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Paesanella Cheese History

It all started with passion, vision and opportunity...

In 1956, a young Umberto Somma arrived in Australia with no more than a few shillings in his pocket, a 90 litre copper pan and a dream. The young man from a small Italian village of Pimonte in Napoli, set about to introduce Australia to his traditional Italian fresh specialty cheeses. Although Umberto succeeded in giving Australia traditional Italian culinary cheese delights, the road to success was never easy.

Australia was in the late 1950’s only beginning to experience broader international cuisine. Alone, with no family or friends in Sydney, next to no money and unable to speak English, Umberto was determined to succeed.

Umberto temporarily worked other jobs to save up enough money to buy milk and rent a shed next to Hawkesbury River near Windsor in New South Wales. He would start at 7.00 am in the morning making Mozzarella and Ricotta shaping them by hand and floating them in fresh water in milk cans which a local farmer would help him deliver to the train station. They would travel to Sydney’s Surry Hills where Umberto would wait for the local migrant working population to come home from work so he could sell door to door until 11.00 pm at night. Unfortunately, many doors often slammed fast in his face during this time. After returning back to Windsor by train at night, Umberto slept for five hours and was up again at 7.00 am making his cheeses.

While establishing his business, the Department of Agriculture caught up with Umberto Somma and closed his operation down due to the “primitive conditions” under which he worked. Regrettably, he often dumped the excess whey into the river to avoid being fined and he often used a 44 gallon drum and his trusty 90 litre copper pot to boil the milk for his cheese making. Umberto recognised the need to change his practices. He had to have a proper premises and Umberto had to be registered as a Cheesemaker. The process to correct his operation and abide by the Department of Agriculture guidelines took a frustratingly long time but he never gave up on what he truly believed in and loved doing – making cheese.

In 1962, he saved up enough money, sorting out his legal issues and bought the modest factory in Marrickville, New South Wales and officially began trading as Paesanella Cheese Manufacturers. From this factory, Umberto produced his wonderful fresh cheeses like Mascarpone, Ricotta, Bocconcini, Stracchino, Malca and Mozzarella cheeses that all leading Sydney delicatessens and restaurants were clamouring for.

In 1968, Umberto married Teresa who worked alongside him to produce the wonderfully fresh Neapolitan style cheeses. With Teresa a new generation would emerge to learn the ways of cheese making that had been passed down to Umberto four generations before him.

Unfortunately, Umberto died in 1988. “Umberto’s is a ‘rags to riches story’. He died a wealthy man. But it was not for the money he worked. ‘I love my work,’ he once said. ‘I love making my cheeses.’ It was said with his inimitable gusto. In the end it was the passion that killed him.” (Sheridan Rogers, 1988)

Today, Umberto’s traditional Italian cheese making processes are the legacy that he has passed onto his two sons Joseph and Max, who now lead the Paesanella Cheese Manufacturers organisation. Their commitment to never compromise the quality, formula and vision of their product is testament to the true Italian cheese making way.

Umberto’s vision is now a reality. Although he had to deal with many hard times in starting and growing his business, he pioneered Australian culinary tastes and indirectly brokered acceptance of the Italian community in the Australian way of life.

Paesanella Cheese Manufacturers is now a brand that is recognised widely in the Australian dairy industry as an award winning, high quality product as witnessed in various competitions (refer to awards section of website) and is a symbol of what fresh Italian cheese should be.

Click here to view the Umberto Somma Interview Video

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