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La Tosca Food Processing Company, Melbourne

Food Label - La Tosca Salsa Di Pomodoro Tomato Paste, 1950s

Image: Food Label - La Tosca Salsa Di Pomodoro Tomato Paste, 1950s

Source: Museum Victoria

The company was founded by Lionello ('Nello') Borghesi in 1947 at 12 Bennetts Lane, Melbourne. His wife Bruna helped with the operation. It produced tomato concentrate, tuna, asparagus, peppers and a bolognese sauce under the label of 'Sugodoro' (golden sauce). The tomato paste was the most popular product and was predominantly sold to Italian delicatessens and restaurants to make the base of sauces, usually for pasta. The same label was used from 1947-52.

The vegetables were supplied by Victoria Market and the tomatoes were from Werribee market gardens. In 1952 the production of the canned vegetable products stopped and only the tomato sauce line of Sugodoro continued. This was due to competition with large companies such as Heinz and Campbells, as the family could never hope to meet the mass production abilities of these large companies. The production of Sugodoro sauce continued until 2005, when new regulations made the production of the product too expensive and difficult.

In 1952 Nello began the production of fresh ravioli under the label of La Tosca Pasta. Ravioli, considered a specialty product only made for special occasions, was the first pasta product the family made, in the family home. Nello and Bruna would work together to roll the pasta by hand, using basic equipment. The product would be made in the mornings then delivered in the afternoons. It was a very labour intensive process and the whole family would help in the production.

The family found it difficult to introduce the pasta to the Anglo-Australian consumers. The Italian-Australian market also had to be convinced that the product was as good as what they could make themselves. Deliveries were made to most Melbourne Italian food outlets, such as Agostino's in Swanston Street; Carlton, Varrenti's and Caputi's in Lygon Street, Carlton; and to Italian restaurants, such as Florentino's, The Society, Ricco's, The Latin, Marios, Mollina and the Ritz. Later, in the 1950s and 1960s, the business grew to catering for weddings and non-Italian eateries. This can be considered the period when the company really expanded.

In 1957-58 La Tosca's first ravioli machine was purchased from a Greek café in Swanston Street, Melbourne. The machine was used at the Bennetts Lane factory. The machine is still owned by the family and is in original condition, except that it has been repainted from blue to cream.  When the business expanded Nello ordered a bigger machine from Italy, bringing another smaller machine soon after.

From the 1960s the pasta products were no longer delivered dry, but were frozen. In 1970 new automatic machines were purchased from Italy to reduce the labour needed to produce the products. However, the family still produced dry pasta for special occasions such as Christmas and Easter. In 1972 the expanding company moved into a purpose-built factory at 331-333 Victoria Street, Brunswick where it remains.

Today, the only sauce produced by La Tosca is Sugodoro but the company is best known for its fresh pasta products. From the 1990s the family began to make a greater range of fillings (for example, vegetarian mixes) to cater for a wider market.

References:
Church, Julia (2005). Per l'Australia : The story of Italian migration. Carlton: Miegunyah Press.
Pascoe, Robert (1987). Buongiorno Australia : Our Italian heritage. Richmond: Greenhouse Publications.
Photographs of La Tosca business and Borghesi family held by Italian Historical Society, Carlton.

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