As a professional chef, it’s hard for me to choose one single ingredient that I love most. That being said, a luscious warm ball of freshly made mozzarella would certainly be in my top five. Naturally, I perked up when a buddy of mine recently insisted that the best fresh mozzarella in the United States is located in Hoboken, New Jersey.
As a lifelong New Yorker, my first instinct was skepticism. I almost blurted out, “C’mon, how could anything from New Jersey be better than anything from New York?” Instead, I simply argued that the best fresh mozzarella could be found near Arthur Avenue, in the famous Little Italy section of the Bronx. The fact that I’d never been to Hoboken seemed irrelevant at the time.
Luckily, my overinflated sense of hometown pride didn’t prevent me from investigating the fresh mozzarella situation in Hoboken. I’m humbled to say that my friend was right. The best fresh mozzarella available without crossing any oceans can be found at M & P Biancamano, in Hoboken, New Jersey. (If you live in New York City, you need only to cross the Hudson River to achieve pure mozzarella bliss.)
Fresh mozzarella is affectionately referred to as “mutz” in Hoboken, and it’s clearly a source of local pride. There’s even an annual competition called Mutz Fest. M & P Biancamano won the inaugural People’s Choice award in 2013, and they’ve won a few more times in subsequent years. But the competition is fierce. If you ask a handful of random Hoboken residents who makes the best mutz, you might get a variety of responses.
On a recent visit, I bought and tasted homemade fresh mozzarella from six different delis, all located within about one square mile of each other. Simply listing the names of each deli puts a smile on my face: Fiore’s House of Quality, Losurdo’s, Luca Brasi’s, Vito’s, Lisa’s, and of course M & P Biancamano. These names evoke neighborhood joviality and the mouthwatering possibilities of a classic Italian American sandwich shop. But in the end, the mozzarella at M & P Biancamano stood out in a few subtle yet crucial ways:
High-quality fresh mozzarella is generally the result of hand-stretched cheese curd. Slight differences in how the curd is stretched and salted can result in drastic variations to the final product. If you gave two master mozzarella makers identical curd, they would undoubtedly produce two different mozzarellas.
At M & P Biancamano, one single person has been stretching their curd for the past 33 years: the owner, Peter Biancamano. Peter learned from his father, who first opened the business in 1981. And his mozzarella is truly the best.
Fresh mozzarella fails to live up to expectations if it's too rubbery, dry, or unevenly salted. Peter’s mutz never suffers from these downfalls. His cheese, made fresh every morning, is soft and yielding, like a creamy cloud, with just enough firmness to give the mozzarella its signature sheen and delicate elasticity. Additionally, a light seasoning of salt is present throughout, accenting the pure sweet milkiness of the cheese.
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Peter forms his mozzarella into three-pound loaves. This shape helps the cheese retain its natural moisture. You can buy smaller pieces of mozzarella sliced from the larger hunk, but remember that you should keep it at room temperature and eat it that same day. Once it goes into the refrigerator, the texture will change permanently.
The sandwiches at M & P Biancamano are beautiful and gigantic, as well. A single sandwich can sustain you for a full day if you eat half of it for lunch and the other half for dinner. (I did this once; it was a great day.)
As good as the sandwiches are, just remember that the mozzarella is the star of the show. I can’t imagine standing inside M & P Biancamano and not ordering a piece of fresh mozzarella. Even if I’ve just ordered a giant sandwich, I’ll order a piece of fresh mozzarella too, to have on the side.
Peter runs the deli with his wife. They were quietly bickering behind the counter when I asked, "You guys married?"
"Yes, 37 years," she said. "And I haven't killed him yet."