Once you've tasted your first ball of fresh hand-stretched mozzarella, still warm from the vat, it's all over—you can never go back to the industrial stuff. But unless you happen to live near an Italian deli that makes their own fresh Italian cheeses, artisan mozzarella, ricotta, and burrata can all be hard to come by. This is why we love Narragansett Creamery, a multi-generation family business in Providence, Rhode Island that makes many of our favorite fresh cheeses, which we ship to your door!
Mark and Pattie Federico have been making cheese for nearly 25 years. The couple launched their wholesale business, Providence Specialty Products, in 2000, where they sold mozzarella curd to restaurants and retailers. Think of this curd as proto-mozzarella: the base material that's kneaded and stretched to form a finished cheese. Rather than starting the process completely from scratch, most restaurants and shops that make their own mozz begin with a curd from specialists like the Federicos.
Quality milk makes all the difference for this curd, which the Federicos source from dairy coops in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New York, and Rhode Island. "We've been working with the same coops since we started," says Mark Jr., the Federicos' son and a jack-of-all-trades at Narragansett. "It allows us to focus on cheesemaking and the farmers to focus on cow comfort, because it really is true that happy cows make better milk."
In 2007, the family decided to start a line of artisan cheeses sold under their own brand name. They began with an aged asiago and then a Salty Sea Feta before introducing fresh mozzarella, ricotta, yogurt, and eventually burrata. Like baking bread, kneading fresh curd into cheese is deceptively difficult, and it takes a practiced hand to form a superlative ball of mozzarella. "It's about having an expert eye watch the product instead of putting it in a machine with a timer," Mark Jr. says. The Federicos spent three years tweaking their burrata to get the right balance of delicate skin and oozy stracciatella insides. Nowadays in 2023, Narragansett's cheesemakers are old hands at the craft. Some have been with the company for more than 20 years.
Narragansett boasts an unusually diverse range of cheeses. Their cow's milk feta is some of the best you can find this side of the Aegean Sea. In response to a customer's request, they started making a halloumi-inspired grilling cheese that can be seared in a pan until it forms a browned, caramelized crust. Mark Jr. recommends tossing cooked cheese cubes into a salad, or drizzling them with honey or jam.
The pandemic forced Narragansett to cut back on community engagements like farmers markets and local events. In the beginning, Mark Jr. says, these events were critical for growing their customer base and educating food lovers about their cheese. "We'd show them why it's important to support New England agriculture," he explains, "how it's a circular economy that benefits individual farms," not just corporate dairy consolidators. "Customers were getting it, and then we'd get someone saying, 'we used your ricotta in this recipe, do you have any cooking tips?' It became a real community. You get to learn who they are and develop this closeness. That's how they keep coming back."
Fortunately, special events are back on the table. Narragansett recently appeared at a beer festival in Newport, and in a few weeks they'll have a table at the Southern New England wine, cheese, and chocolate festival.
Both of Mark Jr.'s parents come from big Italian families, he says, and they can each trace their roots to the same village, San Lorenzello in Campania. "They're used to cooking and fellowship, and I never lost sight of that as I grew up." One could say he's inherited their tendency to feed others. "Talking to customers, being part of a community—this is what I love to do. I'm not doing this because it's my parents' passion; it's mine, too."
Market photo courtesy of Narragansett Creamery.