Sim­ple taste of Italy 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 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.’’

Photo: LIZ WIL­LIS

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.

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