Mozzarella Madness

Fiore’s reveals its family secrets

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John Amato Sr.
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Dominich “Doc” Vitolo
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John Amato Sr.
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Dominich “Doc” Vitolo

My introduction to Fiore’s came after years of eating supermarket string cheese and those lead balls in the refrigerator section some call mozzarella. When John Amato, Jr. gave me a slice of his fresh “mutz,” it was a wow moment. Whatever I had been eating all those years was not mozzarella. It was nothing like the fresh, soft, almost milky slice John gave me. How could it be so good? John told me to come the next morning at 8 a.m. when he would be making his first batch of the day, and he would show me.  I could also talk to his father, John, Sr.

The next morning at 8, John Sr. and Jr. were at work ready to go. Fiore’s opened in 1913. John, Sr. started working there as a delivery boy in 1950. He took over the business in 1965 from the original owner’s son, Joe Fiore. John is from Adams Street and lived at 327, just down the block from the deli, at 401 Adams. He’s been making mutz for almost 70 years and told me, “The whole secret is in the cooking.” The cooking temperature should be around 160 degrees. “It can’t be too hot or too cold.” Also, timing is important. “You cook by feeling the curd.” John’s family is originally from Molfetta, Bari, Italy but he said his mozzarella is a Neapolitan version he calls “vico equienza.” Whether it is Bari or Neapolitan, to me it’s simply delicious.

John, Jr. was making the mutz that day. Though he’s been making it for 25-plus years, he’s the junior man. His father’s brother-in-law, Dom Vitolo, also known as “Doc,” makes mozzarella many days. Doc has been making it for 50-plus years. He also has a feel for the curd.

Demystifying the Mutz  

The curds are delivered from Long Island in 42-pound sacks. The family used roughly half a sack per batch. After cooking, the finished mutz weighs around 17 pounds, so some of the weight goes down the drain with the water.

To start, John heats a big vat of water to around 160 degrees.  After gauging the temperature by sight, he takes half a sack of the curds and puts it through the “guitar” to cut it up as it goes into the water. He then uses his wooden shovel to further stir and break up the curds. He says you want the curds to cook individually, and every curd is different. The secret seems to be in the water temperature, as John adds either hot or cold water while he stirs to keep the temperature just right.

The curds start to come together as John stirs and adjusts the water. At some point, when the curds start to look smooth, John wants to slow the cooking process, so he starts to remove the water.  He continues to stir and form it as it starts to look silky. He now wants to stop the cooking, so he takes handfuls and puts them in cold water. This cools it and makes it firmer. After it cools, he either rolls it into ropes or makes little balls for salad.

Fiore Fresh  

He makes one little golf ball, throws it in salt water, and then gives it to me. Man! What taste-perfection!

The mozzarella at Fiore’s is always fresh. It’s not refrigerated. Refrigeration makes it hard and dry.  They make it throughout the day “according to need.” If you see a lot of cars in the lot and a line out front, you know they are making multiple batches that day.

Fiore’s has daily sandwich specials using the fresh mozzarella, and cooks its own roast beef, brisket, and other customer favorites onsite. We had a small debate about what goes best with the mozzarella, roasted peppers, roast beef and gravy, Italian combo, prosciutto, and on and on. John, Jr. summed it up best when he said, “Mozzarella makes everything it touches a little better.” This is especially true of Fiore’s mozzarella.—07030