Everyone has that one special, secret recipe. The one that gets brought out for dates, grandparents, and that person you always hated in high school who somehow ended up doing better than you in life. Mine happens to be a Bolognese sauce recipe. It was given to me a few years ago by a very good friend who is a demi-god in the kitchen, and it has never let me down. Coming into possession of this recipe was an entire initiation process, and involved progressive exposure to a small world of well-kept Melburnian Kitchen Demi-god secrets (including, but not limited to having to find out what "deglazing" means). One of these particular secrets has become one of my favourite go-tos for groceries, and I am about to share it with you. It's not the deglazing one though. You'll need to look that up yourself.
The first time I was taken to UCG Wholesale Foods as a wide-eyed cooking innocent, it was a scary, looming, Mafia shootout style shed in A'Beckett Street. A lot has changed since those days. It is now a scary, looming, Mafia shootout style abandoned-looking warehouse in Preston. However, it turns out that is indeed what's on the inside that counts.
Although somewhat terrifying from the outside, it turns out that in the case of UCG, it is indeed what's on the inside that counts
UCG is like a quality, Italian Costco. Immediately upon entry, you are surrounded by rows and rows of pallets of tins and bottles that seem to stretch on well beyond where the physical restraints of the building should allow.
Upon entry, rows and rows of pallets of tins and bottles cheerfully greet their visitors with fluorescent sale price tags
Walls lined with giant bags of coffee is always a good sign in my books
If, like I once was, you are completely unaware of the fact that there is more than one type of tinned tomato, prepare for sensory overload. Diced, whole, halved, crushed, passata… virtually anything that you can imagine being done to a tomato has been done, tinned or bottled by several different brands, packed in pallets on the floor of UCG, and topped by an insanely cheap price tag. The very specific type and brand of crushed tomato that I use for my Bolognese is very difficult to find anywhere else, and the few times that I have come across it in a supermarket aisle, it has retailed from anywhere between $1 per tin on sale, to $1.40. At UCG, they are generally 75 to 80 cents per tin, and I can pick up a slab of 12 for about $7-$8.50, depending on the day. Passata can go for less than a dollar a bottle (twice the price the last time I bought a bottle from a supermarket), and is the good stuff.
As with most groceries at UCG, the prices are fantastic per item, but plummet as you buy in bulk
If you need flour or pizza dough mixture, best clear the car boot and bring it a trolley. Or do some weights training for a few weeks leading up to your visit
Moving past the tomatoes, you will come to the most exciting cheese fridge you will ever see. Genuine, quality parmesan is available in several brands and weights, from Grana Padano (introduced to me all those years ago as the magic cheese that will fix any mistakes made in the meal it tops), to Parmigiano Reggiano. Prices are extremely reasonable for small pieces compared to the supermarket, but soon become amazing if you are a true cheese enthusiast and are happy to buy in bulk ($16.60 per kilo for the 4-5kg pieces).
Choose your type and size of parmesan
If you're not a fan of parmesan, it turns out that's not a problem
A seemingly non-exhaustive list of cheeses neighbour the parmesans, each bearing great prices for both large and small pieces, including several types of pecorino, and one of my personal favourites; smoked cheese.
Virtually any type and brand of olive oil or balsamic and wine vinegars can be bought in any dimensions. Again, buying in bulk will save you an untold fortune, however, the smaller bottles can range from supermarket sale prices downwards.
For the condiment enthusiast, virtually any type of olive oil, basamic vinegar, and wine vinegars line the walls...
in virtualy any size
If jarred things are your thing, keep moving past the oils, and you will be rewarded. Again, good old tomatoes are lining the walls in semi-dried form in anywhere up to 3 kilo jars, but you can also get artichoke hearts, capsicums, and pretty much any form of jarred or tinned olive in large and small quantities.
If it can be jarred or pickled, it has been, and it is on these shelves
A huge array of herbs and spices are all reasonably priced, with half a kilo of oregano going for about $4-$5.
Pretty much any herb or spice you can want is sitting on the shelves in huge and tiny packets, waiting to be cooked
If it's been a bad week, and a supermarket-sized jar of Nutella just won't cut it, you will be pleased to know that UCG generously offers a solution for this, and a cool $56 will get you a 5 kilo jar.
Sometimes it's just been a far worse day than that which can be fixed by supermarket-sized Nutella
Coffees, pastas, flours, Italian soft drinks, and sundry other cooking needs and wants are also readily available for great prices. It is hard to predict exactly what else will be in there on any given day, so if you have something to cook, and you want to cook it well, all I can recommend is that you have a look.
I have never bought anything at UCG that I wouldn't feed to my Grandmother (a.k.a: possibly the greatest cook who ever lived)
Since my Bolognese induction all those years ago, UCG has become like a second home to me. It is not only a cheap way to buy your Italian groceries, but a great quality way. I have never bought anything from there that I wouldn't feed to my Grandmother, which, as far as I'm concerned, is the ultimate quality litmus.
The next time you are in or around Preston, why not look past the terrifying exterior, and drop in? If you have that one, special, secret recipe, UCG will do it justice. If you don't, UCG makes it worth your while getting one.