New Jersey’s Italian Cheese Empire

In Abruzzo, Italy, lies a small village by the identify of Anversa degli Abruzzi. And after I say small, I imply it—simply over 300 individuals inhabit the mountainside city overlooking the Saggitario Gorge. Livestock roams within the mountains of this eye-catching denomination. 

A household on this village—the Marcellis—herd sheep and goats for the aim of creating farmstead cheeses. Their farm, La Porta dei Parchi, has been in existence for 45 years and is sought out within the area as a pillar of sustainable and moral agriculture. Many of those cheeses are fairly distinctive, utilizing uncooked milk from historic breeds of livestock that feed on mountain grass and herbs particular to the world. This, mixed with the experience of a household who eats, sleeps and breathes cheesemaking, creates sorts of cheese that differ closely from something made right here within the States. Merely put, these cheeses are nothing like something you will have ever had.

Anversa degli Abruzzi | Pictures courtesy of Marcelli Formaggi

4,300 miles from Abruzzo in Clifton, New Jersey, lies one other set of Marcellis. Their job? Importing and distributing their prolonged household’s expertly-crafted merchandise. That is the story of how Marcelli Formaggi—a transatlantic household enterprise—got here to be. 

I first met Tina Marcelli of Marcelli Formaggi again in 2019 after I was working as a server. She was a visitor and, unbeknownst to me, the supplier of a number of of our cheeses that night. One of many pastas on our menu contained an imported cheese from Abruzzo that I very elegantly pitched to her. She began laughing. “I bought that cheese to you guys,” she stated, “that’s my household’s cheese!”

I used to be a bit of bit embarrassed, however Tina listened to me spiel the complete factor with a smile earlier than revealing to me that she knew extra about it than I ever may. Her eyes gentle up on the story of her household’s merchandise—irrespective of what number of instances she’s heard or informed it. And for years, I had heard bits and items of the total story, however it wasn’t till lately that Tina sat me down and gave me the complete historical past of Marcelli Formaggi, full with a cheese tasting that lined quite a lot of their catalog.

The very first thing Tina made sure I knew was that Marcelli Formaggi is a household enterprise in each sense of the phrase. Her ancestors have lived in Anversa degli Abruzzi for over 500 years and doubtlessly even longer. Clearly, over the centuries, some stayed put and others made the lengthy trek to America. “It’s a household,” Tina informed me,  “It’s a proud time [for us].” 

From the inception of the enterprise to now, that sentiment has by no means wrinkled. 

It began nearly 15 years in the past when the “American Marcellis,” as Tina calls them, took a visit to the village the place her household was from. For practically all of them, it was their first time setting foot within the motherland. It was additionally the primary time any of them would meet their Italian household—Italian Marcellis. What they didn’t know was that for a few of them, this was the beginning of one thing a lot bigger than a household trip.

Marcelli Formaggi

Pictures courtesy of Marcelli Formaggi

Previous to the go to, Tina and her speedy household have been fully oblivious to what their Italian kin did in Abruzzo. Upon assembly, they sat down for a meal and Nunzio Marcelli—a newly found relative and cousin of Tina’s father, Bob—put down a cheese board for the guests to feast on. “I believed he might need purchased it for us, which was good,” Tina informed me. Nevertheless it was really cheese that he made. Proper there within the village. The household was immediately enamored by the standard of the cheese, which tasted nothing like even the best high quality cheeses within the US. The flavour of recent sheep’s milk was extremely current in any of the pecorino cheeses and recent goat cheeses tasted of the terroir of the mountainside.

Nunzio’s cheeses are what’s generally known as farmstead cheese—merely which means he makes the cheese with the milk from the animals raised on the farm. It’s a hyperlocal manufacturing and thus, one that’s bursting with terroir. Moreover, as a result of the Marcellis don’t increase cows within the mountains, additionally they carry cow’s milk cheeses that they buy from native farms in Abruzzo. The farms work collectively as a collective. This creates a well-rounded and complicated catalog crammed with cheeses from a number of totally different animals introduced in a number of alternative ways—each in contrast to something discovered within the States.

