I learned about Georgiana DePalma Tedone from the New York Times One in 8 Million Collection. Every Sunday in 2009 they profiled a New Yorker through a black and white photography slideshow overlayed with an audio interview. I heard some incredible stories, but one of them particularly stood out and that was ‘The Mozzarella Maker’. Georgiana DePalma Tedone is 91 years old and has been making mozzarella by hand at her shop Tedone Latticini in Williamsburg, Brooklyn for 75 years. She wakes up every day at 2am, makes mozzarella for about 3-4 hours, then works in her shop for the rest of the day. 6 days a week.
I could not wait to meet this woman. With the day off for Martin Luther King Day, Tyler and I took a trip up there to get some mozzarella and see what her place was all about.
An old string of green tinsel was draped along-side the cheeses and meats hanging from the window of the unmarked storefront. There were a few religious figurines on the window ledge. The Virgin Mary’s bright blue dress stood out in the dull light. When we walked in, there were no signs or prices in the bare white room. The deli case was completely fogged over so I couldn’t quite tell what was in it. An old woman with white-as-snow hair sat at the cash register in a grey folding chair. Above her, a few foot-long wooden shelves held jars of, presumably, olives and sauces.
There wasn’t much beyond that. The counter had a small grey basin with 2 balls of fresh mozzarella in plastic wrap. And there was a deli-slicer beside it. A fast-talking old Italian man asked us what we wanted.
“Mozzarella,” we said.
“What else?” he demanded, “How about prosciutto? Do you need some meats? Why don’t you take some of the prosciutto?”
We had heard that it was very difficult to leave there with just mozzarella. 🙂
We looked at one another and shrugged, “We’ll take a 1/4 pound.”
As he took out a slab of prosciutto and placed it against the deli slicer, we tried to peer into the deli case to see what else might be in there.
“What kind of dried sausages are those?” Tyler asked.
“Sweet and spicy. I have fresh sausage too. Do you need some fresh sausage? ‘Cause I’ve got fresh sausage. You can bbq it.”
“That’s ok, we don’t have a grill,” I said.
The old man laughed, then handed us a piece of proscuitto.
As soon as we began to eat, the old woman eyed us carefully. She spoke in her shaky voice, “Do you like it? That’s the good stuff. The imported stuff.”
“Of course,” we nodded. The buttery prosciutto melted in our mouths.
“Try the provolone,” she urged. A few pieces sat in a small clear Tupperware. It was, again, delicious.
As they rang us up, then packaged our meat and cheese, the old woman looked on with a smile, nodding appreciatively when we thanked her. I only noticed her eyes grow curious and large when we tried the food. And it reminded me of the Italian women in my family- watching your face as you try each meal, wanting to see your joy. Your satisfaction. Other than that, she didn’t move from her folding chair. But this was her territory. I felt lucky to be a visitor.
I really hope you’ll click on her story below. She is an amazing woman.