will be a growing collection of ‘Sydney Food Finds’.

This city, to me means much more than the CBD and inner suburbs. It’s the whole urban sprawl, and it never ceases to amaze me with its variety and scope of food places – whether it is producing the stuff which others use, or preparing and serving it skilfully.

OK, Melburnians, I hear you! Your city rocks too, and could certainly quite often show Sydney a thing or two, but this is my town and I love it……and its food and dining.



  1. Hi Sally,

    I like the look of that half a roquefort in the picture. Would make a nice Christmas present, that. Roll on, the Australian raw milk cheese campaign.

    Cheese has got to be my favourite food, and in Canberra where I live now, I don't have to do without. The range at Fyshwick Freshfood Markets is so big that the other day I couldn't decide and left with none at all. Last time I went to Silo there was small cheese room there. It doesn't say Staff Only, but the staff are onto you pretty fast if you go in there.

    When I moved to Canberra from Sydney nine years ago I lamented the loss of food. It's so homogeneous here. There are large Indian and Sri Lankan communities but these people mostly cook at home. There are hardly any good restaurants (unless you are willing to book days ahead and/or pay through the nose), and no good Lebanese food, Thai takeaways, or even Vietnamese pork rolls.

    Some time ago, I realised I would have to learn to cook. I have a curry tree well underway and a good repertoire of curries in the recipe book. Yet I don't imagine I can make a felafel roll worth the effort, so when I go back to Sydney I don't stay at the beach or The Rocks or your usual tourist haunts. I stay in Burwood Road or somewhere I can get a taro bun for breakfast and a decent Chinese meal for dinner.

  2. Sydney has an amazing range of food places and the good thing is not only can you eat at restaurants serving dozens of authentic cuisines but there are the grocers selling all the ingredients if you need/want to make the dishes at home. I love going on one of Maeve O'Meara's Food Safaris as you then get to visit all the best places.