Small Goods Big Time
STORY & IMAGES BY RICHARD CORNISH
The plate is covered in salume. Fine pink folds of prosciutto. Slices of salami stippled with flecks of ground pepper. There are thicker slices of a hot salami, pieces of bresaola that fit perfectly on the tongue like meaty hosts and crowd pleasing kabana with a hit of a caraway. It’s that little note of spice, that nod towards Eastern Europe that sets the smallgoods at Istra apart from the rest of the field. “We came from a village near Pula on the Istra Peninsula in Croatia in 1974,” says Livio Jurcan. He pours a big glass of local red. He and his wife Lidia are incredibly hospitable. Over the old table in their small factory surrounded by farmland at Musk they have broken much bread and shared many plates of cured meats over the years. “That part of Croatia has been Italian many times as the border moved backwards and forwards,” he explains. “There we make salume just like the Italians do,” explains Livio.
When they left their home on the Adriatic Sea for a new life in Melbourne they missed the country life, the deciduous trees, the hills. In the 1980s they found a block in Musk and built a life for themselves growing a few vegetables and making salamis and pancetta like they did back home. “Friends from Croatia would come on the weekend and we would drink wine and have some salami,” remembers Lidia. Soon the friends wanted to take some home with them and Livio was killing several pigs at a time to keep up demand. He makes no secret now that back in the 1980s he was making and dealing cured meats under the table.
But then the Jurcans got serious. They built a proper meat processing facility and acquired the appropriate certification to produce preserved and fermented meats in 1987. Their first customers were the local Croats, Serbs and Slovenians who appreciated the authentic taste of quality smallgoods like they had from the butchers back home. “Then Tonna’s started selling our products and Cliffy’s did as well,” remembers Lidia. Success came at a price. They were processing 20 large pigs a week boning out whole cold carcasses, which took a toll on their bodies.
Their daughter Olivia comes into the room with a fresh loaf of bread and more salami is sliced. The Jurcans continue telling their story. In the 2000s Livio and Lydia’s two sons Bernie and Sebastian joined the business with Sebastian branching off a few years back to found Country Style Smallgoods. Bernie took on Istra Smallgoods with mum and dad taking on smaller roles. Success was found in distribution of the cured hams and bacon being sold in supermarkets and the aged prosciutto being taken on by arguably Australia’s best
butcher Victor Churchill in Woollahra in Sydney.
Then there is a sad silence at the table. Lidia looks to a photo on the wall of a handsome young man with dark hair and an infectious smile. There are many more photos of him around the walls. That is Bernie. He died suddenly in early 2017. A fanatical member of the Daylesford footy club it is estimated that there was 2000 people at his funeral to say goodbye.
Olivia slices some bread. She is a beautiful young woman. She has also taken on a massive responsibility. She inherited Istra Smallgoods from her late brother and now leads a team of nearly a dozen people, including full time former chefs who work as smallgoods makers. “I plan to concentrate on quality,” she says with a broad smile. “My family has worked so hard to make Istra such a great name in smallgoods,” says Olivia. “That is a recipe you don’t tamper with.” The Jurcans make eye contact, clink each others’ glasses and smile.
The Istra farmgate is open for retail sales offering a full range of ham, bacon and salume plus Eastern European preserves, mustards and spices.