“I love it because it means the food is super local and I can help teach others about things that are right under their noses,” explains Mic Giuliani, a towering Italian whose heart lies in the kitchen. Spend a morning out and about with this ingenious Carlton River local and you’ll uncover his lifelong passion for foraging. “I spend a lot more time gathering seasonal foods than I get a return on, but I just love it.”
What is a swampy paddock to most, is a virtual market garden to Mic. His eyes see things the rest of us don’t. Where we’d brush past some weeds on a morning stroll with the dog, Mic bends to pick some wild asparagus. “There’s food everywhere,” Mic explains, adding a bunch of greens to his wicker basket. “I’m not talking about visiting isolated and exotic locations. Your everyday park, garden, track…they’re all full of things I use in my cooking.”
Mic fondly recalls a childhood that centred around food. “Like all good Italians, our family loves food,” grins Mic. “When we were growing up the table was always laden with home cooked dishes. You’d struggle to eat it all, then, somehow, more would appear.” Mic tells stories of his parents cooking up huge batches of rich passata and him being involved ever since he could walk.
Mic’s earliest foraging memories centre around his mother’s parents. “My grandparents foraged a lot and their knowledge was naturally passed down through the generations.” Although his own parents moved from Italy to a farm in Victoria in the 1950’s, they continued to forage to supplement everyday family meals. “In post-World War II Italy, foraging was very important,” recalls Mic. “As kids we were always collecting wild mushrooms. It was very much the norm to go for a family drive, have a wander, and come back with a big basket of food. It was just what you did back then.”
Wild asparagus was always a spring favourite. “We’d wander along the railway lines near home picking asparagus,” Mic reminiscences. “We’d pick for a couple of hours and easily gather more than five kilos…then we’d head home and spend the evening preserving.” He goes on to reveal, “Even today, asparagus is the real taste of spring for me – you can’t beat a fresh asparagus frittata.”
He’s no stranger to trying new things either. “I pick things and just give them a try,” says Mic. “I’ll take a little bit home and try it in a recipe and just see what works.” Wild radish, rocket, cabbage, grape hyacinth, mushrooms, asparagus, salsify, plantain…the ingredient list goes on.
Once common on Tassie roadsides, mushrooms are a little harder to come by than in the past. Mic explains, “Field mushrooms need manure, however the poisonous yellow stainers are much more common these days. I cooked some up by accident once – luckily the odour gave the game away…you do have to be a little bit careful.”
Pine mushrooms, or slippery jacks, grow in a forest environment, whilst the bright orange saffron milk caps are usually found in fields adjacent to well established pine trees. “Both types require pines, and tend to come on from around mid-April,” explains Mic. “A dip in temperature and a bit of rain keep things going until mid-June. You get to know the seasons and what appears when.”
“I’ve got a great new wild mushroom pate recipe,” continues Mic. “I sell a lot of my mushrooms at the market fresh as they’re always in demand, but I save a few for the pate. It uses a bit of Nonesuch Distillery sloe gin, a local Tassie drop, and it is just beautiful.” Having jumped on board the Spirit of Tasmania recently to treat guests to tastings, the verdict seems clear, “I’ve had tourists hunt me out at the market specifically to take some of it back home with them. I think I’m on a winner.”
“There is a real swing towards supporting local producers here in Tasmania, and a move away from corporate food,” explains Mic. “People are really interested in the back story of what they eat. That’s the bit I love, showing people how they can enjoy what’s right on their doorstep.”
“Part of the beauty of Tasmania lies in the fact that much of it is untouched. That also means that there are still foods around that remain pretty much untapped. We don’t want to exploit them, but sometimes it’s good to take a look at the place with fresh eyes.”
Mic’s background is almost as intriguing as the food he serves up. A commercial diver, communications specialist, theatre production manager, call centre trainer…the many and varied roles keep coming. “I’ve done lots of different things and travelled all over the world,” he reflects. “But wherever I’ve gone I’ve always lived by the policy to try what the locals eat. I’ve tried some pretty interesting things in my time too.”
After marrying Tassie girl Jo, one thing led to another and the pair made the decision to move their young family close to Jo’s parents, about 40 minutes outside of Hobart. “We’d made a few trips to Tassie, but on one particular occasion I just stepped off the plane and really felt like I’d come home.”
A hand painted ‘For Sale’ sign on a block of land with a killer ocean view sealed the deal. “I remember those early days when we were building,” Mic recalls. “I’d walk the kids in the pram and get really excited finding asparagus growing on the fringe of a local pine forest. Lucky for the kids the pram was a 4WD model – they did a fair bit of off-roading!”
“My knowledge of this area has really grown over the years and I can pretty well find what I need. There’s always something in season, always something to find.” When asked what he enjoys about foraging the most, Mic replies, “I’m always chatting and sharing what I do. I love introducing people to new things… things they don’t know anything about.” He pauses for a moment before adding, “Foraged food is tied to everyone’s heritage. It’s sad that now we have generations that don’t know what’s right in front of them.”
Sirocco South was born 8 years ago as a means for Mic to share pre-prepared authentic Italian home cooking with others. His catchcry of ‘nothing artificial’ sums up the brand’s philosophy. “My lasagne will cost you double what you’d pay at the supermarket, but I can tell you exactly what’s in it and how it’s been cooked. More and more people are coming to value and appreciate that.”
You’ll often find Mic at the Farm Gate Market in Hobart, a bustling collection of local producers peddling their fresh, seasonal wares direct to the public. In between selling out of his ever popular spinach and ricotta cannelloni, he’s chatting to locals about foraging and musing over possible new recipes. “Foraging and experimenting keeps me charged,” he grins. “I love meeting people and sharing things.”
A local favourite is Sirocco South’s own cannoli. The sweet pastry treat is famously known as ‘the best in Tassie’ and for good reason. Foodies swoon over the crispy shell filled with vanilla and chocolate custard or Sicilian cream. To celebrate whiskey week recently it was a limited edition ‘drunken sloe and chocolate and custard’. Simply divine.
The market menu is seasonal and ever changing. Wild rabbit with figs and spices, slow cooked ragu, fresh homemade gnocchi, buckshorn plantain with garlic, white beans and olive oil, saffron arancini – it’s all deliciously mouthwatering.
“The buckshorn is fantastic right now,” enthuses Mic. “It’s very fibrous, but if you boil it up the texture turns really creamy. It has a similar flavour to endive and is sensational when done with some white beans, garlic and olive oil and served with some rustic bread, like a ciabatta.” Mic explains the link to his heritage, “It’s straight from the World War II era. Italians call it ‘cucina povera’, or the ‘poor people’s kitchen.” Essentially, this traditional peasant style of cooking utilises whatever is found in the kitchen, or on the farm to prepare meals. It’s about making great food with simple, yet high quality, and available ingredients.
Mic’s wife Jo, along with kids Max and Aurora often pitch in to help. You’ll find them manning market stalls as a family and chatting with visitors as they serve Sirocco South’s gourmet delights up at special events like Dark MOFO and the Taste of Tasmania. “The kids used to love coming foraging when they were little, but now as teenagers I can tend to be a bit embarrassing!” Mic laughs, “I’m always stopping in parks, fossicking along the footpath and nosing in other people’s gardens.”