Pecorino Cacio Fiorello

Pictures courtesy of Marcelli Formaggi

After tasting the cheese for the primary time, the wheels already started turning. When Tina and her speedy household returned residence, they have been already asking themselves how the reference to their Italian household may stay. Tina’s father, Bob, specifically, started to brainstorm methods to deliver this product to America. Nonetheless, there was a while to go earlier than the Marcelli Formaggi that we all know in the present day got here to be.

Bob—a extremely lauded chef—felt that as business individuals, they may flip this craft into one thing bigger. They already knew the restaurant life and Bob knew what eating places regarded for and which merchandise have been significantly engaging to a chef’s eye. So, he started to slowly develop Marcelli Formaggi. His son Andy was the primary member of the family to leap aboard and helped Bob to launch Marcelli Formaggi off the bottom. Andy labored with the model till taking a job on the newly opened Eataly in flatiron. Tina was additionally working in NYC eating places on the time as a pastry chef. However, quickly, they might each put down their chef’s knives in alternate for cheese knives. 

By 2014, it was a full-blown household affair. Tina and her mother Emily joined Bob and Andy returned to the corporate quickly thereafter. 

This was a household of food-minded individuals. Each their love for meals and their ancestral roots discovered them looking for to create one thing that not solely happy the plenty however informed their household’s story. Nunzio Marcelli’s craft was particular, and the Marcellis knew it. However now extra individuals would get to study it. Extra importantly, extra individuals would have the pleasure of tasting his farmstead cheeses.

It took a while to persuade their Italian counterparts, however in 2007 a marketing strategy was shaped and the early phases of Marcelli Formaggi started to take off.

Anversa degli Abruzzi

Anversa degli Abruzzi

It didn’t take lengthy for cooks in New Jersey and New York to find Marcelli Formaggi. Acclaimed chef Marc Forgione , a longtime household pal and really first buyer in NYC, started utilizing their merchandise and from there, it snowballed.  “The primary time I tasted one in every of Marcelli’s cheeses, I closed my eyes and will nearly see the sheep grazing on the hills on the farm and [could] scent the Abruzzo air,” says Forgione of Marcelli’s merchandise. 

Equally, on this aspect of the river, New Jersey cooks have taken a liking to the Marcelli Formaggi manner during the last half-decade. Chef Robbie Felice of Pasta Ramen, Viaggio and Osteria Crescendo has lengthy been a proponent of Marcelli’s catalog, using the Abruzzese cheeses in an array of dishes. At Mike’s Pasta Shoppe in East Rutherford, NJ, you will discover Marcelli imported cheeses, pastas, olive oils and extra. Tina famous that acclaimed Montclair chef, Mike Carrino was the primary Jersey restaurant to buy the Marcelli’s cheese. 

Ricotta Marcelli Formaggi

Pictures courtesy of Marcelli Formaggi

“We’re a selection [to use] and we worth each single restaurant and buyer that chooses us,” Tina informed me. 

So far as cheese goes, it merely doesn’t get higher than Marcelli Formaggi. As we speak, Nunzio’s daughter Viola Marcelli runs the farm and serves as the first cheesemaker. Their line of merchandise covers quite a lot of types and flavors, offering a cheese for everybody. The Ricotta al Fumo di Ginepro, for instance, is a two-month-aged sheep’s milk cheese that’s smoked with juniper. It’s creamy, with a slight chunk and a profound smoky taste on the again of your palate. Moreover, it’s made simply steps from the mountains that the sheep graze on. In line with Tina, they will’t import sufficient of this cheese—it all the time sells quick. 

The Ricotta Peperoncino begins with an equivalent course of, however as a substitute of being smoked with juniper, it’s rubbed with crushed Calabrian chilis after which allowed to age. The intense crimson outer portion of the cheese is noticeably spicy, whereas the within retains a bone-white coloration and the flavour of uncooked sheep’s milk. This creates a cheese that’s inarguably well-balanced and completely in contrast to something I’ve ever tasted. 


