by Shannon Mullen
Photographs by: Katie Noble
Giuseppe Argentieri admits he isn’t very good at working for other people. The 35-year-old tried selling ads for one of the biggest newspapers in his native Italy, but he wasn’t happy. Next he moved to America to sell espresso machines for one of Italy’s largest coffee companies, but still he wasn’t satisfied. After so many years in sales, Argentieri wanted to make something.
Then he relocated to the Boston area and found the Mozzarella House in Everett, where Maria Cubellis has been handcrafting mozzarella cheese since 1989. “In the Italian community you ask around—where’s the best pasta, where’s the best cheese,” Argentieri says. “I learned about this place and started coming here once or twice a week.” The mozzarella tasted as good as any he’d had in Italy, if not better, and two years ago Argentieri bought the company.
“He was always on my back about the business,” Cubellis gripes lovingly. She had hoped that one of her children would take over but they weren’t interested. Cubellis still works in the creamery on most days, but at 63 years old she plans to retire at the end of the year and pass the operation on entirely to Argentieri.
“I know he can do it so I’m going to be happy to leave it to him,” Cubellis says. “All the work I did, all the sacrifices I made, it’s not going to be wasted in his hands.”
Cubellis came to the United States from Abellino, Italy, in 1968. She started the Mozzarella House with her late husband, and they earned a following in and around Boston by word of mouth. Today she works with two other employees with cheese-making backgrounds, who came to the United States from El Salvador and Colombia. The Mozzarella House makes its cheese with cow’s milk, or fior di latte, as opposed to the way it’s done in many parts of Italy using milk from water buffalo. The company sources raw, unpasteurized milk from a handful of farmers around the state who are licensed to sell it. “I’m buying milk just the way it comes out of the cow—unpasteurized, not homogenized,” Argentieri says. “It’s more expensive but the mozzarella tastes better. If you want something different you’ve got to go to some trouble.”
The milk does go through pasteurization but the Mozzarella House uses a slow three-hour process to preserve more of the healthy enzymes that Argentieri says promote digestion. Next the milk is steamed in a large pot, where it separates into curds and whey; the curds are then scooped out and drained. When they form a mass, the curds are placed in another kettle with hot water to be stretched and worked by hand until soft and smooth. Finally sections are pulled out and cut off to be formed into balls. Mozzarella gets its name from this last step; the Italian verb mozzare means “to cut.”
The Mozzarella House makes traditional mozzarella and several variations, including burrata, which is made by much the same process but the balls of cheese, are filled with bits of mozzarella and heavy cream. The company also makes ricotta from the whey byproduct of mozzarella production, as well as scamorza, a dried cheese that Argentieri calls “a cousin of mozzarella.”
None of the cheeses contain preservatives so they’re good for only about 10 days, and that’s always been a point of pride for Cubellis. Her successor says it’s increasingly a selling point thanks to the loca vore movement, because the cheese can’t be sold very far from where it’s made. “Shelf life is not what we’re going for,” Argentieri says. “We’re trying to make it taste as good as possible.”
Despite his plans to keep production small-scale and his distribution local Argentieri estimates that business has increased by about 20 percent since he took over, which he attributes to better marketing. He was recently approved to sell to Whole Foods Markets, and Mozzarella House cheeses are now on the menu at Coppa, il Casale and other top restaurants in the region. At Sel de la Terre in Boston, Chef Louis DiBiccari gets daily deliveries and sings high praises of the burrata in particular, which he calls “the Ferrari of mozzarella.”
“It is an impeccable product,” DiBiccari says. “It’s a little tangy, it has the perfect hint of salt and you can taste the milk—that’s really important. you can tell a lot of work has gone into making sure you can taste the ingredients they start with.”
In Cambridge the gourmet market Formaggio Kitchen gets three deliveries per week. Its cheese-buyer, Kurt Gurdal, says Mozzarella House cheeses are a longtime customer favorite. “We have a strong following among people who like to buy local and we love the whole story behind the company, so we tell people about the cheeses and why they’re different.”
Good reviews aside, Argentieri sees room for improvement in the company’s consistency of quality and at some point in the next few years he wants to relocate to a bigger creamery. The current site in Everett can be hard to find; it’s just off one of the city’s main streets but it’s behind some buildings in a bare-bones basement-level space with one room that’s about the size of a small convenience store. It has a few small windows, concrete floors and low ceilings, and most of its footprint is filled with industrial-size stainless steel kettles and other production equipment.
The cool air in the room smells slightly sweet, like an ice cream parlor. Near the main entrance Argentieri spends each morning in his “office,” which consists of an espresso machine, a printer and a high tray table where he stands at his laptop to process orders and invoices. His customer base is growing but he doesn’t take a salary from the Mozzarella House yet, though he says that’s not far off.
“Five years from now the business will probably be double in size,” he says. “I would like to be able to make five times as much cheese as I do now—there is a market for that—but there are limits to how much we can make without changing the way we make it.” Right now he estimates that the company produces hundreds of pounds of cheese per week, but during the summer that output more than doubles as customers crave fresh mozzarella to pair with the season’s bounty of tomatoes.
Argentieri says he’s committed to preserving the character of the cheese and the Mozzarella House, and as the company grows he’s looking forward to getting more personally involved with production. He hasn’t done much hands-on work since he first took over from Cubellis, and he admits he still has a lot to learn about making cheese. to that end he signed up for a course at Cornell University to study pasteurization and other parts of the process.
“This is not just a business; this is an art that I’m interested in. I can’t say I’m doing it for the glory, but I love it.”
Mozzarella House cheeses are sold at Russo’s Market in Watertown, Savenor’s and Salumeria Italiana in Boston, Henry’s Market in Beverly, the Ipswich and Beverly Butcher Shops, Wilson Farm in Lexington, as well as Volante Farms in Needham.
For more locations visit www.mozzarellahouse.com .
Shannon Mullen is a film producer and freelance public radio reporter whose work airs regularly on several NPR programs. She also contributes to Boston Magazine and other local news outlets. Her culinary experience includes stints as chef aboard a 1929 wooden motor yacht based in Newport, Rhode Island, and as garde manger in the kitchen of a French bistro in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.