Located in Pomona, California, just up the road from the prestigious Claremont Colleges, Farm to Fork vendor Di Stefano Premium Cheese recently welcomed a group from Bon Appétit for a tour of their production facility.
Di Stefano is a family-owned and operated company, with founder and cheesemaker Mimmo Bruno still contributing his lifetime of experience and passion for cheesemaking to the business. Built on the foundation of sticking to traditional practices, high-quality milk, and using the least number of machines during the cheese making process as possible, Di Stefano’s sells quality cheese to discerning buyers across the country. Stefano, the eldest brother of the family, led National Marketing and Food Education team member Nina Abramson as well as executive chefs and general managers from the Bon Appétit at Scripps College and Pitzer College teams on the tour.
Like being welcomed into an Italian home, Stefano immediately offered the group espresso and a new bow-tie style burrata cheese served with anchovies. While nibbing on the first of what would be many cheese snacks that day, the group was escorted into the Willy Wonka-like cheese factory. Stefano brought everyone directly into the cheese making assembly line and wasn’t shy about having the group touch, smell, and taste cheese at different stages in the process.
One of the most exciting parts of the tour was when Stefano opened one of the large metal hoods to one of the machines to grab a large chunk of curd to demonstrate the process of making fresh mozzarella.
Stefano explained that that once the curd is made, it’s sliced very thinly to allow for the most surface area as possible, so that when the warm water is added to the curd it heats up evenly. Stefano says “our job as cheese makers is to tell the cheese what we want it to do.”
After slowly adding a combination salt and warm water, Stefano carefully guides the curd together by hand until it comes together, resembling what we recognize as mozzarella. Stefano told the group that most of the machines in their warehouse weren’t originally created for cheese and were modified to produce their small-batch cheeses at low speeds – mimicking the delicate touch of human hands.
After the tour Stefano talked about the company’s philosophy on creating a healthy work environment for their employees. These policies include a 4-day work week and providing funds for employees to enjoy active hobbies outside of work like biking, hiking, yoga, and martial arts.
As the tour wound down and Nina and the Scripps and Pitzer teams dispersed, they left with a wealth of knowledge about the cheesemaking process and even more appreciation for a valued Farm to Fork partner.