ASK Joe Stella about food and the answer is all about home. The artisan alchemist behind Stellacello talks to us about growing up in Australia, Amaro London, and the pleasures of cannoncini.
Growing up in Melbourne Australia, food and drink has always been about family. "As someone with an Italian heritage, this love and passion, this enjoyment of food and bringing it to the table is engrained in me. These traditions are deep within people’s way of life and the way that they eat. So even for me as a second generation Australian I hold these Italian traditions very close to my heart.”
Now living in London, Joe launched Stellacello in 2012 from his home in Bethnal Green, taking inspiration from family recipes that originated in Italy over three generations ago. “I have always been very passionate about food: cooking, curing meat and crafting cheeses, and making liquors to have at home to share.”
However, the journey from home liqueurs to a creating a recognised brand in London was in his own words an “accidental” one. A friend asked to stock one of his liqueurs at her restaurant - The Lardo in London's East End, and success followed with clients now including Ottolenghi, Polpo and Tate Modern.
There are two liqueurs in the Stellacello range: Pompelmo and Amaro London. Crafted from pink grapefruit, Pompelmo was very much inspired by the simple liqueurs made by Joe’s parents at their home in Melbourne. It offers a refreshing take on the all familiar Italian classic - Limoncello. In contrast is the Amaro London. Two years in the making, Joe confesses that early test bottles of this Italian bitter are still scattered around his house, so complex was the alchemy of its number and diversity of ingredients. A long time fan of Italian amari, he wanted to create something unique, fulfilling the challenge of creating Britain’s first Amaro.
Explaining the difference between the two, Joe shares: “The Pompelmo is relatively simple in terms of flavour with its sweet zesty aromas and subtle tartness. The Amaro is a bitter-sweet herbal liquor with soft citrus overtones that accentuate the combination of locally sourced herbs, fruits and spices.” (He offers some recipes below.)
As for his next release, Joe has no plans for the immediate future but does concede that the lure of alchemy calls. He gives little away of his current projects, except to say that he wants to continue creating liqueurs that he would be proud to serve to family and friends. In doing so, he remains true to his cultural heritage and the knowledge that the pleasure of food and drink is when it is shared.
You can find a full listing of where to try and buy Stellacello liqueurs here.
LONDON AS A FOOD CITY
Since arriving eight years ago, London has changed dramatically as a food city. I rarely drank coffee outside of my home when we arrived. Now London has some of the best restaurants in the world here, great coffee, and the most amazing markets that are giving people the opportunity to present what they are making and are passionate about. The fact the more and more people in London and elsewhere in Britain are open to the idea of drinking tipples like my amaro and other interesting aperitivi is a very positive thing indeed!
UK FOOD HERO
Not so much of a UK food hero, but my food hero is my Mum: she is an effortless passionate cook, takes pride in what she does, and has a wonderful fruit and vegetable garden that she tends to and cooks from almost every day.
Where do I begin? There's Lardo in Hackney for their tantalising in-house fennel pollen salami, black anise pepperoni and lard. London Borough of Jam in Clapton for their amazingly colourful and fresh seasonal jams. Lily Vanilli for her beautiful artistic approach to baking, using the most wonderfully unique ingredients. And for outside of London ... Sussex-based distillery Blackdown Artisan Spirits. Their Sussex dry gin which uses birch sap from a nearby forest as a botanical gives it a unique provenance which results in a seductively smooth gin!
LONDON FOOD SECRET
The list is endless but one secret of mine is the ‘cannoncini’ from Princi in Wardour Street Soho. It’s a custard-filled Italian pastry that is worth queuing for.
FAVOURITE LONDON MARKET
There are so many to mention. London has fantastic markets!!! It’s hard to go past Borough Market as an epicentre that represents the best of British produce. In the East End, my local favourite is Broadway Market on a Saturday; the Bánh Mì reminds me of growing up in Melbourne. Then of course Columbia Road Flower Market on a Sunday, I love to watch the seasons change there, with the different flowers and plants. Something I find both beautiful and inspirational.
RECIPES TO TRY AT HOME
25ml Stellacello Pompelmo Liqueur
Topped with Prosecco and soda water
Garnish with pink grapefruit and a green sicilian olive
An East End Negroni
One part Stellacello ‘Amaro London’
One part London Dry Gin
One part Sweet Vermouth
Served over ice and garnish with pink grapefruit zest
JUNE INTERVIEW| ADRIENNE TREEBY OF CROWN & QUEUE