All-American is a series that looks at beloved, longstanding North Texas eateries and examines their history while exploring how the food has changed — for the good or bad — over the years.
It’s 9 a.m., and through the vinyl slats of the Mozzarella Company, Elm Street’s long-standing cheese company, you can see cheesemakers piling bright green chilies for discs of queso blanco.
Mauricio Travesi, the soft-spoken general manager, slices a piece from a wedge of Chihuahua cheese with dashes of pimento and passes it to me.
You likely know the Mozzarella Company’s origin story already: It’s a tale of simplicity, focus and great cheese. When owner Paula Lambert was young, she went to Perugia, Italy to study the Italian language. As Lambert stated in her interview with Millionaire Blueprints Magazine, she had a “light bulb moment” when she tried a simple mozzarella salad. Dallas didn’t have the fresh stuff.
“She thought, let’s make mozzarella,” as Travesi recounts it.
While in Italy, she got together with a local company, Caseificio Brufani, that’d been making cheese the old country way for years. Lambert convinced them to come to Dallas to teach her how to make fresh mozzarella; the photos of the Italian cheese professors are still on the walls. It’s an all-day, by-hand process.
Thirty-five years later, that process is still going strong in Deep Ellum. A couple years ago, Giovanni Marchesi, one of the Italian cheese professors Lambert worked with, came back for a week to check in on Mozzarella Company’s process. It hadn’t changed at all.
“He loved it,” Travesi says. “We still do it the same way. That’s why it’s so fresh.”
The queso blanco, packed with fresh chilies, has an intoxicating green pepper aroma. Later, I showered it over pork tacos, and it was salty and crumbly with near-grassy bites from the chiles. The mozzarella is fresh as sunshine and superb when torn over a pizza. Snag some dough from Jimmy’s, some San Marzano tomatoes, Paula’s mozzarella and a little basil and you’ve got a meal.
Every Monday, the Mozzarella Company receives 2,000 gallons of raw cow’s milk from the Dairy Farmers of America, for pasteurization. They process about 500 gallons per day. On top of that, Mozzarella Company churns through 250 to 400 gallons of goat milk. The cheesemakers, a staff of badass ladies who’ve been working with the company for decades, arrive at 5 a.m. Octavia Flores, lead cheesemaker and operator of El Paraiso Restaurant in Oak Cliff, has been at Paula’s for over 30 years. In other words, this is a badass little cheese company.
Everything’s made by hand, a phrase that gets thrown around so much in this food-conscious age that it’s nearly lost its powerful luster. But walk into Mozzarella Company any day of the week, and you can see how it’s made by hand. There’s a simple joy that bubbles up from saying to yourself, “Let’s make some cheese.”
The Mozzarella Company, 2944 Elm St.