Pasquale Langella rises every day around 5 a.m. and gets to the shop by 7 or 7:30 in the morning at the latest. Sleeping in is not an option, even though he’s the boss. He’s got too much work to do to take it easy.
Moments after arriving at Red Horse Market in East Hampton, Langella dons his white chef’s jacket and matching cap, rolls up his sleeves, and dives right in. He works as fast as he’s able to; he’s got to if he wants to keep up with the demand for his famous “melt-in-your-mouth” mozzarella.
His work space — tucked away in a quiet corner of the shop, next to the salad bar and behind the deli — is neat and tidy, save for buckets he fills with 190-degree water and cheese curd. The water can’t be too hot or too cold, as extreme temperatures result in either a cottage cheese-like texture or a consistency akin to the elasticity of a rubber band, Langella reports, adding that 190 degrees is rough on the skin but makes the cheese “just perfect.”
Moving as quickly as he can, he plunges his hands into the not-quite-boiling water and removes the curd, which comes from grass-fed cows pastured upstate. He then presses it through “piano wire” and strains it into giant metal bowls. Next, the Red Horse Market co-owner typically spends the next 20 to 25 minutes kneading the gooey cheesy substance, which has a taffy-like texture at this point, with an oversized stainless steel “shovel.”
Throughout the process, he makes sure to season the curd with kosher salt. That, he says, is what makes his cheese stand out above the crowd.
“Everybody else, they only salt the top. Me, I’m the only guy who salts it through and through,” says the cheese maker, who has been at it since the age of 14 after learning at the hands of his grandmother, “nonna Maria,” back in their homeland of Naples, Italy.
After all the kneading is done, the cheese is ready to be cut and plunged into a bath of very cold water, which helps it to create and maintain its shape. From there, it’s packaged and covered with more cold water and placed on a shelf in front of the mozzarella station. Never refrigerate good mozzarella, says the cheese master. That kills the taste.
The cheese doesn’t stay on the shelf long though. Even when he beat his personal record last year of making 735 pounds in one day during the Memorial Day weekend, people were lined up to cart away his hard-earned work practically as fast as he could make it.
“They all come here for my mozzarella,” says Langella with a smile. “It’s legendary.”
– Dawn Watson