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Photo by Ryan Kelley/QNS
Photo by Ryan Kelley/QNS
Guy Mercurio (right) and his son Joe (left) stand with cheese makers Rodolfo and Gaetano after making a fresh batch of mozzarella.

Before Mozzareal opened in Ridgewood on Dec. 13, the Department of Agriculture didn’t know how to classify the fresh cheese- and pasta-making operation.

According to owner Guy Mercurio, a 25-year native of Ridgewood, that’s because the shop at 60-61 Cooper Ave. has a cheese-making process that has never been tried in New York City before. Mercurio has raw milk delivered from a small farm in upstate New York, pasteurizes it on site, and turns it into mozzarella and ricotta cheeses in a matter of hours.

“If it’s milk at five in the morning, it’s fresh mozzarella by 10 a.m. and ready to be consumed,” Mercurio told QNS.

This unique method of going “from herd, to curd, to table,” which Mercurio and his son Joe coined as the company’s slogan, is typical of the region in Italy where the Mercurio family hails from. It’s a small region outside of Naples where some of the most sought-after cheese in the world is made from water buffalo milk in a town of 1,000 people. Mercurio visited there and brought the system back with him, he said.

Inside the kitchen at Mozzareal is a set of specially designed equipment. A 600-gallon tank holds the milk between 35 and 37 degrees Fahrenheit and feeds into a high-temperature-short-time milk pasteurizing machine. Mercurio said he attended classes at Cornell University to get certified as a pasteurizer by the Department of Agriculture. There is also a closet that serves as a “lab” with testing supplies inside to measure the freshness of the milk each day.

It’s not water buffalo milk, but the milk at Mozzareal is sourced from grass-fed cows from Back to the Future Farm in Westtown, New York. First opened in 2012, Back to the Future Farm uses no growth hormones or antibiotics on its animals and takes pride in its fresh, wholesome products, just like its new partner. Rose Hubbert, who owns and operates the farm with her husband and son, said that partnering with like-minded businesses is key to both of their success.

“To be successful, you need to do things different from everybody else,” Hubbert said. “Small farms need to hook up with small businesses; that makes both products phenomenal.”

There is also a large steel vat in the kitchen that cheese makers Rodolfo and Gaetano use to hand-stretch the mozzarella cheese. The cheese makers demonstrated their craft for QNS, turning a small batch of milk curd made earlier that morning into mozzarella in less than 15 minutes.

Mercurio describes the transformation from curd to cheese as a “miracle” while it’s happening. The cheese makers break the curd up into small pieces and then splash 180-degree water over it. This quickly cooks the curd and it takes on a lava-like consistency as Gaetano stretches it and Rodolfo filters out the excess water. The two then portion the mozzarella into half-pound balls and place them in a brine for flavoring for about 20 minutes.

The finished product is shiny on the outside, and it oozes a small amount of milk when it’s cut into. Mercurio boasts about its freshness. They also make fresh pasta from organic durum semolina every day. Even though the business has only been open for about three weeks, Mozzareal is already selling to restaurants and getting plenty of walk-in customers, Mercurio said. He believes he’s filling a void in the New York City food landscape.

“We have more food diversity here than anywhere else I know in the world,” Mercurio said. “No one makes good mozzarella. So I feel that I was almost challenged to meet that need.”

Getting his business up and running took about three years, Mercurio said, but landing in Ridgewood was the perfect scenario. His commute to work takes only a few minutes, he found the perfect facility to accommodate his special equipment and he’s a “big believer” in Ridgewood from a small business perspective. Mercurio said that the most important ingredient of all, for any small business, is one of his most obvious traits.

“People that have passion, are driven and are not afraid to take a chance,” Mercurio said. “That’s what really makes America great, that you can start a small business here without getting run over.”

Click here to watch Mozzareal in action on Facebook.

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