By focusing on a small range Angelina Mariani can reproduce the supremely high quality of her product time and time again.
These exquisite edible baubles can be found on the counters of the best delicatessens in Western Australia. People on the way to morning tea or who want to drop a bomb of sweet decadence in to a dreary party-plan evening snatch up her products and present them to their hosts with well-deserved kudos.
On bright Autumn day I pay a visit to Angelina’s Biscotti factory. A sea of blue-tiled villa rooves is dotted with mature fig trees, stucco verandahs and older Mediterranean ladies tending broad beans and rocket plants. The Indian ocean gleams in the background. This has to be South Freo.
It is in fact her former childhood family home, now converted with the highest professional standards to a bakery. I make my way up the drive and am greeted by one of the aforementioned older Ladies, who asks me if I like rocket. From the heavenly aroma I can tell it is Almond Biscotti day.
The whole loaves are cooling in their tins. Once they have reached about 40 degrees C, they will be turned out and cooled to room temperature. Their density means this takes time, and Angelina never rushes her baking. The next unit operation for all biscotti is wrapping in foil for up to 6 days before slicing. This makes the crumb closer yet he almonds still have sufficient lipid content to make them succulent and retain their bite. The wheat-based biscuit is so evenly dried there is indeed hardly a crumb dropped when eaten. Angelina bakes Almond Biscotti on Thursdays and slices Tuesdays, she could rush to meet demand but that would impact on quality and that is something she simply does not do.
I am pretty keen to take a sample to the lab, put them in the desiccator for a week and test for moisture content to calculate their water activity value which is clearly low enough to require a only straightforward cellophane non gas-flushed packaging.
Angelina is busy hand spooning portions of glossy meringue on to baking trays, each one an almost perfect sphere. These will become Pink Delight, the rose water flavoured meringues that look like camelia blooms and conceal roasted almonds at their centres.
“I’ll get the coffee, sit down. What would you like to go with it?” The choice of all eight products is being offered but I settle on Chocolate Diamonds , made with olive oil not butter or trans fat shortening.
I insist she goes back to portioning the Pink Delights and, trying to keep out of her way, and begin to ask questions. Angelina began learning her trade when she was 17. One of her cousins was from Vasto, a region in central Italy famous for its delicately spiced pastries, and Angelina would watch her bake. Her Italian – Abbruzzese mother-in-law and her Croatian Mother, Antica, regularly made biscotti and Angelina reckons she didn’t perfect the recipes and techniques until she was 23. Angelina’s Biscotti opened for business in 2011. One of her wisest moves was to focus on excellence and reproducable quality over a small number of products rather than diversify her range and loose control of quality. There are no fad flavour combinations, and no bespoke off-piste productions. Being a small business, she is in a strong position to control the quality of her product and her reputation.
” I was recently asked for 200 Pink Delights for an engagement party, in Sydney. I was flattered and wanted to help. My husband (he legendary guitarist Dom Mariani ) was flying in to Mascott to start a tour, it flickered through my mind that he could take them with him as hand luggage and … ” I stop her there. Imagine the sate of the meringues so dependent on correct humidity to avoid going gooey after all that travel, not to mention that Dom is used to hauling well-cased Gibsons not delicate confections, no, it could never happen. “I did think about it for a moment, but I’m too much of a control freak,” confides Angelina. And I applaud her for that attribute, it is one of the reasons her products are so reliably excellent.
Logistics aside, Angelina briefly considered doing the job for publicity. However, where so many small producers grasp on to any chance of increased profile, she stopped to think that creating a market in Sydney would take the focus off her business in WA. Life is sweet in South Fremantle, her products are famous around town and always in high demand, for example the Pink Delights won pick of the box from the Urban Locavore customers in 2012.
180 hand shaped Pink Delights are finally put in the oven, “To dry out rather than to bake,” explains Angelina before setting the timer and turning her attention to the job of packaging the latest batch of bottoni. While Angie’s products have a very high turnover in retail outlets such as The Boatshed and The Good Grocer she must anticipate the long term quality controls especially around shelf-life and use-by dates. All small producers must undertake a risk assessment report of their practices, premises and products for the department of Environmental Health. Labelling is a very tricky path to navigate. The Food Standards Australia and New Zealand agency (FSANZ), which governs food production standards, has no fewer than seven documents under the Labelling section of its user guides which musy be followed to the letter. There is a lot more to selling products commercially than being good at cooking.
The packages are filled and closed by hand with a golden wire. Mechanisation could happen, but the investment and relinquishment of control would be things Angelina would have to address and balance against far she wants to spread her brand. While she could be supplying retail outlets round the clock and exporting interstate, she takes opportunities to combine research and development with quality family time. “Dom is touring Europe in the winter and I going to join him and catch up with my daughter in London. Perhaps San Sebastian and Barcelona too.” l am Very Happy For Her, naturally.
As the last package is placed in the carton, the kitchen door is swung open by an older Mediterranean Lady, smiling and carrying freshly baked calzone filled with mozzarella and tomatoes, garlic and rocket from her garden. It is Angelina’s mother, Antica. “For you, with rocket.”
With working conditions like this it is no wonder you can taste the quality and authenticity in every one of Angelina’s Biscotti.