Natale Italiano was born in Scido in Calabria, near the toe of Italy’s boot. He emigrated to Australia in 1922 and after working in a number of labouring jobs (and returning briefly to Italy to get married) began making cheese at his North Melbourne home. By 1933 he and his wife, Maria, were advertising their wares under the brand Perfect Cheese.
Initially, the Italianos sold their cheeses to other Italian immigrants at Melbourne’s Queen Victoria Market. Natale also walked door-to-door to make deliveries around Melbourne’s suburbs. He made ricotta and pecorino (although, at first, the pecorino was probably made largely from cow’s milk). By 1933 his range, according to an article in Il Giornale Italiano included provolone, ‘authentic’ Piacenza cacciocavallo and bel paese.
By 1940, the range had expanded further. The Perfect Cheese Co. was now producing cheese for other southern European immigrant groups, including Greeks and Maltese. An advertisement from that year particularly recommended Perfect’s Cacio Parma, Cacio Romana and Cacio Incanestrato as grating cheeses which, it declared, exquisitely seasoned spaghetti and gave a special savour to soup and meatballs, as well as stuffings for eggplant, peppers and chicken.
From the 1950s, as Anglo-Australians began to accept and even seek out “continental” products, Perfect Cheese broadened its customer base beyond the immigrant population. In 1956 the company produced a silver anniversary booklet, in English and Italian, celebrating its history and products. It featured images by the celebrated photographer Helmut Newton.
In her study of Italian food in Australia, Tania Cammarano details the story of Perfect Cheese. She points out that Maria Italiano played a significant role in the company, becoming a director. The couple’s children all subsequently worked in the business. To raise capital for expansion, Perfect cheese was floated in 1959, with the family maintaining control via a majority shareholding. The company branched out into dairying, including opening a sheep dairy to provide milk for their pecorino cheese.
Expansion continued, with a push into supermarkets. By 1969 the brand was available in major chains Woolworths and Flemings, as well as at “good delicatessens”. In 1972, the Perfect Brand Cheese Recipe Book became one of Australia’s earliest publications devoted to Italian food.
In 1981, the company was sold to a food marketing organisation which, in 1986, became part of the giant Bonlac dairy cooperative. Bonlac, in turn, was acquired by New Zealand-based Fonterra in 2005 and Perfect Cheese (now called Perfect Italiano) continues under that ownership. In 1985, members of the Italiano family began to produce a range of pasta and sauces under the Maria’s Pasta brand. The Perfect Cheese range is now limited to ricotta, parmesan, mozzarella and romano, plus a range of grated cheeses including a “Mexican Style” mix which, they say, will ‘complement your favourite Mex inspired dishes”.