Casa Del Caciocavallo, a family-owned Italian cheesemaking business in Gardiner, will now have its hand-rolled organic cheese available for purchase in the entire Northeast region and in the specialty food store Whole Foods.
While owners Fred and Cristina Destefano first opened their cheese business, made and rolled and aged on their family-owned farm, in 2003, Fred has been making cheese alongside his mother, Maria Destefano, since he was a young boy. “My mother in-law didn’t like to see any milk go to waste, so she started making cheese with it,” said Cristina, who does the sales, publicity and marketing end of the business while her husband is all about making the cheese.
Maria and her husband Vittorio came “straight off the boat from Italy and settled here [in Gardiner], where they had a family farm that was just to feed their family,” explained Fred, who works full-time as an electrician for SUNY New Paltz.
At first, the cheese that his mother made by hand was for the family and for close family friends, but as word spread about how delicious the cheese was, there became an increasing demand for it. That’s when Fred and Cristina stepped in and decided to open Casa Del Caciocavallo and sell their handmade, locally produced caciocavallo cheese to local markets, restaurants and various arts and crafts fairs that had specialty food sections.
Caciocavallo is a traditional Italian table cheese comparable to a very mild provolone or an aged mozzarella. Fred makes his cheese with raw Jersey cow milk from a dairy farm in Kerhonkson. He then heats the milk to a certain temperature, adds the rennet enzymes and lets it sit until the curds begin to separate. He then melts the curds down, stretches them and, when he thinks they’re ready, puts them in a salt brine. “There are no other preservatives used, so we have to use salt,” explained Cristina. The cheese is hung and dried in an aging room for approximately two months, and then it’s ready for consumption.
Cheesemaking, as Fred and Cristina will attest to, is an artform and not something that can be learned from a book. “I can tell you how it’s made, yet I’ve tried to make it myself with absolutely no success!” she said with a laugh.