PATRICIA ORTIZ: In fair Verona

Three of Patricia's favourite treats, including the Tiramisu in the centre. Picture: TARA GOONAN
Three of Patricia's favourite treats, including the Tiramisu in the centre. Picture: TARA GOONAN

The northern Italian city lays the scene for pasticciera Patricia Ortiz who was destined to recreate her Nonna Lucia's delectable sweet treats, writes Tania Panozzo.

THE secret to a great tiramisu is in the coffee -- strong; the sponge -- moist; and the mascarpone cream. But I can't say any more.

Albury's resident Italian pasticciera Patricia Ortiz is keeping the recipe close to her chest, well actually her heart. It is, after all, her grandmother's, dating back 50 years to the days when as a child she would frequent her Nonna Lucia's pasticceria in Verona.

"I like to cook treats that bring me back to my childhood and make me feel happy," Patricia says.

To this day she can still remember the "profumo di vaniglia e burro fresco che proveniva dalla sua cucina" ; the scent of vanilla and fresh butter wafting from the kitchen.

While Nonna Lucia's treats tended to the more traditional, like torte farcite, bigne (profiteroles) and crostate di frutta (fruit tarts), it has been the craftsmanship that has withstood the test of time -- and a traverse across the continents.

"My Nonna is still a constant inspiration in the kitchen because I try to recreate that sensation of hearty and warm food," Patricia says.

"She taught me the most important thing: the basic techniques.

"You have to master the basics if you want to cook properly. But the most important thing was to observe her, how she cared about the quality ... she cooked for customers like she cooked for her family."

Patricia Ortiz, of Patty's Patisserie,  displays the macarons made on site. Picture: TARA GOONAN

Patricia Ortiz, of Patty's Patisserie, displays the macarons made on site. Picture: TARA GOONAN

On Monday Italians will mark the Festa della Repubblica, the day in 1946 when the country voted in a referendum to abolish the monarchy. Post-war saw Italians unite against the monarchy, which had supported fascist leader Benito Mussolini's rule. About that time the Italian royal family was also exiled.

The public holiday became a time of "festa" or celebration: military parades, official ceremonies, parties and above all good food and family.

"You know, food is a very important thing in our culture, we are really passionate about the quality, fresh food, no artificial flavours," Patricia says. Something she honours in her kitchen at home in Albury as well as in the baking process at Patty's Patisserie in Olive Street.

And while tiramisu may be Italy's trademark dessert, it is but one of many "piccole tortine" (small gateaux) in Patricia's repertoire. There's Delizia alla Nocciola (a halzelnut delight) Pralinato (with praline the star), Ellisa (milk chocolate and glace orange) and the Caramellato, the triple caramel cake with chocolate mousse, and much more.

And then there is the salted caramel macaron that outsells all the others of its kind 10-fold. Not an easy feat when there's 20-plus flavours.

"Macaron", I hear you say. "They're French!" Not according to Patricia ... and the history books. When Catherine de' Medici, daughter of the ruling family of Florence, married Henry II of France in 1533, her pastry chefs took with them the original recipe.

"The name is actually derived from the Italian word macarone, maccarone or maccherone," Patricia says.

"I'm sure over the years the French contributed to the design and recipe but they are ours.

"It's a bit like the fight for the Pavlova or the Anzac biscuit, no?" Patricia laughs.

Click or flick through the gallery below for photos of Patricia's treats.

But the Border's love affair with the pretty petit delicacy was not instant.

When Patricia's boiler-maker-by-trade husband Florin arrived in Wodonga on a one-year working visa in May 2011, rural Australia was just taking to high tea and the wonders of petit pastries.

Florin always wanted to travel to Australia, so he picked six regional centres "but it was the support of the immigration officers from Wodonga Council, especially Brett Sanderson and Joanne Mcfarlane that attracted us to this region ... but it was the beauty of this place and the people that kept us here", says Patricia.

When Patricia and their daughter Ginevra joined Florin six months later, Patricia began baking. They took their macarons to Albury's Rotary market but sales were slow.

"We had to give them away (as a sample)!" Patricia recalls.

And then things changed. "Once people tried, they always came back for more, and the word spread quickly," she says.

Patricia admits she was a "late bloomer" when it came to following her passion. After spending her childhood in Brazil, she returned to Italy to study economics and business management in Verona and worked as a production manager in a food factory. But it was wasn't until her late 20s that she realised what was missing.

"I was preparing to get my master's when I decided to get a qualification as a pastry chef (in Italy) and did some courses in France as well. I worked for a while in a traditional pasticceria in Verona then started my own business when I had my baby."

And now, living and working on the Border has completed that dream.

"I love living here," Patricia says.

"People are so friendly and welcoming. You walk on the street and people talk to you even if they don't know you. It's not very common in the north of Italy, I think most people are more 'fredda' or cool towards strangers. There are also many parks and it's a lovely place to raise a child."

Will they return to Italy?

"It's hard to say, we never know. At the moment we want to stay."

*Patricia is keen to share her love of pastry-making. Classes in Italian macarons, eclairs, tarts, quiches and pies, and Italian cakes will be held at Patty's Pattiserie, 556 Olive Street, opposite the police station, from next month. Phone (02) 6021 4662, email or like her facebook page Patty's Patisserie.