This article is part of our written series that introduces and explores small businesses that align with the FEC mission of encouraging local food makers and producers. This series hopes to serve as a resource and as inspiration for other industry folk in sharing the stories of local food entrepreneurs in the Brandenburg area.
by Madeline McLean
When you think of mozzarella, what do you think of? Do visions of fresh bubbling pizza exiting a wood-burning oven in Napoli come to mind? Or of lush Marzano tomatoes bursting with sweetness from the Tuscan sun? You most definitely would not think of the green pastures of former East Germany, would you?
There have been conversations circulating within the world of gastronomy lately that focus on the question: who owns a given cuisine? For example: Can a Western European chef serve Thai food? Can an American chef publish a cookbook about Indian food? Can a chef in Beijing be famous for pasta carbonara? It’s not too remote to ask a similar question, “Can mozzarella come from Germany”?
Other than their superior quality, attention to craftsmanship and renowned flavor, Berlin-based Paolella Mozzarella is unique because they are breaking the mold. It’s difficult—and to some people, unthinkable—to disrupt an association of Italy with mozzarella. (Paolella has heard Berlin restaurateurs say that their customers won’t support the product if it’s not from Italy, even if it’s a locally made, premium product.) Food branding is a kind of propaganda used by countries to subliminally connect virtues such as authenticity, quality, purity, innovation and sometimes patriotism by way of food products. It is through open boarders and immigration that cuisine travels and resettles in new nations—and we as a civilization benefit from this. This is the case with Paolella Mozzarella and how it came to be a wildly successful buffalo mozzarella operation in former East Berlin.
It all began with Gino Paolella, an Italian fellow with big cheese dreams. In the 90’s when Gino first moved to Germany, he missed the hallmark cheese of his homeland and when it came to his favorite pizza topping, there wasn’t anything resembling the mozzarella he could get in his former home region of Campania. Back then German pizza was topped with bergkäse—a hilarious proposition now. In an act to fill the hole in the cheese market—and the hole in his nostalgic heart—Gino and his son began to make fresh mozzarella from cow’s milk. Their operation started in 2001 with 550 milk cows in Putlitz, northwestern town on the outskirts of Brandenburg. Gino’s production of fresh mozzarella became known and highly sought after in pizzaiolo circles of Berlin, especially when the prices of Italian imported mozzarella and the inconsistency of quality were on the rise. After seeing success and a demand for their quality product, Gino set his sights on greener pastures. In 2012 Gino returned from Italy with 107 Italian Mediterranean water buffalo to start the production of buffalo mozzarella, a true first for Germany.
If you have ever purchased true Mozzarella di Buffala you’ll notice the price is higher than conventional cow’s milk mozzarella. This is because water buffalo milk has a higher concentration of fat (9%), (contrasted with cow’s milk which has 4–4.5% fat) and thus makes for a creamier, richer mozzarella cheese. Cows also produce a higher volume of milk per day, an astounding 40–50 liters, whereas buffalos produce around 12–15 liters per day. Plus it takes 4 liters of milk to produce a kilogram on mozzarella, so that’s 3.5 kilos of buffalo mozzarella versus 11–12 kilos of cow mozzarella per day. These combined factors are what make buffalo milk so precious. In addition, water buffalo make for great livestock, adapting to temperature fluctuations easily, which is perfect for their new lives in Eastern Germany. Plus their meat is one of the leanest and healthiest livestock meats we can consume.
During the course of this first year, Gino and his team went through endless rounds of taste-testing, which included numerous tweaks in the buffalo’s diet to get the perfect end-result. There weren’t resources with empirically collected tips when it came to caring for water buffalo in Germany—a side effect of being a pioneer—so it was an arduous year of sour and bitter mozzarella and countless hours in the fields tweaking the buffalo’s diet. During this time they perfected their mozzarella-making process, choosing the thermization process over pasteurization to retain the quality of flavor and texture inherent in the milk, which is still the standard process used today as they’ve scaled.
Now with 10 employees in the company and 450 buffalos in Putlitz—Germany’s largest water buffalo farm—they process milk into mozzarella, burrata, sfoglia, ricotta (and more) 2 to 3 times per week in Kremmen, a small former GDR farming town 40 kilometers outside of Berlin. Never veering from traditional methods, Gino commands production like a captain of a ship every single processing day, while his wife masterfully runs the cheese crew with the ease of an orchestra conductor.
Paolella has numerous restaurant and gastronomy retail customers in Berlin, though it is still a challenge to capture new clients in a city where paying a little extra for quality is still not commonplace. Their marketing strategy is lean and intuitive because they rely on the product to speak for itself. Their brand has become synonymous with quality and that is because they never squander the chance to capture optimum quality at every step in their process. Paolella’s production was built mindfully with an approach that remains in control of their product, which has meant control over their fields, their feed, their animals and their processing methods. For Gino, relying on volatile imported products didn’t grant him the satisfaction he needed to match his high expectations of quality. It is thanks to Gino’s vision, standards and his perseverance that Paolella Mozzarella exists in the Berlin market today, helping to pave the way for superior quality in homegrown products.
Wholesale pricing is 15€/kilo and 2€ per large mozzarella ball. For more sourcing information, pricing, tasting and information on their various buffalo milk products, you can get in touch directly with Paolella by email or through their website. As always, please support them on social media.