Puglia Cheese: genuine Italian-made mozzarella in Cape Town!

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I have been interested in the debate about which mozzarella is better – that which is made from buffalo milk, as is made by Wayne Rademeyer at Buffalo Ridge in Wellington, or that which is made from cow’s milk by Puglia Cheese in Cape Town.  My search for Stracciatella mozzarella, the most delicious spreadable mozzarella I first tasted at the Eat In Night Market a few months ago, led me on Friday to buy it directly at Puglia Cheese in Montague Gardens, and to meet the charming co-owner Ursula Ostuni.

Puglia Cheese was started as a joint venture by Davide Ostuni and Fabio Fatelli, both originally from the Puglia region in Italy, a year ago.  In a short time they have made their mark, in having won first place in the SA Dairy Championships Mozzarella category for their Burrata, and a second place for their Bocconcini, as well as a quality award for their whole Mozzarella range. One of Puglia Cheese’s biggest champions is restaurateur Giorgio Nava, who uses their mozzarella at 95 Keerom Street, Mozzarella Bar, and at Caffé Milano.  Initially he went to all his Italian restaurant colleagues in Cape Town, showing them the Puglia Cheese products, and now the company has clients such as Aubergine, Spar, Primi Piatti, Meloncino, Il Cappero, the One&Only Cape Town, the Mount Nelson Hotel, Giovanni’s, Nonna Lina, The Power & Glory, Wild Peacock Food Emporium, and all Melissa’s deli branches, just to mention some of the local outlets.  They distribute to the Garden Route as well.  Distribution via key Spar, Checkers, and Pick ‘n Pay branches is on the cards, which means that the company will move to bigger premises soon.

The star Mozzarella maker is Cosimo, who comes from Bari in Puglia, and does not speak English.  Ursula said he is the ‘key man’ at Puglia Cheese, being dedicated in almost single-handedly, and by hand, producing 300kg of cheese per day with only an assistant.  Hygiene is important, and I had to don a hair net, special shoe covers and a white jacket to go into the production room.  Production starts at 7h00, and finishes by lunchtime, and in the afternoon the products are packed and labelled, ready for delivery of the precious perishable products.  A machine is used to boil the cows’ milk, which comes from a Cape Town and a Stellenbosch farm, to which rennet, a curdling agent, is added, creating the foundation of all Mozzarella cheese.   Then Cosimo puts the curdled milk into 90°C boiling water, and with a wooden batten he shapes the cheese into ‘dough’, making it more and more pliable, out of which he makes ‘knots’, or the unique Nodino mozzarella not made by anyone else in South Africa, and is a typical Puglian mozzarella.  The same mozzarella dough is used to create a pocket into which straciatella mozzarella is added and then closed, to make Burrata.  A machine is used to make Fior de Latte and Bocconcini, but still needs Cosimo’s interaction with it in the production process.  Ursula told me that it took fourteen years for Cosima to learn the art of mozzarella making.

Davide grew up in Italy, and came to Cape Town on holiday, meeting Ursula at a party. She joined Davide in Italy, and said that it took some time for his mama to accept that Ursula would not be going away.  They went to London, where a friend of Davide’s worked, and he started as a waiter, worked at the Ritz Hotel, was a model, and started to learn to cook, but did not become a chef.  Ursula and Davide were in the United Kingdom for about thirteen years, and had five Italian restaurants in this period.  The last one they owned was located in St Albans and was called Carpe Diem, using only genuine Italian products, mostly imported and some home-made.  Once their first child was born, Davide moved into food-broking.  Having children, Ursula wanted to return home to South Africa, and they chose to live in Cape Town.  Both missed genuine mozzarella, only finding tough ‘tennis ball’ type local mozzarella here.  This led Davide to start making mozzarella, and establishing Puglia Cheese with his friend.  A future collaboration with Giorgio Nava, in creating more Mozzarella Bars, is on the cards. Ursula praises Nava, for his ability to use mozzarella in traditional recipes, but to adapt them by serving them with flair and elegance.

