My name is Mandy Kennedy and over the last 25-plus years I’ve worked in the hospitality and food industries: managing cafes, restaurants, a butcher shop, even cooking paella for 100 people on a weekly basis. Most recently, I’ve had the privilege of working with some of Victoria’s best producers and providores. Being a food writer isn’t always the most glamorous of occupations but it sure does mean I get to visit some cool places. So, I jumped at the chance to take a behind the scenes tour of charcuterie specialist City Larder’s new production facility in Coburg North.
As I step out of my car one wintery morning an icy blast sweeps along the road but the moment we’re inside, it’s a different story altogether. Instantly, the wind is tamed and I bask in the sun which shines in through the large windows. From the reception area, a series of sizable windows provide a porthole to the constant hum of work within, beckoning me forth.
Watching charcutiers at work is captivating. White-coated chefs hunch over benches, carefully adding the finishing touches to slices of terrine, while in a room beyond commercial mixers paddle away mesmerizing the casual observer.
Today is all about making terrines and these hard-working chefs have had an early start as the multi-part process is exacting and cannot be rushed. After prepping the meat, it is mixed with the various aromatics and placed into the long, metal moulds (confusingly also called terrines). They are then double-wrapped and placed into water baths so that they heat gradually and cook gently, ensuring a melt-in-the-mouth result. After all, texture is just as important as taste when it comes to the perfect terrine.
When they’ve reached the desired temperature, each one is checked for the correct internal temperature, allowed to rest on the bench for a short time, then rolled into the cavernous cool rooms, pressed, and put to bed overnight.
Whiteboards in each room allow for clear communication between team members regarding what stage the production is at. Meticulous record-keeping is all part and parcel of City Larder’s commitment to the Australian HACCP Food Safety Program guidelines along all points of the supply chain. Each room, fridge, and freezer is also temperature controlled with alarms set to alert for any deviation.
Unsurprisingly, there are hand sanitation points dotted around the entire facility, multiple boot-washing stations as well as hoses and drain points to assist the clean-up process. It’s clear how seriously the team takes hygiene and sanitation, so much so that the walls, benches, and even the floors still have that bright and shiny new look after months of production.
In between tasks, chef Chris Budicin takes a few minutes to answer some questions.
Tell me what’s the best thing about working for City Larder
“I’ve worked with Robbie before and there’s real satisfaction doing high-level restaurant-quality work only with more agreeable hours. But honestly, day in and day out it’s the people you work with, your team, that really make it enjoyable.”
How are you finding the new facility?
“It’s the realisation of Robbie’s vision. In the last place, we were constantly shifting things around in fridges to make space. Here, we can load product onto trays, stack them and roll them straight into the cool room. It’s going to be a behemoth.
Also, the windows throughout the building make you feel like you’re not shut off from the rest of the team. It’s so nice to see other people’s faces, not closed off in a kitchen.”
We leave Chris to continue the delicate work of chicken terrine making and continue our tour. Walking along the wide corridors, we spy chefs overseeing the gleaming new machinery, which not only means more precise production but also increased production. What used to take them all week can now be completed within a day.
It’s not all glamour though; their long white cotton coats still bear the marks of the trade and dishes still need to be done. Thankfully, there’s industrial-grade dishwashing equipment on hand to make the task easier. In fact, Robbie is spotted doing a load just as we leave. After all, each member of the team is just as valuable as the next.
Strolling back through the facility, the overwhelming impression is one of a truly considered approach to the flow of production. Large roller doors allow raw materials in one side and finished products out the other. Occupational health and safety are front and foremost, from the space to move easily around the facility without congestion to limiting the need to lift product. Seriously, they have a very cool trolley that can wheel stacked trays of terrine directly into the oven, no lifting required. This new production facility is all about smart design.
That same philosophy extends to City Larder’s approach to sustainability. The new Coburg facility is about to have its first solar panels installed. Cardboard boxes and plastic containers are of course recycled and no polystyrene packaging is part of their system at any point. In fact, chicken meat is supplied via a rotation system of reusable crates, similar to what is used internally between the new facility and the distribution warehouse. Their principal courier is certified carbon neutral, and on a more domestic level, the pate and rillettes glass jars are easily repurposed in your pantry (perfect for storing spices).
The tour concludes with a brief glimpse of the soon-to-be-completed test kitchen and office space upstairs. It’s easy to imagine the space full of cooking school students learning all about the fine art of charcuterie.
Intrusive thoughts of lunch persist though - some crusty bread and a generous slice of City Larder Free Range Pork, Hazelnut and Apricot Terrine - its barely perceptible hint of garlic, the welcome nubbins of roasted hazelnuts, and just enough dried apricot for balance.
Now, time to go shopping.
- Tags: charcuterie, chef, chorizo, city larder, classic recipe, france, french, french classic, french cooking, robbie bell