I usually don’t think about where my cheese comes from. Unless it’s “stop you in your tracks” good. And I take for granted just how often I get that feeling, because there is a lot of good cheese produced locally, by a company that’s been around for more than half a century. I was invited to tour Miceli’s Dairy Products on Cleveland’s east side, to get a look at what $17 million in improvements completed in the last 2 years have done for the place.
I was so happy to see a family-owned and operated business, continuing to invest in the community in which they are deeply rooted. The new “Visitors Center” boasts a beautiful dining room and full bar, both fully operational. Executive Chef and Food Services Manager, Mark Arndt, tells me they use the facility to host clients, and showcase new and classic applications of their products.
Now for proprietary reasons, I couldn’t take pictures of inside the manufacturing facility. I felt like a guest at Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.
However, trust me when I say that it’s impressive! They’re the largest privately owned manufacturer of ricotta cheese in the U.S. They take hormone-free milk from Mid-West co-ops and produce dozens of varieties of ricotta, mozzarella, marscapone, and provolone cheese.
The operation sits on 20 acres in Cleveland’s east side, not exactly a hub of industry right now. Yet the Micelli family, which already employs about 180 people, is planning to expand even further there, with facilities dedicated solely to mozzarella and provolone.
They even have a “Cheese Wizard” on staff to help them match the flavor and blend they’re trying to achieve. How do you get that job title?!
The recent expansion includes a massive machine brought in from Italy that helps them process the curds, replacing the old manual way of doing things and helping them triple their ricotta production. We’re talking millions more pounds of cheese because of this bad boy. They now make 30 different varieties for clients like Nestle and Kroger.
After our tour, Chef Mark set out a nice plate of fresh mozzarella, drizzled with equally fresh pesto, and some candied pancetta. I don’t have to tell you that I totally ignored the grapes on the plate. I suppose those were to serve as a palate cleanser, but I didn’t want to use up any room in my stomach for that…as I also knew there was pizza coming!
Mark had fired up their massive custom wood-fired pizza oven earlier in the afternoon and crafted a fresh pie for me while he explained the newest product in their line, block fresh mozzarella. It is more sturdy and less “weepy” than their six other traditional varieties. Per their website: Miceli’s fresh mozzarella is made through a process called “pasta filata” which involves stretching and kneading the cheese to produce its soft, delicate texture. It’s placed in water for freshness. This new “block” form is better on pizzas and will have more commercial application, Mark tells me.
After just a couple of minutes in the 670* oven, I had an incredibly fresh and fragrant pizza to devour before I parted ways with the fine folks at Miceli’s. Can’t wait to see what dairy dreams they turn into reality next!