Australian hospitality has spent the last six months pivoting, pirouetting, oscillating, and swivelling, just to survive. Equally, artisan producers have struggled, first battling bushfires and now the pandemic. The majority of specialised food businesses, if they were good enough, mainly sold their product directly to restaurants.
But when the restaurant industry went down, producers suddenly had no one to sell to, and at that point hadn't factored in the retail market. Without restaurants to visit in Victoria and a growing caution when it comes to dining out in NSW, home cooks have also pivoted, seeking out better quality ingredients to make restaurant-quality food out of their domestic kitchens.
"Normally, 90 per cent of our product ends up in restaurants. [COVID-19 has] been a big hit for us - as it has been for everyone - and we were lucky we already had our online shop set up," says Yarra Valley Caviar's Nick Gorman who has also just started selling his caviar in Sydney via the delivery app, DoorDash. "I would never have thought there'd be as much interest in our product to the home consumer, to be honest. It's great, but it also tells me that maybe we should have been a bit more diverse pre-COVID and made more of an effort with the retail."
Pierre Issa, owner and founder of boutique dairy company Pepe Saya, lost over 80 per cent of his business when coronavirus hit (he held the butter contract for Qantas, as well as Sydney's better restaurants and cafes that weren't churning their own) and had to rethink his entire business model. Issa switched to ecommerce, setting up an online store and collaborating with other makers such as Crumpets by Merna and smallgoods business Pino's Dolce Vita to deliver across Australia.
He's also launching Aussie Artisan Week (August 17-23). As a business that's always had deep roots in community and collaboration, there wasn't much of a struggle getting other makers on board to support the initiative, all about encouraging Australians to make a conscious decision to buy direct from smaller Australian businesses.
"An artisan is completely transparent," says Issa. "If someone comes and asks you 'how is this product made?' you tell them. That's what makes it artisan. If you try to see how milk is made from one of the big companies, you'll never find out. You can never walk in there. You can't go to a supermarket and ask a person at the deli counter how the cheese is made. That's the distinction."
An artisan is completely transparentPierre Issa
For small businesses that aren't set up for ecommerce, there are digital providores such as Dan Sims who runs Mould Collective, an artisan Australian cheese delivery service. "We need to amplify Australian artisans," says Sims, who delivers nationwide. "Yes, we can look to Europe for certain cheeses just as we do for wine, but what we're doing here is phenomenal.
"Australia makes the best Australian cheese in the world," he says. "There's so much uncertainty in the world right right now, but if we can provide a bit of certainty to cheese makers and help them move their product, that can only be a good thing."
"You live how you want to live," says Issa, who wants to get people away from shopping in supermarkets and back to neighbourhood small business and farmers' markets. "That's your choice. We're just saying this one time, give it a go. Look outside of the box for two seconds. One week out of 52."
Top five artisans you should get to know
Cultured butter, outrageously creamy creme fraiche and buttermilk for all your dairy needs are just a few of the things you'll be tempted to Add to Cart. pepesaya.com.au
Yarra Valley Caviar
Unsure what to do with those fancy fish eggs? Nick Gorman likes grabbing some local crumpets, pan frying them in a bit of Pepe Saya butter, slathering them in creme fraiche and putting the caviar on top. yarravalleycaviar.com.au
Mould Cheese Collective
Try cheeses from the country's best producers - many made just for Mould and not available to buy in-store. Artisan and exclusive, the ultimate double attack. mouldcheesefestival.com
Pino's Dolce Vita
The original Sydney artisan, this Kogorah-based butcher and smallgoods store were the first to introduce 'nduja, everyone's favourite spicy Calabrian pork paste, to the city. They also do amazing sausages. pinosdolcevita.com.au
Bourke Street Bakery
Lovers of sourdough will be across this small chain of bakeries which also offers the city's best pork and fennel sausage roll, and a ginger creme brulee tart good enough to make you faint with joy. bourkestreetbakery.com.au