But yet, there I was, standing quietly inside, slightly to the right of the entrance observing a small, orderly line of customers awaiting their turn to be served by a smiling helpful staff at the counter. Behind the counter - a large window with a full view of the backstage area where the Aurora team was just finishing up the days production of mozzarella and fior di latte.
It was there when I spotted Paolo Amato, owner of the factory and the gentleman who would be my cheese guru for the morning. I quickly hopped in line to announce my arrival.
A few minutes later, I found myself in front of stainless steel tubs of young warm mozzarella cheese.
And after a quick lesson on mozzarella making, Amato reached into one of those tubs and pulled out a small mozzarella ball known as bocconcino and handed me one. Made with the milk of our Jersey cows, he told me. His herd that graze in the nearby hills of Tramonti overlooking the Amalfi Coast. These boconcini, braided mozzarella, as well as balls as large as 1.5 kilos ( a little over 3 lbs) are popular not only for walk in customers, but many of Campanias top restaurants.
I noticed another tub of what from a distance looked like mozzarella. Fior di latte, Amato shared, which does not have the same amount of moisture as mozzarella. It is often used in cooking, such as on top of pizzas, for example.
A few snapshots, then Amato suggested we head to the storefront so that he could show me a few of his other specialties. His aged cheeses which have been gathered here, in one place after being aged in small grotte/caves in the towns of Tramonti ( where his father is from) and Nusco ( where his mother is from).
But first, Paolo offered me a cold blast from the past - spumone gelato dating back to the Bourbon period. I chose one that featured the flavor of hazelnuts from nearby Giffoni and chocolate, and sat at a comfortable stool in the corner as Amato went to help out at the counter.
The stream of customers that I had witnessed earlier continued. It was soon clear to me that I was sitting at a popular destination for many. Up to 800 customers a day from all over the region. And not just cheese, but other milk products such as fresh sugar free yogurt. Yes, Amato handed me a cup of some as well...
Some clients knew what they wanted, having been here many times before. Others sought out advice, suggestions from Amato and other members of the staff.
It was then my turn to choose a few cheeses. And since I knew next to nothing, I put myself in the capable hands of Amato.
It was exciting to watch Paolo as he chose a provolone cheese aged in walnut leaves, slowly and carefully unwrapped the plastic wrap and slice it open for the first time. A slight smile as he breathed in the aromas, then allowed me to do the same.
Or as he sliced gingerly into a blue veined cheese that had been aged in Fiano di Avellino grape marcs from Feudi di San Gregorio winery's dessert wine.
Or even as delicately picked up a small caprino cheese which had been aged with a sprinkling of herbs and dried flowers form nearby Montoroerbe.
You've got to try this one, Amato said, as he unwrapped a piece of pecorino cheese with black truffles from Norcia.
Each cheese had a story, a history. I just knew it - I could see it in his eyes as he sought out another, then yet another cheese for me to try....
Erborinato di capra a latte crudo, a blue cheese made with unpasteurized goat's milk...
pecorino dei grotti di monte lattari, pecorino cheese aged in Mount Lattari...
crosta fiorita di capra al timo affumicato, flowery rind goat cheese with smoked thyme...
This should hold us over for awhile, I thought as Amato tenderly placed each little flavorful bundle into a bag. A bag of goodies which would open up new world for me with each bite, taste, and swallow.
On my way to the car, I was already thinking of my next visit. The one where I would visit the other side of the counter and try some more mozzarella, pick up some ricotta, and other specialties that I saw other customers walking away with. Maybe show up a little earlier to see the cheese making in progress...And then I was curious to see what progress Amato had made on his new cheese caves...
When I pulled into the entrance of Caseificio Aurora that Saturday afternoon, I had no idea what the next couple of hours had in store for me. There was no way, or so I believed, that a visit to a cheese factory would be a gastronomical life changing moment.
Maybe that is what made it so special.
|Definitely a family business. Amato with his mom.|
Via Albanese 11
Sant' Egidio del Monte Albino (Sa)