Palma's Fab Five


We welcome Palma Casonto as Harper and Blohm's new store manager. We asked her to choose five of her favourite items. She managed to whittle it down to just two standout cheeses, figs in syrup, a fruit paste and dark chocolate – which she swears is a food group unto itself. While these items are not necessarily designed to go on a platter together, you do you. From here, we'll hand it over to Palma to tell her story.

Growing up in the Western districts on a dairy farm in a tiny hamlet called Dixe, the first generation of an Italian immigrant father, I never ate butter or drank milk. I couldn’t stand the smell, the texture or the taste. I think it had something to do with my childhood chores in the dairy yard.

Back then cheese consisted of that block in the blue packaging – we don’t have to name it. Charcuterie was ham, stras and if you were fancy, Don Hungarian salami. Being official wog kids, we also had mortadella.

Fast forward to the mid 90’s and I decided to follow my burgeoning passion for a career in food. I landed on my feet with a job at Phillippa's Bakery. Here, in just a small cabinet, I found my love of cheese. At that time, the imported cheese business, as well as quality Australian produce, was really taking off. We sold every pressing of Mount Zero olive oil.

It was at Phillippa’s that I met Will Studd, as he and Phillippa Grogan were President and Secretary of the ASCA (Australian Specialty Cheesemakers Association). I also learnt how to crack open a whole wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano. The taste of freshly cracked Parmigiano Reggiano is just amazing.

Several years later, I ended up with my dream job at Richmond Hill Café & Larder and I stayed there for 8.5 years. The most exciting part of my role was maturing cheese in the first ever humidified cheese room in the Southern hemisphere- brushing, washing and nurturing cheeses to become something exceptional. The excitement of cracking open an aged Ossau Iraty or a whole wheel of Comte and tasting them was always exciting. Even now the taste of a newly opened cheese excites me.

1. Queso Azul de Valdéon PGI
I love rich blue cheeses, especially Queso Valdeon a cow/goat milk blue cheese from Spain. Its natural rind allows the cheese to express the salty/savoury/sweet character of a good blue. My fail-safe stunner entree is as follows – fresh, purple figs cut in half, stuffed with a piece of Valdeon, wrapped in jamon, then grilled and nestled on a bed of rocket dressed with balsamic and good olive oil. My favourite wine match is a classic Australian Sparkling Shiraz.

2. Holy Goat La Luna Barrel
My other favourite cheese is La Luna from Holy Goat. I have a lot of time and admiration for everything that Carla and Ann-Marie produce, along with their mindful ethics of production. La Luna, I still believe, is the best goat cheese in Australia. I love giving it in a blind tasting to a French person and they swear it is French. Bravo ladies!

3. Wild Figs in Vino Cotto
Having worked in such Melbourne institutions as King & Godfree and Leo’s Fine Food & Wine, I’ve been exposed lots of interesting ingredients. Vino Cotto is made from the must of dark grapes which have been cooked slowly, resulting in a sweet, aromatic syrup. Here it is matched with my favourite fruit, figs. Perfetto!

4. JimJam Fruit Paste
I’ve had the joy of knowing Maggie (owner of Jim Jam) for many years and, although retired, she does not slow down. These perfectly sized small jars of various fruit pastes are great to go with cheese but also for cooking. The grape paste can be heated, loosened with a little verjus (my favourite is Mt. Zero) then used as glaze for meat; it is especially good with lamb.

5. Ratio Cocoa Roasters 63% Dark Chocolate
I discovered Ratio Cocoa Roasters when sourcing product for King & Godfree. Owner Debbie Makin is a true bean to bar producer. I love dark chocolate of 80% and above (her Ecuadorian cocoa is amazing 100% dark chocolate). the Melbourne Blend bar is a great way to introduce people to the joys of dark chocolate. Plus, the packaging makes for a great gift with the iconic views of Melbourne.