Hand-stretched Mozzarella + Sliced Italian Meats = Formula for Success
By: Kathleen Furore
One of the first things Anthony Mongiello wants you to know is the nickname that paints a pretty clear picture of just who he is: “The Big Cheese.”
It’s an apt moniker for Mongiello, the founder, president and CEO of Hurleyville, New York-based Formaggio Cheese. This cheese-making wizard, after all, has grown the fresh mozzarella category from 5 to 65 items since launching the company in 1991, and created an entire specialty cheese category for grocery stores along the way.
“I consider myself an artist, and mozzarella is my canvas,” Mongiello says of his Old World approach to cheesemaking, which involves hand-stretching the cheese so it retains its unique butter cream flavor. “What the hands create, machines cannot duplicate!” he proclaims.
Anthony Mongiello “The Big Cheese.”
The History Behind the Legend
In 1925, Mongiello’s grandfather, Lorenzo Mongiello, started a specialty canning corporation to manufacture ricotta cheese.
“My grandfather was a tinsmith—and in the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s, ricotta was packaged in recyclable metal cans,” Mongiello explains. “People would clean the empty cans and return them to the store. My grandfather built the machinery to produce them.”
Then Anthony’s dad, Angelo Mongiello Sr., stepped in. Though he had trained to be an optometrist, he realized the cheese business was in his blood after accompanying Lorenzo to a cheese-making plant and watching workers mold mozzarella with their bare hands in boiling hot water.
“My dad invented the first automated mozzarella molding machine,” Anthony says.
Finally, it was Anthony’s turn. He was in the room when Angelo pitched the then-revolutionary idea of a string cheese snack to Polly-O—and he took note.
“I left college, and my dad got me a job with Polly-O in the metro New York area—it was a true lesson in the dos and don’ts of making fresh mozzarella,” Anthony recalls. “I got my hand in the mix and realized it’s like clay!”
He never looked back.
“I went into business for myself in a garage in Brooklyn,” he says.
At first, it was tough to build a business in the competitive world of cheese.
“People would say, ‘You’re a nice guy but why should I buy fresh mozzarella from you?’. And truth be told, I didn’t have a good answer,” Anthony says. He tried lowering his prices; the competition did, too.
“My dad said, ‘You’re making the same product everyone else is,’” he says. “That was like lighting a fuse on a stick of dynamite!”
Prosciutto Artisan Wraps
In 1987, he was issued his first patent for Stuffed Crust Pizza, which became a Pizza Hut hit. The rest, as they say, is history.
“I took that creativity and started to analyze what was happening in stores—who was buying cherry size mozzarella in water, for example. And it was only Italians buying it!” Anthony says. I wanted to bring it to the masses.”
The Formaggio Formula
The desire to get his fresh mozzarella into the hands (and hearts!) of non-Italian consumers transformed the business.
“I said, ‘What do consumers do when they take the mozzarella home? They marinate it in garlic, herbs, olive oil and spices,’” he remembers. “And I thought, ‘Wow, can I do that in the factory and put it in a package?’”
The answer was a resounding “Yes!”
The result was Formaggio’s flagship product, which Anthony describes as “our famous marinated mozzarella balls in a light canola blend of olive oil infused with herbs.”
“The Big Cheese” didn’t stop there.
“Once that took off, I took my canvas and brush and started going crazy!” he says.
Italian Meats in the Mix
Like any artist, Anthony Mongiello wasn’t content with the masterpieces he’d created. So, he decided to add Italian meats to his palette.
“We used pre-sliced Italian meats and created a charcuterie roll with prosciutto, soppressata and Genoa salami, combined with our hand-stretched mozzarella. The mozzarella is a complement to the meats and enhances the Old World Italian tradition without over-powering it,” he explains.
Other meat-and-cheese products followed. They include Formaggio’s meat-and-mozzarella rolls, and artisan wraps that feature fresh mozzarella encased in thin slices of chorizo, soppressata, prosciutto, pepperoni and Genoa salami.
“We hand-roll the wraps like a cigar,” Anthony explains. “We start with a fresh mozzarella stick, hand-roll the meat around it, then line the wraps up in a tray like soldiers.”
The wraps mesh well with today’s snacking trend, and appeal to today’s time-challenged consumers. They come in a 2-pack and in a new 10-wrap pack. “They’re great to give kids for lunch, and they’re great to eat on-the-go,” he says.
Charcuterie bites “the size of a quarter” and made with sliced mozzarella, fresh basil and prosciutto are the latest addition to the line. “They’re bite-sized and you can just pop them in your mouth,” Anthony says. “It’s an unmatched combination.”
Prosciutto Sticks & Dips
Slicing Instrumental to Success
Quality product, of course, is key to any food manufacturer’s success.
But in the competitive world of deli meats and cheeses, slicing, too, plays a central role.
“Portion control is how you make or lose money,” notes Anthony, who has high praise for the way Weber equipment helps Formaggio come out on the “make money” side.
“Weber slicers are perfect as far as portion control goes—and that’s especially important because we slice our meats so thin,” he explains. “Weber slicers also have helped increase our productivity…whether we’re using them for our artisan wraps, charcuterie rolls or bites, all of the meats are sliced on Weber slicers. They’re work horses—effective and efficient.”
Customer service is a plus, too, Anthony adds.
“Working with Weber is a pleasure, whether it is talking about parts and service, or talking to a technician to get things running if a machine ever goes down. It is what makes a company like ours a success.”
Weber, in fact, is a big part of why Formaggio is able to “create trends and products that fit consumers’ busy lifestyle.”
As Anthony “The Big Cheese” Mongiello concludes, “Giving consumers an authentic, Italian experience is what we try to do with all of our products…and it’s why our specialty products will always have a place on supermarket and club store shelves.”