Simple taste of Italy in Auckland
Beautiful cloud-like balls of mozzarella are made by a master Italian cheesemaker in a neighbourhood where most men 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, co-founder 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, where he’s happy to be interrupted by anybody to talk about cheese.
The shop offers a great opportunity to expand his market and his English vocabulary.
He’s not worried about struggling to find exactly the right words to express himself.
‘‘The cheese talks for itself,’’ he says with a justly, proud smile.
Massimiliano 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.
This year his nodini, cow’s mozzarella tied into individual knots, won gold.
He supplies Auckland restaurants, including Non Solo Pizza in Parnell and markets like Coatesville, Parnell, Hobsonville Pt and Oratia.
Massimiliano learnt to make cheese in his hometown Gioia del Colle in Puglia – the capital of cow mozzarella in Italy.
He was a teenager still at school when he started learning part-time under an il casaro – 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,’’ Massimiliano says.
He has 25 years experience and his insatiable passion for cheese remains despite working long hours.
‘‘I love it 100 per cent – it is my life.’’
In fact cheesemaking dominates his life so much there’s no room for a girlfriend.
The marriage of his traditional Italian cheese making skills with his love for New Zealand is at the heart of his one, true love.
Like the classic Kiwi, Massimiliano loves innovation.
His latest trial is using a Waiheke merlot in a parmesan/provolone cheese.
Massimiliano 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 also 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 milk, Massimiliano 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.
Simplicity should be at the heart of eating mozzarella, Massimiliano says.
‘‘Very simple but beautiful. Italians need just three ingredients – salt, good oil and mozzarella.’’
Life’s passion: Massimiliano De Caro combines traditional Italian cheesemaking skills with innovative twists inspired by his love of New Zealand.
And, stretch: Massimiliano stretches cheese to form mozzarella’s distinctive texture.