66 Latitude Blvd Thomastown, VIC 3074
|Opening hours||Tue-Sat 8am-5pm, Sun 8am-4pm|
|Features||Family friendly, Licensed, Outdoor seating|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 9463 4222|
There's a look that comes over people when they arrive at That's Amore Cheesery for the first time. It's a baffled melding of wonder and delight, expressed in exclamation and a giddiness that sees newcomers turning hither and thither, wondering what fresh delights will appear.
This way a lifesize blue-and-white statue of a cow, that way a rampant herb garden, ahead an array of gaily painted ceramic heads (if you've been to Sicily, you may remember these plant pots known as Teste Di Moro). And over there – ooh, wow, look! – fridges laden with cheese.
The surprise is amplified by the location, an industrial park in the factory-sprinkled northern suburbs. As you swoop around the optimistically titled "boulevard" into the carpark, there's no indication that you're about to be encompassed by such abundance, nor fed such careful, proud Italian food by waiters inculcated with welcoming spirit.
That's Amore was founded by Sicilian immigrant Giorgio Linguanti in 2008 when he started making bocconcini for restaurants. The business now turns Victorian cow and buffalo milk into 65 different cheeses, fresh and aged, traditional and wacky (there's a new one that takes botanicals from a local gin distillery and infuses them into cheese).
It's a wonderful Melbourne success story, responsible for making oozy burrata a regular menu item in our restaurants and teaching the broader community that mozzarella can be so much more than plasticky stretchy stuff on pizza.
With the factory out back, the indoor-outdoor cafe is a place to showcase the cheese made on site, as well as a heartfelt expression of hospitality. "We want to treat people like our friends, as though they are coming to our house," says Linguanti.
That's the vibe, for sure, but the food offering goes way beyond the domestic. All-day breakfast might mean poached eggs with lemon ricotta or eggs benedict with crumbed caciotta, a fresh cheese.
The antipasto is a bountiful plate of house cheeses, excellent green olives and an exciting parcel of mortadella wrapped around stracciatella, a curdy mess of mozzarella bathed in cream. It's tremendously good.
Belly pork is rolled with garden-grown herbs and roasted to create a porchetta with exceptional crackling. You can have it with salad and potatoes, or stuffed into one of the excellent panini.
Made with tall crusty rolls, the panini are a meal and a marvel. Other good filling options include the Pugliese, which is stuffed with schnitzel (the chicken is filleted and crumbed here with housemade herb crumb – the from-scratch ethic is excellent), and the Helen, which is piled with caciocavallo (aged mozzarella), semi-dried tomatoes and spinach.
Chef Carlos Naspiran does creative burrata specials: a recent offering was served with celeriac mash and rocket pesto.
There's always room for cannoli, crisp tubes of pastry piped with a sweetened ricotta mix flavoured with either cinnamon or chocolate. Have one of each and save the hard decisions for drinks: coffee and Prosecco both love romancing with cannoli. Whichever way you look at it, that's amore.