Often it's only when you experience something vastly superior to what you are used to that it becomes clear just how much you've been missing out. The salty, springy, milky mozzarella cheese that I tasted courtesy of Italian Dairy Products (IDP) last week certainly showed me.
The company, which was founded by the husband and wife team Leo and Silvia Condemi from Milan, along with the minority shareholder Pietro Rampino, offers a lesson in fusing authenticity with locality. They make fresh curd cheese the Italian way, using ingredients from the UAE.
All the machinery and tools at the factory in Hamriyah Free Zone have been shipped over from Italy. Andrea Pelati, the manager of production, hails from the north of the country and has a degree in dairy science, and Alessandro Nicotra, his deputy, was born in Naples and has been making mozzarella since he was 14 years old. The provenance of the milk they use to make kilos and kilos of curd cheese is much closer to home though: all of it comes from dairy farms in Al Ain.
When the company launched in April last year, it had just one customer. It's testament to the quality of its product that today it supplies more than 40 different businesses and hotels in the region, is in talks with a major airline about featuring on its in-flight menu, counts members of the Royal Family among its fans and has recently sent samples out to Bahrain and the Seychelles.
Day-to-day operations are overseen by the general manager Maria Luisa Panzica La Manna from Sicily. She is adamant that the success of the company lies in its stress on quality and simplicity. "Italian food is not complicated, but it is all about the execution and the raw materials, which is why we use the local milk. We could make buffalo mozzarella from frozen buffalo milk shipped over from Italy, but you lose the freshness," she tells me.
The cheeses made by IDP don't contain any additives or preservatives and are made from just four ingredients: pasteurised cows' milk, rennet, salt and starter culture. The process of making the mozzarella that I sampled at 11am began seven hours earlier, when Pelati and Nicotra took receipt of a fresh supply of milk, from cows milked even earlier that morning. It was then pasteurised at 72¿C for 15 seconds, before being transferred into tanks, where a starter culture (consisting of micro-organisms that are naturally present in milk) was added.
Over a period of 30 minutes, rennet was introduced, which encourages the milk to coagulate. Special knives separate the curd (the solid part of the milk) from the whey (the liquid), which is drained off and, with the addition of salt and citric acid, transformed into ricotta. After being left to rest for a few hours, the curd is transferred to a machine to be kneaded and mixed with very hot water (90¿C), until it develops the elastic, stringy texture of a pasta filata (stretched cheese) product. The mozzarella is then ready to be moulded into different shapes and soaked in cold water to firm up, before being packaged and sent on its way.
What the factory makes:
The fresh string cheese is its most popular product. As well as the classic round, it is also sold in cherry-sized balls (ciliegine), knots (nodini), braids (treccia) or as single sheets (sfoglia).
Thanks to a special drying process, this mozzarella melts without releasing any liquid, making it an ideal pizza topping.
Not technically a cheese, as it is made from milk whey (a cheese by-product). I was blown away by the pure, slightly sweet flavour; serve with fresh fruit and a drizzle of honey.
Drier, saltier and more rubbery than mozzarella, scamorza is a stretched curd cheese that is often tied at the top with string, to create a pear shape. Available plain or smoked.
A more decadent cheese you’ll be hard pressed to find. A mozzarella pouch is filled with cream and “little rags” of mozzarella curd, before being sealed. The gooey filling oozes satisfyingly when the cheese is sliced into.
Where can you buy it?
Italian Dairy Products sells various fresh cheeses on Saturdays at the Ripe market, Dubai Garden Centre on Sheikh Zayed Road. You can also order them online as part of the Ripe home delivery service. Visit www.ripeme.com.
Mazaraa, the organic store in Mushrif, Abu Dhabi stocks items from the Italian Dairy Products range.
Having recently signed a deal with Carrefour, items from the Italian Dairy Products range should be appearing in the fresh cheese section of supermarkets across the region in the coming weeks.
Although it doesn't accept individual orders, customers can contact Italian Dairy Products directly on firstname.lastname@example.org or 06 526 9042 if they want to enquire about placing a more substantial one.
For more information, visit www.italiandairyproducts.com