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He gets by with a little help from the Bronx

May 3, 2019

Ever since Touch of Italy opened here in the Cape Region, I’ve written about their efforts to provide fresh, handmade mozzarella cheese to those who appreciate that sort of thing. Once mozzarella fans compare that creamy, just hours-old product to those little rubbery softballs available in most grocery stores, they definitely end up appreciating that sort of thing.

One of the auction prizes at our annual scholarship fundraising event is a day trip – in a limo - to the Bronx with Touch of Italy owner (and Bronx boy) Bob Ciprietti. Bob takes the lucky winners on a tour of his beloved Arthur Avenue (accompanied by incessant eating, of course), and one of the required stops is Casa Della Mozzarella near the corner of 187th Street and Arthur Avenue. Before Touch of Italy opened, Casa Della Mozzarella owner Orazio Carciotto generously passed his secrets on to Ciprietti and his mozzarella makers. And Touch of Italy’s fresh cheese is still made daily in Orazio’s inimitable style.

Proper mozzarella making is an entirely tactile process. As Orazio manually works the cheese curds in the boiling water (yes, bare-handed in boiling water), he can feel when the cheese is ready to be stretched then pulled into little ping pong-size balls (bocconcini), larger balls, or braided like challah bread. During one of our hallowed audiences in the “mozz room” (pronounced “mutz room” there at 187th and Arthur), one of the onlookers asked why Orazio wasn’t wearing gloves. The venerable cheesemaker replied that the cheese tells him – through his fingers – when it’s ready. What the onlooker didn’t know was that Orazio obsessively washes his hands, and has made so much mozzarella in boiling water that he actually has no fingerprints. Yup – you read that right: No fingerprints. That has made for particularly exciting airport moments when he travels to Italy – and then attempts to return to the United States. But here he is, so all’s well that ends well.

Last weekend, everyone associated with Touch of Italy and Casa Della Mozzarella was excited to hear that Orazio Carciotto was a James Beard Award winner! Specifically, a video titled “The Mozzarella Kings of New York” won the Online Video – On Location category. Orazio is one of the central figures in the winning production. I don’t usually print mile-long web addresses, but this one’s worth checking out. You can see the video at: https://firstwefeast.com/video/2018/07/mozzarella-kings-of-new-york-food-skills.

It’s a tight-knit family up there on Arthur Avenue, and Peter Madonia, Italian baker and chairman of the Belmont Business Improvement District, wrote a heartfelt tribute to his neighbor and friend. After announcing the big news, Madonia went on to say, “As much as anyone in our business community, Orazio represents the best of what Little Italy in the Bronx has to offer, in terms of quality and authenticity. His mozzarella, each one made individually with his own hands as he stands tirelessly at his table in the back of the store, is known far and wide in our region. For his talents and product to be featured in and recognized globally in a video awarded by the James Beard Foundation, one of the most renowned national nonprofit culinary arts organizations, is a tremendous honor.”

Mr. Madonia, the owner of the iconic Madonia Bakery on Arthur Avenue (home of the “wall of biscotti”), goes on to describe the mission of the James Beard Foundation. His announcement finishes with, “We know you share in our pride and congratulations to Orazio and his family on this very special honor.”

I sort of left you hanging a few paragraphs ago when I mentioned the guest’s question about gloves. Truth be told, most food sanitation inspectors agree that frequent and thorough hand washing is more important than wearing gloves, depending of course on the individual situation – such as working fresh cheese in actively boiling water, for example.
Having gotten to know Orazio personally over the last few years, I wanted to share his honor with those of us who love Cape Region dining and perhaps even frequent Touch of Italy restaurants. In fact, were it not for Bronx businesspeople like Orazio Carciotto, Sal Biancardi of Biancardi’s Meat Market (where TOI’s Italian meats are sourced), and fresh ravioli makers Joan and Chris Borgatti (just to name a few), Touch of Italy might not be here at the beach.

I love writing about all the hardworking restaurateurs who take emotional and financial risks to bring their talents to a seasonal resort. In fact, several have earned James Beard Awards and nominations themselves. Were it not for their efforts (and successes), I probably wouldn’t be writing about our hometown Business of Eating here at the beach.

Bob Yesbek is a serial foodie and can be reached at byesbek@CapeGazette.com.

  • So many restaurants, so little time! Food writer Bob Yesbek gives readers a sneak peek behind the scenes, exposing the inner workings of the local culinary industry, from the farm to the table and everything in between. He can be reached at byesbek@capegazette.com.