Paula Lambert: Mozzarella Company

Staci Strauss

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Editor’s Note: We have been friends with Paula Lambert for quite some time. We have always admired her expertise, her enthusiasm, and, even more, her cheeses.

On the anniversary of starting her business, the Mozzarella Company, she took some time out of her busy schedule to chat with us.

Wow! 32 years in the business of cheese. Congratulations. Tell us how that feels.

Paula Lambert: It feels great! I can’t believe that the time has flown by as it has. It seems as if it were only yesterday (or last week) that we were constructing the cheese factory, learning to make cheese, and wooing our first customers.

Why cheese? What got you started in the cheese biz?

PL: I lived in Italy after college and loved everything about it, especially the food and wine.

When I married and returned to Dallas I missed these things and decided that I would like to have a business that would make one of the Italian foods that I missed.

So, I decided that I had loved fresh mozzarella the most and because it was not available in Dallas I would become a mozzarella maker!

With all due respect to Dallas, it’s not really known as a cheese-making center. How did you set up for business in Dallas?

PL: First I went to a cheese factory in Italy where I had shopped when I lived there and they let me work in the factory and learn the basics.

Next, I contacted a cheese school in Northern Italy and they agreed to send a cheese professor to Dallas when I got my factory built. So next I had to find a location, turn it into a cheese factory and buy the necessary equipment.

Along the way I learned about all the zoning and health laws that applied to my new company.

We are working every day to make our cheeses better and better.

You’re a great traveler. We see all the time that you’re in Italy and France. What do your travels add to the Mozzarella Company?

PL: First of all, my travels allowed me to create the Mozzarella Company for had I never gone to Italy to study Italian I would have never known of fresh mozzarella.

Once the factory was established, my travels allowed me to go to various countries to meet cheesemakers and learn first had how they made their cheeses, often in the most ancient and rudimentary ways.

I then took what I learned from these cheesemakers and created my own cheeses. In later years, my travels have broadened my horizons and introduced me to wonderful new foods and cuisines that have influenced my most recent cheseses.

Your company is known for mozzarella–it’s the name of your company, for crying out loud! You make more than mozzarella. Tell us about the cheeses you make.

PL: When I first began, I named it the Mozzarella Company because my goal was to make mozzarella. After a short period of time, I realized that we could not survive by just making mozzarella, so I created new cheeses.

At first the new cheeses were Italian in origin because I traveled back to Italy to learn how to make them–cheeses like Scamorza. Crecenza, Mascarpone, Caciotta, Ricotta. Around this time I created our Mascarpone Tortas, the most famous of which is layered with Pecan Pralines.

Next young chefs in Dallas began using our cheeses and I adopted many of the ingredients that they were using in the new Southwestern Cuisine into my cheeses–and I created cheeses like Ancho Chile Caciotta and Mexican Marigold Mint Caciotta and Mozzarella Rolls with Jalapenos.

Then I went to Mexico to learn about their cheeses and created Queso Oaxaca and Queso Blanco with Chiles and Epazote.

Soon my travels took me to France where I learned of cheeses wrapped with leaves … so I combined France and Mexico and came up with Hoja Santa-wrapped Goat Cheese. And a wine-washed raw milk cheese called Blanca Bianca.

And most recently my travels in Southeast Asia inspired me to create a lemongrass-wrapped cheese called Cella. So we have a very wide selection of cheeses that we make completely by hand here in Dallas at Mozzarella Company.

Obviously, you can’t make good cheese without good milk. Tell us about sourcing your ingredients.

PL: We buy all our milk from local farmers. Texas is a great dairy state!

Talk about how your operation. Are your cheeses 100% handmade? Tell us about the folks in the back making your cheese.

PL: Yes, we make every single cheese completely by hand. The most mechanized we are is that we have a milk pump and a food processor to make pesto.

No one believes that we can make every single cheese by hand. Our cheesemakers, many of whom have been here over 20 years, arrive in the middle of the night to receive the milk and begin pasteurization, others arrive at 8 am and we continue until we finish around 6 pm.

Nowadays artisanal, small batch foods are everywhere. What was it like to make and market a niche item, like mozzarella lo those many years ago?

PL: It was the same as it is now–hard work! It took a lot of effort to get the word out and educate customers about our cheeses. And we still do that today. I can’t begin to tell you how many people I meet here in Dallas who have never heard of our company or know that there are locally made cheeses.

What advice would you offer a person interested in starting a ‘handmade’ food business?

PL: Be prepared to work harder than you anticipate! And choose to make something that you truly love.

Tell us about what is on the horizon for the Mozzarella Company? Anything exciting to tell us about?

PL: We are working every day to make our cheeses better and better. And we just want to keep on making and creating delicious cheeses.

Any last words? What have we not been clever enough to ask?

The thing that I have loved the most is meeting so many wonderful people along the way, people who I would have never had the chance to meet without the Mozzarella Company.

It has truly been a wonderful 32 years. I am proud that I have been able to provide a place for my dedicated employees to work so that they have made a career and provided for their families. And I still eat cheese every day!

Well, thank you, Paula for your insights into your business and your love for cheese.

PL: Thank you for the opportunity to speak with the HandPicked Nation.

Have you ever sampled cheeses from the Mozzarella Company? What’s your favorite?

Photo credit: Craig McCord