ON THE MAP
Taking a Pass on the Dot-Com Life to Become Mozzarella Fellas
By Marek Fuchs
Aug. 20, 2000
Two years ago, James Miller and Adam Lawdanski, then 29, set out to start a business. But unlike many others in their generation, they saw the future in decidedly low-tech terms. Their calling was mozzarella cheese. Using Mr. Lawdanski's experience working in the mozzarella field and Mr. Miller's managerial background, these friends from grade-school days in Manhattan borrowed and begged to raise money and opened up a store in Harrison. It's called La Bella Mozzarella. Bella is Italian for beautiful, and their logo features a feminine mozzarella, complete with a bow in her hair and come-hither eyelashes. In the pocket-size kitchen in the back of the store, they make ''handmade homemade'' mozzarella and sell it in the store and to shops, delicatessens and restaurants in New Jersey and Manhattan. They recently spoke about their store and their cheese.
Q The hot thing is to start an online business, yet you went a completely different route. Why?
A. MILLER: In the computer age, how do you make money? Forever, people made money doing things that no one else wanted to do. Now everyone wants to do the computer thing. We are not very big with computers at all. So we felt that we’d go back to the old style of ''let's do something that no one ever wanted to do.''
Q. How do you make mozzarella?
A. MILLER: How it starts is it gets delivered to us in milk curd, and it comes in two 25-pound slabs. Almost looks like a meat slab. That then goes through a grinder because it has to be chopped up. It goes into a vat of boiling water in excess of 200 degrees.
LAWDANSKI: It's mixed with an oar until it gets almost like clay. Then it's stretched. Then it's broken off into one-pound balls by hand.
MILLER: By a machine, they'd always be perfect one-pound balls. Ours is a hand product, but with experience, they get formed between .98 and 1.02 pounds. The secret is how long the curd is stretched, and that's the difference between it being gummy or hard or a nice buttery taste.
Q. How do you turn it into salted mozzarella?
A. MILLER: They go into a tub of salt for four to seven minutes.
Q. How about smoked mozzarella?
A. LAWDANSKI: The smoked balls go in the salt between 20 and 30 minutes and the reason is because when it goes into the smoking chamber, unsalted balls would more likely melt than not. In the smoking chamber, the balls hang over a grill. We light up hickory chips, like barbecueing, and then a cover is placed over it. The flame is smothered.
Q. Not all your mozzarella comes in round balls.
A. LAWDANSKI: We created the tube. We had molds made of tubes, because in talking to customers we saw that they wanted something easier to slice in the slicer and easier to fit onto sandwiches. They come out round and small.
Q. What's the strangest place you sell your mozzarella?
A. LAWDANSKI: We sell it to some of the boats at the Chelsea Piers, so our mozzarella's at sea.
Q. How do you handle yourselves on sales calls?
A. MILLER: In the Italian industry, family seems to be relatively important and you have to play into all those things. We have Irish and Polish last names because our mothers were Italian.
LAWDANSKI: We get a lot of chuckles when we go in because we're saying that we sell mozzarella and we have an Irish and Polish name. I think most people think if I have a Polish guy selling me mozzarella and he has the nerve to come in, it must be pretty good.
A version of this article appears in print on Aug. 20, 2000, Section NJ, Page 14 of the National edition with the headline: ON THE MAP; Taking a Pass on the Dot-Com Life to Become Mozzarella Fellas. Order Reprints