Mozzarella is made with buffalo milk in southern Italy, around Naples, and in central Italy, but the east coast and the rest of Italy makes mozzarella with cow’s milk, given that the milk is freely available, and that the mozzarella produced from it has a longer shelf life, resulting in about 80 % of Italian mozzarella being made with cow’s milk. Mozzarella made from buffalo milk is rich and creamy when fresh, but goes hard and sour after two days.  Its ‘dough’ is not soft and pliable, and therefore one cannot make mozzarella knots and balls from it.  Local mozzarella currently sold in supermarkets is likely to contain preservatives, to have a longer shelf-life.

Ursula emphasised that mozzarella should be taken out of the fridge an hour before eating it, to enjoy it at room temperature.  Different mozzarella cheeses have different expiry dates:  Fior di Latte (Bocconcini and balls) 18 days (in water), Burrata (in water) 9 days, Stracciatella 9 days, Nodini (in water) 9 days, and Treccia (in water) 9 days.  Should it be older than the expiry dates, it can be used for pizza, which is what Italian mamas would do.   Most food lovers associate mozzarella with Caprese salad, and therefore sales are high in summer.  Puglia Cheese is happy that food bloggers and writers are providing creative recipes for the use of Mozzarella in winter dishes too.   Ricotta cheese is also made at Puglia Cheese, and they are experimenting with the addition of peppercorns, chilli peppers, and walnuts for new products in future.

Disclosure: I was given a ball each of Burrata and Bocconcini to try at home, when I bought the Stracciatella mozzarella.

Puglia Cheese, Unit 5, The Gables, Prime Park, Printer’s Way, Montague Gardens.  Tel (021) 551-8538.  www.pugliacheese.co.za.   Facebook. Monday – Friday.

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter @WhaleCottage

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10 replies on “Puglia Cheese: genuine Italian-made mozzarella in Cape Town!”

  1. Wayne Rademeyer says:

    Hi Chris

    Thank you for promoting mozzarella in South Africa.

    I would however to correct a few errors if I may:

    Buffalo Mozzarella does not have a short shelf life and ours certainly does not turn hard and sour after 2 days. Buffalo milk, apart from being substantially more nutritive than cows milk, has a much higher natural preservative action.

    Our buffalo mozzarella is a “local mozzarella” (proudly South African)and certainly does not contain preservatives. Nor additives. Our mozzarella is naturally white without bleaching.

    The statement that buffalo mozzarella dough is not soft and pliable is false.

  2. Thanks for your input Wayne. I must come and meet you in Wellington, and would love to see your operation too.

    I am sure that Ursula of Puglia Cheese was not meaning to knock your brand, and may have generalised about buffalo milk-based mozzarella in Italy. She told me that you have not met each other.

    Chris

  3. Wayne Rademeyer says:

    The comments I made apply to genuine quality Italian-made Buffalo Mozzarella as well.

    You are welcome to visit our farm and meet our water buffalo.

  4. Thanks Wayne.

    How about Thursday? Please could you e-mail me your contact details and the directions to info@whalecottage.com please?

    Chris

  5. Michael says:

    The best caprese I have ever had was in Naples, closely followed by (several) in Ravello. Better than those from further north (in Italy) so I have always considered buffalo mozzarella superior and the only ‘true’ mozzarella. Having said that, here in SA I have actually enjoyed fior di latte from Giovanni’s

