In this blog series, our summer intern Jackie will interview a variety of cheesemakers, mongers, and buyers, in order to get a glimpse into their day-to-day life. Follow along as Jackie goes behind the scenes and brings you the inside look on the cheese world.
Lourdes Smith is a local cheese icon in the Boston Area. If you live in the Greater Boston Area, you may recognize her, along with her fresh mozzarella and burrata, from neighborhood cheese shops and farmer’s markets. She is indeed the owner and operator of Fiore di Nonno: A fresh cheese producer located in Somerville, Massachusetts.
Lourdes has worked in the food industry, in some form or another, for over 30 years. She even has fond memories of spending summers as a teenager in Hoboken, New Jersey working at ice cream shops and delis. However, throughout her childhood, she was always intrigued by her grandfather’s mozzarella shop: Fiore’s of Hoboken. It was her grandfather’s love of cheese making that influenced her business and inspired the name: Fiore di Nonno, or Grandfather’s Flower.
Before deciding to open her own business, Lourdes tried her hand at many food related occupations. She is a professionally trained pastry chef, she has a masters degree in Health Education, and most recently, she worked for Panera Bread, doing Concept Project Management. Lourdes enjoyed her previous jobs, but nothing ever felt quite “right.” She got into cheesemaking because she knew it would really make her happy. “I’m really happy that I am following in my grandfather’s footsteps. It is definitely more satisfying than anything I’ve ever done.” Her next plan on the horizon is to open her own retail shop/specialty foods store, that will feature her products in salads and sandwiches. Keep your eyes peeled&madash;this is happening within the next year in the Boston/Cambridge area!
Wearing Different Hats
Fiore di Nonno has been up and running for eight years. During the first six years of this adventure, Lourdes was the primary cheesemaker. She would arrive to work at 7a.m., and not leave until all of the orders were filled for the day. Since all of the products Fiore di Nonno makes are considered fresh cheese, everything that is made in one day is ready to be eaten by the end of that day. Restaurants can place orders by 7a.m. and pick up their cheese before dinner service. Talk about pressure!
Though she still keeps similar hours, Lourdes is now in more of a management role. The way that Lourdes explains it is that her job is “triage.” “A lot of what I do is figure out how all the pieces go together. It’s a puzzle. I’ve never run a business before, it’s a learning curve in and of itself, taking care of the day to day tasks and managing employees—I wear many different hats.” Presently, Lourdes has three cheesemakers that do the majority of the heavy lifting, so she can focus on the branding, sales, and logistics of her company.
Being the owner, Lourdes is in charge of training all new employees. When asked about her training techniques, Lourdes explained that technical training was only a small part of the learning process. “I can only teach the basics, they have to practice feeling and understanding the cheese, and taste it constantly. Making the cheese from the curd is highly technical, well, highly skilled. They really have to understand what is going on with the milk and the curd.”
All of her current hires have some form of culinary experience, and all but one of them has been working with her for over a year. I asked the staff what they liked most about their jobs, and their response wasn’t that they got to eat lots of yummy cheese all day long. “Working with each other and with Lourdes is pretty much the joy of coming to work everyday, and that’s not sarcasm. We are friends and we have a great time working here. We act ridiculous, and the more work we have to do, the more ridiculous we are, it gets us through our long days.”
In her “spare” time, Lourdes also teaches cheesemaking classes for the community at local shops, like Dave’s Fresh Pasta. Additionally, she has joined forces with with Harvard University to teach cheesemaking to children during summer camp programs. Lourdes plans to work with children more in future and loves to inspire children to cook. “I brought packaged cheese sticks and I made string cheese that they could pull, and twist themselves. It was the best thing they had ever eaten. Kids know the difference.”
Local Cheese, Local Milk
Lourdes does not milk her own animals or make her own curd. Instead, she sources her curd from Shy Brother’s Farm, located in Westport Massachusetts. The curd is made up of milk from both Ayrshire cows and holstein cows. Lourdes finds that using a blend of milks helps to get a traditional mozzarella taste, with the addition of the butterfat flavor from the Ayrshire milk. For comparison, Ayrshire cows milk at 4.8% butterfat, while Holsteins milk at 3.2% butterfat. Additionally, the blend of milks gives the cheese an exceptional rich flavor and really sets it apart from other soft cheeses.
Shy Brother’s Farm pasteurizes the curd for Lourdes and works closely with her to make sure the end product is up to the high standards her customers expect. Some days the cheese is slightly off, and her loyal customers know. Fresh cheese is different than aged cheeses, because you see the result of it much sooner. “Every batch of cheese we make has to be good. It is going to be tasted immediately. We have an audience that knows what the product is, and knows how it is supposed to taste. Fresh cheese gets overlooked in the cheese world! It’s just as important and technical as making aged cheese.”
Lourdes is a strong believer in supporting local farmers. “There are a lot of cheesemakers out there that source their milk from dairy farms in order to support the dairy farms, even if they have to pay twice the price.” By partnering with Shy Brother’s Farm, she is supporting them continually throughout the year, and they are supporting her. Through this partnership, it is possible for both small businesses to stay afloat in a world where Industrial farms are king.
- Fiore di Nonno’s Stracciatella (traditional burrata center) won top spot in the 2011 American Cheese Society Awards. It was the first competition Lourdes ever entered and she won!
- Ana Sortun, of Oleana, was one of Lourdes’ first customers. Lourdes originally created her burrata recipe for Oleana.
- Summer is the busiest season for Fiore di Nonno. In the summer, they will make upwards of 2000 pounds of cheese, compared to the winter, when they will only make 600 pounds.
- Lourdes is a pastry chef by training. She loves the science that baking takes, and would be eager to bake for anyone not following any sort of dessert-free diet.
- One of Lourdes’ favorite dishes to make with her mozzarella is what she calls a light style of eggplant parmesan: Seared strips of eggplant with roasted tomatoes, and fresh mozzarella over the top.
- Additionally, Lourdes claims to make a mean risotto, and I totally believe her.
- Lourdes is a self proclaimed introvert. She really enjoys playing golf, curling up with a good book, and just taking time to be quiet and chill.
- Previously a grill cook at St. Cloud&madash;a restaurant that used to be in the South End of Boston—Lourdes stills loves experimenting with the fire and heat of the grill at home.
- Recently, Lourdes tested some possible menu items for her new speciality shop with assorted Pretty Things Beer. She really like the pairing of mascarpone burrata with smoked trout and Jack D’or.
- You will not find Lourdes pairing cocktails with her cheese; she is not a cocktail gal. You will however find her sipping on beer, scotch, bourbon, or vermouth.