Into this scene walks our foreign agent, a nondescript nonna with two jars of bubbling beige mousse: live sourdough culture, 100-years-old, from Sardegna, she explains, as she takes the lid off one of the jars and releases a delicious boozy-fruity aroma into the shop’s fevered atmosphere.
How she got this live culture from Sardegna to Preston is anyone’s guess (although the average long-haul airline passenger would have a pretty yeasty toe-jam going by the time they stepped off the plane): maybe a tiny jar in her hand luggage that the Border Force beagles failed to sniff out; maybe she brought it on a boat half a century ago when she was barely a mamma, never mind a nonna, feeding it carefully in her cabin every couple of days of the six-week sea journey and disembarking it at Station Pier in an otherwise empty cardboard suitcase.
But you can imagine the cry going out some time in the 1960s, when sliced white from a factory in Brunswick ruled the city’s bread baskets: someone recently off the boat would have been dying for a crust of the dense, wholesome bread of home.
And so a tiny jar of culture – Italians call it “la madre”, the mother – was smuggled into the country, part of a foreign plot against 1960s white-bread hegemony, blooming in a thousand kitchens and giving everyone a taste for real pane. All we needed was someone to plant an avocado tree: the rest would be Australian culinary history.
Biosecurity be damned! Here is a better way with bread. And proof, if anyone needs it, that Australia works best when we focus more on who comes in, and less on who we keep out.
Matt Holden is a regular columnist.