Hard to believe that 25 years ago insalata Caprese (mozzarella, tomato, basil, olive oil) was virtually unheard of in Dallas. That's why God granted Dallas' Paula Lambert, who, in 1982, opened a cheese factory in Deep Ellum to satisfy a fetish for fresh mozzarella -- the kind oozing with milk, like they serve in Italy. Since Mozzarella Company ramped up cheese production 25 years ago, the factory has grown to 20 employees generating 200,000 pounds of cheese annually and earning close to $2 million in revenues in the process.
Fifteen years ago, Lambert was the first producer in the U.S. to make the richer, gamier buffalo mozzarella -- as they do in Italy -- when she was sourcing milk from a water buffalo rancher in Texarkana (the rancher has since exited the water buffalo business). Her portfolio has expanded from mozzarella to montasio, goat, feta, blue, mascarpone, ricotta and many others. We grabbed a few of her minutes during her Texas book tour, where she's promoting her second tome: Cheese, Glorious Cheese!
I'd lived in Italy, and I loved everything about it. I realized that we didn't have fresh mozzarella in Dallas, so I decided to learn how to make it and open a cheese factory. I was dying to be able to learn how to make it, and so I did.
How is your new book different from the first one?
My first book, I thought I would write only one book, so I put everything in it: nutritional information and information on the world of cheese. This new one is just a cookbook filled with all these wonderful ways I've dreamt up to use cheese.
Which restaurants were the first to use your cheese?
The first was Albert Lombardi at the Trattoria Lombardi on Hall Street and the Mansion on Turtle Creek. They had [mozzarella and tomato salad] on the menu at the Mansion, but they were using Kraft block mozzarella [and] they'd slice it real thin and artistically fold it. When I started making mascarpone and going around, nobody had even heard of tiramisu.
Are there any cheeses you don't like?
What is your stinkiest cheese?
Our stinkiest cheese is called Blanca Bianca, and it's delicious. All the stinky cheeses are washed rind cheeses, which means during maturation they have been bathed with some kind of liquid. It could be whey or brine or beer or wine.
What is your favorite thing to do with cheese?
Nothing is better than melted cheese. When it caramelizes at gets brown on the edges and it smells so good and it gets crispy, that's my favorite thing.
Why Deep Ellum?
When I started 25 years ago, the city zoning laws said that I had to go into heavy industrial zoning. And [Deep Ellum] had a little neighborhood where everything else was just an industrial park on the edge of town. I also liked it because Rudolph's Meat Market was on my block. [Now] we're in a decline. It's just terrible...It bloomed and blossomed and it really had a heyday. And then I guess the tattoo parlors just took over and the city neglected it. You know you can help all of these neighborhoods get going and you watch after them when they're babies. But if you don't look after them when they're teenagers, they're apt to get out of hand. And I think that's what happened with Deep Ellum.
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Are you going to stay?
Will you ever raise water buffalo?
No. If I had thought that I had to be a farmer and live in the country and raise animals, I wouldn't have started. I'm a city girl. --Mark Stuertz