  6. Hi Chris,
    Yes, the caption: “Its ‘dough’ is not soft and pliable, and therefore one cannot make mozzarella knots and balls from it.”
    It is a bit confusing.
    I know that what Ursula meant was:
    Buffalo Mozzarella dough (before it gets shaped into a ball) is not as easy to work as Fior di Latte (cow’s milk) dough, it’s actually too soft and too slippery to handle it and make shapes by hand; in fact many shapes like Nodini (knots) or the famous Burrata cannot be made with Buffalo’s milk as are made by hand, but of course you can make juicy Balls out of Buffalo dough as you have machines that do that for you or traditionally you have two expert cheese makers one to hold the dough and one to rip a chunk and quickly shape it into a ball.
    The debate whether one is better than the other we leave it to the customers.
    In Italy if you are from the South East you go for the Fior di Latte, if you are from the South West you vouch for the Buffalo one!
    Since I have both sides in my family I eat and love both unconditionally! Whenever we are in the South West Battipaglia (Salerno) me and my son take no prisoners……
    We love all cheeses as a matter of fact. And we would never dream to put one cheese above the other….maybe next to the other….and it them!
    All cheeses are equal!

    And yes of course if you are in Ravallo you’d have caprese with Buffalo Mozzarella I would not expect otherwise, but if you are anywhere in Puglia you’d have it with Burrata or else…..
    And yes Giovanni’s is a good place to shop for Fior di Latte……

    Wayne it’s a shame we have not met yet, I’d love to meet your buffalos!

    Davide at Puglia cheese
    ..say cheese

  7. Grazie Davide for your detailed input to the cow’s versus buffalo milk mozzarella debate.

    It would be great if you and Wayne could meet. I will go through to Wellington soon to check out Buffalo Ridge.

    Ciao

    Chris

  8. Wayne Rademeyer says:

    Davide,

    To put an Italian spin on it – just beacuse you sell Fiats does not mean you have to diss the Ferarri or its production. Once again I am compelled to correct inaccuracies.

    For the first year of our production, we made our mozzarella by hand. I did not, nor do I, find the dough too difficult to handle. I still make large mozzarella balls (1 to 4kg)by hand.

    Your statement that you cannot make nodini or “the famous burrata” from buffalo milk is also false. I made some nodini today – by myself, alone, from 100% buffalo milk and without two “expert” Italians.

    I have seen my friends in Battipaglia, Caserta, Eboli, Paestum, Salerna and Naples make the most complex products and shapes from buffalo milk.

    I will make our knotted buffalo mozzarella available at the Neighbourgoods Market from next month on prior arrangement.

    Your statement that all cheeses are equal is surprising. Your customers may as well buy industrial pizza cheese if that were the case. I focus on giving my customers the best possible quality.

    It good to see that Puglia Cheese is finally acknowledging that there are water buffalo in South Africa. The denials in this regard were getting very tedious.

  9. Santo Mengoli says:

    ‘When in Rome……’ etc.

    The world is rich with hundreds of delicious different types of cheeses! (And of course there are some industrial ‘milk products’ which do not deserve to be called cheese).

    I enjoyed the article about mozzarella. Being Italian, I am a great lover of mozzarella, of all regions and denominations. Battipaglia is my favourite place for buffalo mozzarella and pizzas made with it. The area around Bari (Gioia del Colle is particularly renowned) is famous for its traditional cow’s milk mozzarella products.

    I live in London but have traveled to Cape Town and had the opportunity to try the mozzarella from Puglia Cheese. I can honestly say that I could not tell the difference between their product and the original back in Puglia.

    As for the discussions about which is better…. different people have different tastes, I love them both but I know people who simply cannot eat one or the other. As for me, I would subscribe to many of the saying of Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, who obviously knew a thing or two about good food:
    “The number of flavors is infinite, for every soluble body has a peculiar flavor, like none other.”
    “The discovery of a new dish confers more happiness on humanity, than the discovery of a new star.”
    “A dessert without cheese is like a beautiful woman with only one eye.”

    I look forward to trying the Buffalo Ridge mozzarella on my next visit to South Africa; to me, there is no debate, just two different products to be equally enjoyed by all cheese lovers.

    Ciao, Santo.

  10. Ciao Santo

    Grazie for your input to the mozzarella debate.

    Please let us have your feedback about the Buffalo Ridge mozzarella when next you visit Cape Town.

    Chris

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