Melbourne has a very strong Italian heritage, which dates back to the first settlement. However, it was the post war era of the 1950s that saw 170,000 Italians come here and change the face of Melbourne, forever.
Carlton is the home of Melbourne’s Little Italy and Lygon Street is its epicentre. In the late 1950s, the Italian character was the most dominant theme in Lygon Street. Previously it had been as the Jewish community, but they moved south to Caulfield, Prahran and South Yarra, and to other suburban areas. By 1960, the Lygon Street strip was home to almost 50 Italian-owned shops. It was a time, when Italian was its first language.
It would have been quite a culture shock for the wave of Italian migrants coming to Australia in the 1950s when faced with the typical Anglo-Australian diet of meat and three vege and endless cups of tea. Thanks to the impact of Italian food and cuisine, we have a come a long way since then – there would be few Australian families today that don’t have Bolognese as a regular meal. The view of “food as fuel” has shifted to understand the importance of good food and fuel being central to a happy and healthy life.
Carlton also gave birth to Melbourne’s coffee culture, well before the third wave movement. It was in a cosy little Italian owned café on Lygon Street in the 1950s that Australia’s first espresso machine was installed.
Early Italian migrants started with a largely self-sufficient way of life; growing their own food, bottling drying and preserving the surplus, curing their own meats and making their own wine. Soon after the first Italian grocery stores started opening, including King & Godfree, a Carlton landmark since 1884. Owned by Edwin King and George Godfree it was one of three branches in Melbourne’s north and was well known for supplying the Jewish community with local and imported gourmet produce.
King and Godfree, in spite of its un-Italian name, evolved and became a very Italian food and wine store. Owned by three generations of the Valmorbida family and specialising in high quality Italian produce since the 1950s, it provided everything the Italian community needed for real Italian cooking: cheeses such as ricotta, mozzarella, parmesan, a wide range of pasta, arborio rice for risotto, polenta, salami and other smallgoods, pestos and of course, a huge variety of imported olive oils.
It’s fitting then that as Italian cuisine continues to evolve and develop, as do we.See More — Coffee / Culture / Food / Italian