The sim­ple taste of Italy right here in Auck­land

Central Leader - - NEWS - By LIZ WIL­LIS

Beau­ti­ful cloud-like balls of moz­zarella are made by a mas­ter Ital­ian cheese­maker in a neigh­bour­hood where most work­ers are up to their el­bows in grease or paint.

You’d pic­ture an ar­ti­san cheese pro­ducer to be more at home in a rus­tic build­ing sur­rounded by lush, green pad­docks.

But Mas­si­m­il­iano De Caro, cofounder of Il Casaro, brims with ex­cite­ment about his in­dus­trial lo­ca­tion in Wairau Val­ley, Glen­field. It’s close to Auck­land’s large pop­u­la­tion of food lovers and he’s able to run a shop along­side his small fac­tory.

The shop of­fers a great op­por­tu­nity to ex­pand his mar­ket and his English. He’s not wor­ried about strug­gling to find the right words to ex­press him­self.

‘‘The cheese talks for it­self,’’ he says with a proud smile.

Mr De Caro has a clutch of awards from the New Zealand Cham­pi­ons of Cheese awards in­clud­ing two golds.

He won the first medal in 2012, just two months af­ter set­ting up shop, for his trec­cia – plated cow’s milk moz­zarella. Last year his no­dini, cow’s moz­zarella tied into in­di­vid­ual knots, won gold.

He sup­plies restau­rants in­clud­ing Non Solo Pizza in Par­nell and mar­kets like Coatesville, Par­nell, Hob­sonville Pt and Ora­tia.

Mr De Caro learnt to make cheese in his home­town Gioia del Colle in Puglia, which is the cap­i­tal of cow moz­zarella in Italy.

He was a teenager in school when he started learn­ing part­time un­der an il casaro, or mas­ter cheese­maker.

The cheese fac­tory is a typ­i­cal source of em­ploy­ment in Gioia del Colle but it’s hard, hot work and there’s no ma­chin­ery.

‘‘If you don’t have pa­tience it’s im­pos­si­ble to make cheese.’’

He has 25 years’ ex­pe­ri­ence and his in­sa­tiable pas­sion for cheese re­mains de­spite the long hours.

‘‘I love it 100 per cent – it is my life.’’

Mr De Caro also loves in­no­va­tion. His lat­est trial is us­ing a Wai­heke mer­lot in a parme­san/ pro­volone cheese.

Mr De Caro came to New Zealand as part of his train­ing and de­cided to stay. There’s vast com­pe­ti­tion even for an ar­ti­san cheese­maker in Italy and New Zealand of­fered prom­ise with its qual­ity milk, he says.

His chal­lenge in New Zealand is in­tro­duc­ing peo­ple to the flavour of fresh cow’s milk moz­zarella.

‘‘In the su­per­mar­ket it’s pretty and looks per­fect but it’s not re­ally cheese. This is stressed cheese.’’

Some Ki­wis are ob­sessed with buf­falo moz­zarella but in Italy about 90 per cent of moz­zarella is made with cow’s milk.

Cow’s milk of­fers nu­mer­ous ben­e­fits, he says.

In ar­eas like Naples buf­falo are close to moun­tain streams and it makes a dif­fer­ence to the flavour of the milk, he says.

But in New Zealand they’re fed on the same pas­ture as cows and the re­sult­ing milk is too wa­tery in his view.

The fat con­tent of cow’s moz­zarella is also 15 per cent ver­sus up to 48 per cent in buf­falo, he says. How best to eat it? Sim­plic­ity is the key. ‘‘Very sim­ple but beau­ti­ful. ‘‘Ital­ians need just three in­gre­di­ents – salt, good oil and moz­zarella.’’

Pho­tos: LIZ WIL­LIS

Life's pas­sion: Mas­si­m­il­iano De Caro puts an in­no­va­tive twist on tra­di­tional Ital­ian cheese­mak­ing, in­spired by his love of New Zealand.

Mas­ter touch: Mr De Caro forms balls of his cow’s milk moz­zarella.

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