Pictures courtesy of Marcelli Formaggi

And although there are not any cows on the Marcelli farm, that doesn’t cease Nunzio and Viola from bringing in cow’s milk cheese from the world. The Manteca Caciocavallo Podolico specifically, is among the most particular merchandise I’ve ever had the pleasure of tasting. Made in Abruzzo by the nicknamed ‘Final Cowgirl’ Carmelina Colantuano utilizing milk Podolico Cow, Caciocavallo is hand-stretched round a ball of recent butter, creating an air-tight seal that preserves the butter inside. It’s then aged for at the least 3 months. The outer rind tastes and appears like cheese, whereas the within reveals off a vibrant yellow-hued butter. The butter is so recent tasting that Tina may have informed me it was churned yesterday and I’d haven’t any motive to not imagine her.

Although it began with farmstead cheeses, Marcelli Formaggi has advanced into an importer of many Abruzzese merchandise that stretch nicely past dairy. Honey made by Luca Finnochio is one product specifically that Tina’s pleasure for was unimaginable to cover. “I all the time carry a pattern jar of this honey in my purse,” she informed me. 

This honey is particularly attention-grabbing as a result of the bees pollinate the identical flowers that Marcelli’s sheep and goats graze on. Just like the cheese earlier than it, the mountainside terroir is simple. Moreover, when mixed with any of the Marcelli cheeses, a purely Abruzzese chunk of meals is shaped. For Tina and her household, there’s nothing extra satisfying than that. 

Moreover, bronze-cut pastas, gluten-free pasta that’s indistinguishable from its glutenous counterpart, tomato sauce and extra are delivered to the states by way of Marcelli Formaggi. One product specifically, although, has earned the Marcelli enterprise as a lot reward because the cheese: Olio Fresco. 

The Olio Fresco is among the freshest-tasting olive oils available on the market. Olives are grown in Abruzzo and allowed to ripen on the tree till the final potential second in an effort to obtain most ripeness and taste. They’re then instantly pressed, going from department to bottle in below 48 hours. As soon as bottled, Marcelli Formaggi flies the olive oil to the US to make sure peak taste and most freshness when it hits the cabinets. The eagerness for creating the very best olive oil begins with the olive timber themselves, however the dedication extends all over to the transport course of. With different oils, downtime between bottling and transport, or selecting the fruit earlier than it’s totally prepared results in lackluster oils. Then again, Olio Fresco is vibrant inexperienced in coloration with a fruit-forward taste, buttery texture and tinge of spice on the again finish. It’s definitely some of the profound olive oils I’ve ever had. “Yep, I carry this in my purse too,” Tina stated, laughing.

olive picking

Pictures courtesy of Marcelli Formaggi

Any of those merchandise will be bought on their web site. Moreover, wholesale is a big a part of their enterprise, offering eating places and shops with massive portions of their items. 

If Marcelli Formaggi’s solely mission was to import wonderful merchandise from Abruzzo, they might little doubt nonetheless achieve success, however it’s the mission to empower their Italian household and inform the story of their ancestry that makes it greater than only a enterprise. After I walked into Marcelli Formaggi’s warehouse in Clifton, I used to be greeted not solely by Tina, however by her mom, Emily, and father Bob as nicely. Tina made sure I understood that with out household, the enterprise would crumble. It’s unimaginable to disregard the household pleasure that goes into this operation. 

The Marcelli’s recurrently go to Anversa degli Abruzzi to style merchandise and hangout with their Italian counterparts. Tina even laughed when she informed me she was flying to Italy in lower than 15 hours to just do that. 

It’s a enterprise that begins with wonderful merchandise, however it’s the pleasure and household love that catapults Marcelli Formaggi into one thing bigger. Past cheese, pasta and olive oil is a narrative of an American household retracing their roots and discovering one thing unbelievable—closing a 4,300-mile hole that extends throughout the Atlantic Ocean within the course of. That alone is sufficient to make Marcelli Formaggi one in every of New Jersey’s biggest success tales. 

In regards to the Writer/s

Peter Candia is the Meals + Drink Editor at New Jersey Digest. A graduate of The Culinary Institute of America, Peter discovered a ardour for meals writing halfway by means of college and by no means regarded again. He’s a former line cook dinner, server and bartender at top-rated eating places within the tri-state space. Along with meals, Peter enjoys politics, music, sports activities and something New Jersey. He by no means stops studying and he is all the time within the weeds.