Getting to grips with Italian cheese

HANDS-ON: Massimo Lubisco and Marina Marchenko love the challenge of creating quality Italian cheeses.
HANDS-ON: Massimo Lubisco and Marina Marchenko love the challenge of creating quality Italian cheeses.

Mozzarella cheese was once a scarce commodity in New Zealand. You can now pick it up at markets, delicatessens and even your local supermarket. Reporter Karina Abadia finds out why one Italian couple chose to make it their business.

Massimo Lubisco has been an accountant, a light and sound technician for theatre, a computer programmer and a cameraman.

When he moved to Auckland with his fiancee Marina Marchenko in 2006, they started Italian Cheeses because they saw a gap in the market for locally produced mozzarella.

Their product is made using cow's milk because they prefer the taste. But they find that some people think it has to be made from buffalo milk to be authentic.

"Many people think mozzarella is only buffalo mozzarella. I try to explain that it's not as common in Italy as mozzarella made from cow's milk," he says.

The couple also produce ricotta as well as scamorza, bocconcini and marzotica in smaller quantities.

Their ricotta won gold and their mozzarella picked up a bronze award at the 2012 Cuisine New Zealand Champions of Cheese Award.

When they started the business Mr Lubisco thought he'd spend a couple of years making cheese and then return to Puglia.

But it has proved a more difficult business than he anticipated.

"It only takes a couple of months to learn to make a quality mozzarella but being able to masterfully mould the cheese by hand takes longer," he says.

What's more, to create mozzarella's chewy texture the cheese must be stretched in water at a temperature of 90 degrees.

"It's not easy to adjust to putting your hands in the extremely hot water."

Mr Lubisco uses gloves but this is uncommon in Italy, he says.

"Timing is everything. If the water is too hot or cold or you leave the cheese in the water too long, it can be ruined," Ms Marchenko says.

Mr Lubisco has tweaked the recipe according to customer feedback about salt levels and texture.

As well as taking care of the administration side of the business, Ms Marchenko helps make cheeses.

This is something she finds interesting: "I like experimenting with the cheesemaking process and seeing the different results."

The couple produce cheese in a shared cheeseroom in Mt Albert two to three times a week in order to ensure freshness. In Italy, mozzarella is produced daily, she says.

Making the cheeses can take around 12 hours and sometimes they work until midnight.

Typically they produce between 40 and 80 kilos of cheese a week, depending on orders from the various restaurants they supply. They also make cheeses to sell at markets. Ms Marchenko takes care of their stall at the La Cigale market in Parnell on Saturday and Sundays while Mr Lubisco is at Matakana market on Saturdays and other markets on Sundays.

They love the interaction and exchanging recipes with customers.

The couple aims to make the stretchy delicacy more affordable and more commonplace on Aucklanders' dining tables.

East And Bays Courier