A local couple merges science, technology and tradition to make mozzarella the way it was intended.
By Andrea E. McHugh
As he rhythmically pulls and stretches the snow-white curds in his muscular hands, it becomes clear that Luca Mignogna is doing exactly what he’s meant to do. One might theorize that cheesemaking is in his DNA, since people from his native Campobasso, located in the Molise region of southern Italy, have been making cheese this way for centuries. Luca has studied and practiced the craft for more than a decade, and now he and his wife, Christina, will be bringing their artisanal, made-onsite mozzarella to Newport.
“It’s always for the love of mozzarella,” says Christina. “The whole thing is centered around that passion — that dedication — to share with you a product we love.”
Fresh mozzarella, she explains, is nothing like what Americans typically buy from the supermarket, or the egg-shaped ball labeled as “buffalo mozzarella” (or mozzarella di bufala in Italian) immersed in whey and brine liquid inside a container to keep it moist.
“In Italy, you eat mozzarella on the day that it is made. You don’t put it in the refrigerator,” Christina explains. “There’s something about warm mozzarella. It is not warm because it has been reheated. It’s warm because it literally has just been made. It’s like nothing I ever had before. And that’s kind of where it all started.” Luca moved to California in 2003, and because he missed the flavors of home, started to experiment with cheesemaking. When he became more serious about the craft, he thought it best to move to New England, where the seasons better reflected those of Molise. He studied the science and techniques behind cheesemaking at the University of Vermont’s Institute of Artisan Cheese. Then the certified cheese monger returned to southern Italy to study under a master cheesemaker at a caseificio — a dairy where cheese is made. “There, he blended his technical, scientific ability with tradition,” explains Christina. Cheesemaking is popular in the region, as it originally offered a way to preserve the milk produced in the valley of the Apennine Mountains. In 2009, Luca returned to New England, settling in Massachusetts and making his cheese in a space he rented from another cheesemaker. The only time he could do so was overnight, so in the dead of night, he’d endlessly stir curds, gently releasing the excess whey by hand over and over again to form the cheese. Operating under the name Wolf Meadow Farm, he and Christina (his girlfriend at the time) sold his Italian-style cheeses at farmers markets, eventually opening a brick-and-mortar caseificio in 2013 in Amesbury.
Three years later, they became a vendor at Eataly when the famed Italian dining emporium and food hall
opened its Boston location. “That’s when we realized not many people were familiar with actual fresh
mozzarella, and so we became more educators than just cheesemakers,” Christina says. Mozzarella became their sole focus. When the lease was up on their storefront, they decided to bring their
artisan product to Newport. Their new shop, Mozz, is set to open this winter in Bellevue Gardens.
Meanwhile, Luca has been fine-tuning his cheesemaking process, since a region’s terroir can impact a cheese’s flavor profile.
“The temperature that’s around you, the barometric pressure, how close you are to sea level — all of those things could affect your fermentation, so the recipe becomes different in different parts of the world,” explains Christina. “Luca always jokes, ‘If I ever told the master casaro who I worked with that I coagulated at a different temperature than what he told me, he would hang up the phone and never talk to me again!’” While freshly made, just stretched, warm mozzarella will take center stage at Mozz, the couple will also make “pasta filata” (stretchedcurd cheeses including scamorza and caciocavallo), then expand their offerings. Mozz will also
stock Italian grocery items and local artisan food products, and serve pizza and paninis. “But we are not focusing on the pizza part,” Christina is quick to explain.
It’s just a way for customers to experience fresh mozzarella in a way they are most accustomed to .
“Because what goes better on pizza than great cheese?” she asks rhetorically.
An espresso bar will feature coffee from Italy that has been woodroasted the same way it’s been done for
more than half a century. “We’re working with friends we know who do amazing
products, and sharing them with everyone here,” says Christina. “We always say, ‘We are not in the cheesemaking industry, we are in the education and service industry.’ It’s more about the pleasure of what we are doing, and why we are doing it.” The couple says they are thankful to open their doors during Newport’s quieter season, as it will give them a chance to build community. Then they will launch an online store and start shipping, much to the delight of their longtime customers in Massachusetts. “We are also going to be very mindful of our waste and what we are using,” says Christina. She and Luca met with a consultant to ensure that their packaging minimizes waste. “All of these things are very important to us,” she says, “because at the end of the day, this is our community, too.”
Visit mozznewport.com for more information, or follow Mozz on Instagram