A slew of “authentic” Italian shops and restaurants has slowly been filing into Prague over the past decade or so. But very few seem to be the real deal.
Enter Mozzarellart. This little shop at the bottom of Bělehradská may be the closest you’ll get to southern Italy short of buying a plane ticket. Not only does it make its own fresh cheese supply each weekday morning, but its two boisterous proprietors – Marco D’Amelj Melodia and Tiziana Somma – hail from Italy’s Puglia region, bringing a much-needed burst of fast-talking, hand-waving energy to the dreary Nusle crossroads. While it’s only been open for two months, it somehow feels like Mozzarellart has been part of the city’s fabric for years.
“Ciao! Ciao!” D’Amelj cheerfully cries as a group of recent Saturday morning shoppers wander in. “The burrata is already gone you guys. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” And here’s the surprising thing: D’Amelj actually means every word. Talk soon turns to the weather and weekend plans. It’s a warm, refreshing exchange, one not normally seen on the Czech consumer market, where most like to do their shopping in brooding silence.
“Me and Tizi are two people who are not quiet – but in a good way, you know?” D’Amelj explains. “And we are so happy, because this is a new adventure. We love to meet new people.”
Their meet-and-greet strategy, a relatively new concept for Prague, appears to be working. Mozzarellart has a growing list of repeat customers, some of whom, according to D’Amelj, have started to pick up a little Italian during their regular visits, while others have invited the couple out for drinks and food.
“It’s true! We can’t say ‘yes’ to them all,” D’Amelj gushes, pausing to wave at a passing bicyclist. “Day by day, more people are coming. The best satisfaction for me is that people come back. It is a great pleasure. They know us as Mr. and Mrs. Mozzarella. Seriously.” Another passerby glances in, and D’Amelj waves furiously: “Ciao! Ciao!”
The friendly, small-town banner is surreal and slightly disorienting. (We are talking about Nusle, after all, where progressiveness still seems to be an abstract idea.) But it’s not the only thing that is endearing about the place. Mozzarellart produces around 50 different kinds of cheeses, all made from 100 percent Czech cow milk; each one more heart-stopping than the last (writes this lover of all things dairy).
And just in case that isn’t a big enough sell – the prices are ridiculously low for such an extensive in-house operation. The classic mozzarella, for example, is 33 CZK per 100 g, while stracciatella goes for 40 CZK. Ricotta is 23 CZK and the creamy burrata, Mozzarellart’s top seller, is priced at 45 CZK.
“I want more people to try and buy my products. I don’t want to be exclusive,” D’Amelj explains. “Real Italian food is good and cheap.” (Indeed. Now won’t someone please clue in all the other so-called “authentic” Italian venues in Prague?)
Word has caught on quick with many local restaurants scrambling to place their cheese orders here. There’s even one Berlin-based eatery that sends someone to Prague on a weekly basis to get its Mozzarellart fix.
“It’s a chain reaction, and we are happy,” says D’Amelj.
D’Amelj and Somma’s days are long. The cheese making process starts around 7am and can be viewed from the shop’s big street windows. They taste everything they make, and if something isn’t quite perfect, they’ll start again from scratch. “If one mistake is made, the Mozzarella is impossible,” says D’Amelj. “The cheese is alive. It is at its best for the first three days, but after that, it starts to change and the taste starts to change.” So the crew works hard to get everything exactly right. “I love Mozzarella. So if it tastes amazing to me, it will be incredible for other people.”
Officially, they close at 9pm on weekdays, but D’Amelj admits that the shop routinely stays open until 10pm, sometimes later. “We like the satisfaction of the customer. That is something that is priceless,” he says. “My idea was to export something of my tradition – a little bit of my culture – to Prague.”
With that in mind, Mozzarellart also offers a sprinkling of other products from small family-run companies in the Puglia region, including pasta, wines, and different kinds of spreads. Before anything goes on the shelf, customers are asked to taste and give the potential new product a thumbs up or down. A brownish-looking paste with a curious chocolate and chili flavor is currently being floated. “We spread it on the old cheese. Do you like?” D’Amelj asks, licking a smudge off his thumb. “I just don’t know yet.”
The goal is to make Mozzarellart a household name in Prague – big plans are slated for September, but everything’s hush-hush for now – before branching out to other European cities, like London, Vienna and Berlin.
“For me, it is the right time to open something like this,” D’Amelj says. “We are making something very special, and people are ready to try something new.”
Photos by Michael Heitmann/http://mheitmann.ch/
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