Italian duo open mozzarella factory

PROUDLY LOCAL:  Italians Matteo Bordini, left and Raffaello Sirri, directors of Milk Drop with mozzarella and ricotta they have made.
PROUDLY LOCAL: Italians Matteo Bordini, left and Raffaello Sirri, directors of Milk Drop with mozzarella and ricotta they have made.

A chance meeting between two Italian travellers at a picnic at Rabbit Island two years ago has given rise to the city's newest business.

Handmade Italian cheese business Milk Drop opened today in pristine white premises in Nelson's Hastings St. It is the culmination of a year of planning and complex paperwork by business partners Raffaello Sirri and Matteo Bordini who have invested their futures in their new home in Nelson.

"It's been very stressful, but we are happy. I can't say we are relaxed just yet," Sirri said at the end of yesterday's inaugural cheese-making session in preparation for today's opening.

He and his wife Roberta Severi, plus Bordini, were busy yesterday scoring the results of their first batch of mozzarella - the signature product for the new business that will focus on authentic Italian cheese and food.

The cheese is being produced in premises bought a year ago in Hastings St [beside Pioneers Park] and renovated to meet strict government standards.

The stainless steel cheese-making equipment was imported from Italy and is now turning high-quality Nelson milk into the white mozzarella, best eaten fresh with sliced tomatoes and basil in the traditional and simple Italian salad, insalata caprese.

The Milk Drop premises include a shop where products can be purchased. They also aim to sell at markets around the region.

"We have the premises and the approval, now we have to build a network and talk with different outlets," Bordini said.

Sirri and Bordini have been globetrotting for years, and met in Nelson in 2012 at a picnic at Rabbit Island. They had each planned to leave Europe for a variety of reasons and had fallen for Nelson. But, it did not have the traditional Italian cheeses they loved.

"As a joke we said, ‘what do we miss most from home? Mozzarella!' Then we became more serious and started talking about building up a cheese factory and because Nelson is the best town in New Zealand, here we are," Sirri said.

He is from the Emilia Romagna region, two hours south of Venice, and Bordini is from Rome. They bought the Hastings St building in March 2013 and it has taken that long to fit it out and get Ministry of Primary Industries approval to process cheese.

"It's difficult for Kiwis but from people coming from overseas, it was more difficult," Bordini said.

They had help from a consultant from the food safety programme.

"It was very complicated - you can't do it on your own," he said.

Sirri has a background in the commercial sector and some training in cheese-making methods. Bordini has friends who work as consultants in the industry so it was easy for him to see and experience traditional, regional cheese-making practices in Italy.

They key requirement for entering the business was a love of cheese, they said.

Mozzarella cheese is a sliceable curd cheese which originated in Italy. Traditional mozzarella is made from water buffalo milk but because these animals are rare most mozzarella is now made from cow's milk.

Milk Drop is using Nelson's Oaklands milk in its cheese, which they regard highly.

They pasteurised the raw milk at their premises and added cultures created in Italy but built on the "proudly local" milk products.

"In New Zealand the milk is so rich in proteins and fat. It's very good milk because New Zealand-wide there are not many people and the cows are still free to graze on grass, which makes it a much better quality."

The business aims to also produce pasta and sauces in the future.

They are confident it will succeed.

"If you do things with passion, and do them well, it comes back to you," Sirri said.

The Nelson Mail