About half a mile from my Manhattan home, in what remains of the heart of Little Italy, you’ll find the finest mozzarella cheese made in New York City. Technically not mozzarella – as mozzarella can only be made from the milk of the water buffalo – it is more properly named fior di latte. It has been handmade since 1910 at the storied Italian specialty food store Di Palo’s by five generations of the Di Palo family. The store is now managed by Luigi Di Palo, along with siblings Marie and Sal, who grew up steeped in their family’s tradition of crafting fine Italian cheese.
Di Palo’s handmakes each ball of fior di latte from curd that they have made upstate to their own specifications. They originally produced their own curd on site – they are still a NY-state-registered dairy, a true latteria – but high demand for the cheese made them outgrow their ability to do so. Other cheesemakers buy the same curd as Di Palo’s but can’t craft cheese of this quality, which Luigi says is something only experience can produce: “It's easy to source the curd and make mozzarella...but it's hard to make it good."
They hand-pull each cheese, form it into balls, soak it in a bath of water and salt and then wrap it in plastic. Every piece sold at the shop is completely fresh and should be eaten the day it was made, as the cheese gets firmer and less sweet as it ages. Slice it with a sharp knife (never a serrated one) to minimize the loss of the sweet milk left in each piece. The cheese will be creamy, not chewy; sweet, not pungent, with a nice complement of salt flavor; should dissolve in your mouth, and taste of fresh milk.
While exploring Di Palo’s extensive gourmet offerings, we were treated to samples of a freshly made mozzarella, and it was incredibly creamy and oh-so-satisfying. I love being able to walk to a classic corner store and purchase a bit of history and tradition. If you get a chance, go to Di Palo’s and treat yourself to a taste of more than 100 years of family dedication.
Additional reporting by Madeleine James.