Andiamo! Making mozzarella at Aldo's
As if making ice creams, breads and pastries isn’t enough work for one extended family, Aldo’s Bakery has added an Italian deli in their shop, featuring quality Italian foods, some homemade.
Yes, that’s right, homemade. Not all of it, of course; much of the display is dedicated to reasonably priced, high-end Italian imports. A refrigerated display case between the bakery products and ice creams is filled with cheese blocks and colorful marinated vegetables, stuffed red peppers, green and red olives and light green artichokes. The artichokes, with stems, are cooked and marinated right in the bakery.
Quality packaged pastas, and canned and bottled Italian tomatoes, olive oil and balsamic vinegars fill racks that are located throughout the left side of the bakery shop.
But one thing in particular stands out. The fresh mozzarella is as fresh as it gets, because it’s made right here, in Aldo’s kitchen.
Bobby Leone, who owns the bakery with his brother Aldo, makes the mozzarella. One day last week, he heads into his kitchen, which is spotless. The steel counters shine, as do the work bowls and the sinks, and the floor is clean as well, despite the fact that it’s lunchtime on a busy workday.
Lisa Leone, Bobby’s wife, stands at a work table packing up breads and pastries in plastic wrap, readying them to be sent out. Aldo Leone is across the aisle at a long steel worktable, icing a cake. On the other side of his Counter, employees cut focaccia bread into sellable slices.
To see the Leone family is to see people who are almost never alone, perhaps only when one of them is on a moped. They work next to each other, and there are always friends dropping in. This day was no exception: For the cheese production, Bobby brings in two friends from Providence, Mike Greco and his son Mike. Greco senior especially enjoys being here. While Bobby has his hands in the bowl, the elder Greco recalls the old days when everything was made at home, and his grandmother hung sausages to dry in the cellar. “This used to be a way of life for our ancestors,” he notes with nostalgia.
The first step in mozzarella making is to obtain the curd. It arrives on the boat. It’s not like the curds in cottage cheese; when Bobby brings it out, it’s a large slab, light yellow and shiny, and if you taste it, it’s bland. He buys only the best curd, he mentions to Mr. Greco.
Once the curd is on the counter, Bobby cuts it into thin slices, which he drops into a beautiful antique copper bowl, a bowl that’s more than 100 years old and was once used to make candy. While he slices, he calls out to an employee to fill a beaker with boiling water, and as soon as he finishes slicing the curd, he slides a pair of thick rubber gloves on his hands and pours the water into the copper bowl. The slices break apart into pieces, curdled by the addition of that hot water. Bobby works the pieces and the water with his gloved hands, mixing them together again, then stretching the cheese, somehow avoiding getting burned except in one small spot where, he notes, the gloves have a rip. He has a friend, he says, who carries out this step barehanded.
After the mixing, he stretches the cheese to make it more elastic, using a paddle. When he decides the mixture has reached the proper consistency and most of the air bubbles are out, he forms it into balls. Ten pounds of curd makes just 12 balls, about a pound each. He gently squeezes the excess water out, wraps them in plastic, and drops them into ice water. If they are not iced, the balls will flatten out into mozzarella pancakes.
Before he puts the last one in the ice water bath, he cuts a piece. I have never had warm mozzarella before, but from now on if I hear a new batch of mozzarella is underway, I’ll fly over to the bakery.
Many of the deli items that Aldo’s is carrying can be found on the left side of the bakery, near the entrance and around the corner near the area where there is indoor seating. There are racks filled with packages of pastas, including a Valdegrao lasagna noodle that can be placed right in the pan without boiling first, and whole wheat pastas. These all, owner Bobby Leone says, are high end, better quality pastas. His sister Anna, who owns the restaurant next door and stopped in the bakery for a minute, pulled out a package of spaghetti and told me to make it with seafood, as it really holds the sauce.
There are cans of prepared tomato sauce and jars of bruschetta. Canned tuna is packed in oil, and Bobby advised not to add mayonnaise but just olives, onions and celery and a bit more olive oil. I went back another day and bought a can, then tried his recipe at home. There is no question that this was a different experience from eating the tuna I usually buy packed in water and drain to mix with mayonnaise. This was my first time trying it, but far from the last time I do. It is, simply said, delicious.
For those who make their own sauces, the bakery carries San Marzano plum tomatoes. Bobby showed me the stamp on the can that indicates the tomatoes come from the only town in Italy, San Marzano (one mile by one mile, he said), that can use the San Marzano designation. They are the best, he intoned, leaving no doubt.
Curious, I looked up San Marzano on the Internet and found out from Wikipedia that this type of plum tomato was a gift from Peru to the Kingdom of Naples in the late 1770s. The town near Naples where they are grown has given the fruit its name. According to Wikipedia, their flavor is sweeter and they are less acidic than other plum tomatoes. It even states that the sauce of true Neopolitan pizza must use San Marzano tomatoes.
Also for the home cook, the bakery is carrying canned cherry tomatoes that Bobby said makes a good marinara sauce.
I chose a few more items to try. Anna glanced at the can of tomatoes in my hands, and gave me another culinary hint. “Don’t add oregano when you make the sauce,” she said. “It makes it bitter. Put in a lot of basil, though.” These plum tomatoes don’t need long cooking either, she advised. They can be put through the food processor and then heated with salt, garlic and onion
No Italian deli would be complete without really good olive oils and basalmic vinegars. Aldo’s carries several grades of the latter, including some that are 30 years old. And, of course, for cooks who don’t make their own sauces, there are jars of pre-made tomato sauce.
So, as the Leones say, “Andiamo” (come) to the Italian deli. You will like what you taste.
[This story was corrected Aug. 14.]