BIOGRAPHY: SAM MONTALTO
Sam Montalto’s cheesemaking journey is a classic case of history repeating itself – in the best possible way.
The cheese manufacturer, who was born in the southern Italian region of Solarino in Sicily, is the founder of Monte Fresco Cheese located in the suburb of Smithfield in Sydney. It is a family affair in all aspects, with its very own workers being Sam’s cheesemaker parents Salvatore and Pina, his three daughters, Valentina, Leia & Stefanie, along with his sister Francesca and her son Marco.
The Montalto family have had a long and enduring love affair with cheese – almost half a century’s worth in fact. The strong family heritage of cheesemaking dates back to the early 1960’s in Australia, and in the decades before that in Italy, where Sam’s father Salvatore learned his skill from his father, who had been mastering traditional Italian cheesemaking for years. Salvatore tells stories of his earlier days where he’d eat fresh batches of warm ricotta on the family farm in Italy. He recalls when the mini delivery was ever inconsistent, he’d gather three types of milk - cow’s, goat’s, and sheep’s, grab an old pot and stove and make his own, pairing it with the bread he’d stuffed previously in his pocket!
After arriving in Australia by boat in 1959, Salvatore brought his passion for cheese along with him, heading up the ricotta production at his brother’s cheese plant, Floridia Cheese, in Melbourne for several years. He proudly recounts the story where warm ricotta would be sent to Sydney in banana boxes by train.
Several years later, Salvatore relocated to Sydney with Pina following not far behind. It wasn’t long before he approached major cheese manufacturer, Brancourts (who were making only farm cheese at the time), with a paperless resume - in its place, a reputation he’d forged which was already being talked about. Salvatore was ready to show people, and the ‘Australiani’, a desire for a product they didn’t even know they’d wanted yet! Before long, the buzz around this new ‘ricotta’ product started and soon, Brancourts were among the first players in Sydney to produce it, with a high demand for it to follow. “Ricotta was made six days a week, and on Sundays there was a line up for it!"
Sam, now 56, began as a young and eager employee at Brancourts in 1976, though by then he’d already known his way around the factory floor as he’d watched his parents make cheese since they’d started there in 1967. “I was creating cheese all the time and then saw our products in the shop - It gave me a sense of achievement and when people praised the products, it made me feel good.”
When his mum and dad retired after dedicating almost 50 years to creating cheese, Sam continued to work at Brancourts until it closed its manufacturing in 2005. He then went on to work for various cheese manufacturers, however, his dream of opening up his very own factory was never far from his mind.
After finding the Smithfield premises for his business, it took Sam two long years of renovating and refurbishing. He had made it his mission to ensure that every last inch of the space was up to his standards for the site of his life-long dream. When it was finally ready to open its doors, it was beginning to sink in to Sam that his dream was finally becoming a reality and so, on the 2nd August 2015, Monte Fresco Cheese was open for business! The opening date wasn't a significant date for Sam at the time, though by a ‘lovely accident’, it is now, as it’s the ‘feast day of Santo Paolo, the patron saint of my hometown in Sicily’. A photo of the Saint now hangs in the Monte Fresco office, as does the first $10 made from the first sale of the business.
Sam believes the art of ricotta making is not just following a recipe, but that ‘it's all in the heart.. You’ve got to feel it!’ It is with this exact passion and appreciation for fine quality product that has lead Sam to open up Monte Fresco Cheese and wanting to share those quality products with the world. Sam’s intention is not for people to just buy ricotta for a recipe because they need it, but for them to want to ‘go home, spoon it out and eat it straight from the basket!’
With Sam’s family making up majority of the factory’s employees, it is a constant reminder that the backbone of the business is with thanks to the parents who have paved the way to this love affair with cheese. Salvatore, now 81, and his wife Pina, 76, are integral parts of their son’s business today, working the factory floor, with no signs of slowing down!
So why the name Monte Fresco? With the Italian word ‘fresco’ translating to fresh in English, and ‘monte’ incorporating the beginning of Sam’s surname, Sam describes that every brand name needs to mean something to their owner, and to him, his sure does. ‘When people come to enjoy the cheese, it will all make sense.’
Well, you heard him!
Monte Fresco Cheese is located at
753 The Horsley Drive, Smithfield.