Perhaps experience has taught us to be cynical about mass produced food, but when the factory in question is run by the outstanding chef Cosmo Tamburro, you know that rapture is more likely to be your response.
This family business on the outskirts of Bonnyrigg is headed up by Cosmo Senior, with Cosmo Junior and his brother inlaw Richard Smith now running things on a day to day business. With a tradition in Italian cooking since 1958, Cosmo Products take great pride in being one of the few real Italian pizza makers in the UK.
Cosmo Senior began his culinary career in Formia, a small town on the west coast of Italy situated between Rome and Naples, traditionally a hot spot for wealthy Italians who appreciated good food while holidaying on this beautiful coastline.
But times were hard after the war and, along with many of his countrymen, Cosmo Senior came to Britain to make a fresh start. With no friends or family here he found himself in North Berwick, where he worked in the Wester Dunes Hotel, before moving into Edinburgh and the Prestonfield House Hotel.
In 1966, he established his own small (just 6-7 tables) cafe in Edinburgh opposite the Playhouse. “Lunch was two and sixpence,” he recalls. “There was no licence and the wine shop across the road used to do very well out of me at night. They gave me a bottle of brandy at Christmas I think.”
Coming from the seaside, Cosmo’s passion was seafood. Some friends from East Lothian used to go across the west coast of Scotland and dive for scallops, which they would leave by the sackful. Local fish came from a fishmonger in Staffford Street.
As his reputation grew, larger premises were needed and Cosmo took a quantum leap to the restaurant in Castle Street which made his name.Â As well as simply but deliciously cooked seafood, Cosmo offered veal and pasta dishes with the best of silver service.
The clientele included Burt Lancaster, Margaret Lockwood, Ronnie Corbett,Â Fanny Craddock, and James Last and His Orchestra. David Murray was a regular and often brought his friend Sean Connery.
It was in the basement of the restaurant that manufacturing began, at first for the restaurant but later for retailers and food service markets.Â “When we started in the sixties, you couldn’t buy fresh beans, there was no fresh olive oil.” He shakes his head in a mixture of disgust, pity and amusement. “We made our own fresh pasta.”
Cosmo Junior remembers the fresh noodles draped over poles which were sold to delicatessans such as Valvona and Crolla. Cosmo JuniorÂ joined the business, after a spell as a motor engineer, but neither he, nor son in law Richard Smith wanted to get involved in the restaurant business.Â “The idea was to set up a satellite operation for retail shops. We began with William Low and Scotmid,” he explains.
By 1993 the companyâ€™s success meant that it had outgrown its existing premises. David Murray, as the saying goes, liked the restaurant so much that he bought it, allowing Cosmo Products Ltd to build a new factory in order to concentrate on and expand the manufacturing business. As well as creating Italian dishes, the company was approached by a company in Warrington to make specialised Gluten Free products.
In 2003, further expansion was called for and the company moved to its present location on the Butlerfield Industrial Estate, just outside Edinburgh. The brand new 1,200mÂ² building also has room for further expansion. Output has grown â€“ but the methods remain the same.
Bread making and sauce making are the secrets of Cosmo’s success.
“We always use strong untreated flour â€“ not just unbleached â€“ with a high protein content and what we call ‘mother dough’. This mother dough is allowed to rest for many hours before adding fresh flour and more yeast with some salt and oil and letting it rise again.Â We shape it into pizza bases and then it rises again. It’s a slow process but you get much better flavour and texture and use less yeast.”
All pizza sauce is made in house starting with basic chopped plum tomatoes. Many of the recipes stem from those used by Cosmo Senior over the years and there is an interesting choice of toppings. The haggis flavour, for example, came about when one of the staff, Colin, made haggis for himself at lunchtime. “He kept nagging at us to give it a go,” says Cosmo Junior, “so we did.”
Cosmo pizzas and pasta meals are available in British Supermarkets and are also the pizza of choice for 8 local authorities in Scotland who have signed up to the idea of healthy school meals. “It’s not easy for them,” Cosmo Junior says. ” New guidelines have in some cases pushed children away from school meals by removing chips altogether. ”
One accolade that the family is proud of is its export business and around half a million pizzas per annum are shipped out to â€“ yes â€“ Italy and Germany.
If the younger family members haven’t shown an interest in the restaurant trade, Cosmo Senior still loves to cook.Â In 2002, the call of the kitchen was too much for him and he opened a small restaurant La Bruschetta, in Haymarket. A year was enough at the time, but what else would a manÂ like this do? In 2006, at the age of 75, Cosmo Senior opened another small restaurant, the Osteria, (Italian for hostelry)Â in North Berwick â€“ the very place where he started out back in 1958. Again, he sold out to his partner after a year.
And his own favourite dish? It’s squid, and he claims Scotland has the best squid in the world. Cosmo Junior chooses spaghetti vongole â€“ that’s spaghetti with clams.Â We twisted the arm of this culinary master for the secret of his success â€“ aÂ good sauce â€“ and here is how to make the perfect Neapolitan sauce. It’s easy but not quick.
Meanwhile, this dynamic duo with their 50 staff look forward to the cultural change in attitude to food that must come about for our own health. Watch out for new flavours, a revived chicken barbecue topping and more delicious, healthy pasta meals.