IF you’ve stepped foot in any supermarket or delicatessen across the country recently, chances are you’ve come across ‘Bippi’ – but what you may not know is, it’s the creation of one of Mildura’s own.
Ask Mildura-born Ben Circosta who he has to thank for his impressive success with the gourmet range of chili condiments and olive tapenade, and his answer is simple – his beloved Nonna.
Growing up in Sunraysia, Ben says living next door to his Nonna, who migrated to Mildura from Calabria in 1955 and brought the hand-made recipe with her, was the catalyst for him creating the well-loved brand.
“In Mildura, we lived right next door to Nonna, with only a veggie garden and chook pen separating our houses,” Ben recalled.
“I’d cut across there to go visit Nonna, and as is the case in most Italian families, I’d never leave empty handed.”
One of his Nonna’s specialties was her chilli condiment, which the family called bippi.
It would be added to almost anything and everything, including pastas, steak, panini, fish, chicken and vegetables.
“It was always in the middle of the table,” Ben says.
“Every family meal, every time we sat down to eat, there was bippi on the table for people to add to their dish.
“Nonna used to make it herself, from her own chillies that she grew in the veggie patch between our houses.
“As I got a little older and moved to Melbourne, I really started to miss Nonna’s bippi – she had sort of stopped making it as she was getting older, and I was really missing it because it really had a flavour like nothing else I’d tasted before.”
Driven by a combination of nostalgia and COVID lockdown boredom in early 2020, Ben decided to attempt to recreate his Nonna’s famous flavours.
“I thought I’d give it a crack myself – not that I had any experience in the kitchen whatsoever, but I did have plenty of time on my hands because of COVID lockdowns,” Ben laughs.
“I was working a corporate job at the time, but looking for a little project or something to keep me busy and this seemed like the perfect thing.
“So I called Nonna to get the recipe, which she gave me the rough outline of, and I just started playing around with it to see what I could come up with myself.
“I surprised myself with how much fun I was having and how much I was enjoying being in the kitchen, experimenting with different quantities and flavours.
“Once I was confident that I’d come pretty close to the original, we did a little blind taste test with some family and friends, where we had them taste my version and some imported versions of a similar product, without knowing which one was which.
“All of them chose mine as their favourite – I think that’s when I knew I might be onto something special here.”
Before long, word of Ben’s home-made bippi had spread and he decided to turn it into a side hustle, while still working his corporate 9 to 5.
“I always had the desire to start my own business, I just didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do or what industry I wanted to be in,” Ben says.
“This was perfect – I genuinely loved the product, I loved the process, I loved everything about it, and really wanted to dedicate some time to it.”
But before long, Ben’s bippi side hustle had garnered enough interest to warrant leaving his full-time gig and dedicating himself solely to his passion project.
“The momentum started by word of mouth, and once we got onto social media it was really organic from there,” Ben says.
“It just kind of exploded, and we were having stores, stockists and distributors approach us wanting the product, which was just completely surreal – I mean, this was something I was making in my kitchen!
“One of the most surreal moments was when LaManna Supermarket here in Melbourne expressed interest in stocking the product – in the first week, we told them roughly what we’d expect to sell in a week, and by the end of that week they had sold 10 times that amount.
“At that point, I had a decision to make about where I wanted to take this project, so with the support of my family and closest friends, I made the call to leave my job and focus on Bippi exclusively, and honestly, haven’t looked back since.”
Today, Bippi can be found in a whopping 150 supermarkets, stores and stockists all across the country – but believe it or not, it is still being made in Ben’s family kitchen.
“Yes, I really do still make it in the kitchen at my house,” Ben laughs.
“The whole process still happens right here – prep, cooking, and jarring.
“We’ll be moving into a commercial kitchen later in the year, but right now, Bippi is created in exactly the same place the very first batch was made.”
Ben says the support from the Sunraysia community has been “fantastic” and the region will always be a special place to him.
“Sunraysia is where it all began, it’s my hometown and the support of the locals has been incredible,” he says.
“To have Bippi stocked across Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia, New South Wales, ACT, Queensland and regional areas is really special – but having it on the shelves in my very own hometown is what really means the world to me.”
Bippi can be found locally at The Italian, One Stop Wholesaler and Larry’s Prosciutteria
– ASH FALVO
Ben and his Nonna.