It is easy to expect that Paula Lambert would have an opinion on the specific characteristics of how a good mozzarella should taste. After all, she has written two books on cheese, has spent decades traveling through Europe eating and learning how to make cheese. She hosts classes about cheese and has won contests with her cheese, and she has eaten her cheese with Julia Child. Paula Lambert’s store – The Mozzarella Company – makes nearly 1,000 pounds of cheese a day. Yes, you should expect her to have a long, descriptive, definitive answer on how mozzarella should taste.
“Well,” she says,”the texture should be soft, and the flavor should be delicious.”
Paula Lambert has a way with words.
And for nearly 30 years, Lambert and her company have proven that they have a way with cheese, too, turning a small, vacant drugstore on the corner of Elm and Walton into a Dallas institution that provides cheese to some of the finest restaurants, markets, and shops throughout the country.
The Mozzarella Company, which Lambert opened in 1982 (they just celebrated their 29th birthday) had its inception when Lambert realized that she could not find any suitable mozzarella in Dallas for a tomato and mozzarella cheese salad she had become fond of in Italy. So, she went to Europe and took some classes, came back to Dallas, bought the equipment, and began making cheese. It didn’t take long for Dallas to notice this new, authentic mozzarella, and three decades later Lambert provides dozens of different cheeses to chefs and markets throughout the country, from Murray’s Cheese Shop in New York to Dallas’s own Rosewood Mansion.
“I love all the friendships and relationships I have made with our customers throughout the years, and I love that all the customers who bought from me at the very beginning are still buying from me now,” she says. “And then I love that many people who have worked in the kitchens of some of the more famous chefs have had time to grow and become owners of their own restaurants. They’ll call me up, and then they’ll become a new customer; maybe I haven’t seen them in a long time, but they haven’t forgotten.”
With the knowledge and passion Lambert puts into her product, the cheeses at the Mozzarella Company aren’t easy to forget. And yes, that’s plural cheeses. Just because it’s called the Mozzarella Company doesn’t mean they stopped at mozzarella. In fact, Lambert’s little facility on Deep Ellum carries dozens of different kinds of cheeses, from the cows milk cheeses of Chile Caciotta and Rosemary Montasio to a goat’s milk cheese called Hoja Santa Goat Cheese, which is goat cheese wrapped in the aromatic leaves of the Hoja Santa plant.
“I went to all these different countries learning how to makes these cheeses the traditional way, they way they were originally made. Then, as time progressed, I added different things to make these cheeses that I had learned to make in these other countries more Texan in style and flavor,” says Lambert, who, uncoincidentally, has a Hoja Santa plant in her backyard garden. “I started adding chilies and herbs, and smoking the cheese over pecan shells – just adding little things here and there that make them unique, that make them reflect Dallas and even Texas as a whole.”
Lambert’s successes, however, have not been mere happenstance of good timing and luck. In fact, given her friendliness, cheer and generally happy demeanor, it might be easy to think that after 30 years Lambert has finally hit the Easy Street of the cheese world, strolling along knowing that her product is universally admired and her place in the Dallas culinary world firmly established.
She debunks that quickly. There’s no such thing as Easy Street when you’re making what she’s making.
“There’s always something – a package might be lost going somewhere, our goat milk farmer’s house was hit by a tornado and the goats got out, or maybe the aging room compressor is running warm this morning,” she says. “It’s a jillion things, but if you can just accept that all these things are going to happen, you can deal with them in a positive way and just keep rolling.”
It’s a philosophy that seems to work well for The Mozzarella Company, and as they continue into their 30th year, it doesn’t look like that philosophy is going to change. From the front of the house to the back, everyone is smiling and friendly, and their knowledge of cheese is forthcoming, eager, and totally absent of any condescension. They’re excited you’re here, and they want you to get the cheese that you’ll like the best – if you want to talk it over, they’ll be happy to. In the end, a customer who went in for some mozzarella may end up leaving with some mozzarella and some goat cheese wrapped in some leaf they can’t pronounce. The cheeses are the result of experience and passion, and its evident that everyone there has an abundance of both.
But if you really only want mozzarella? That’s fine, too. It’s one of the cheeses that hasn’t changed at the Mozzarella Company, and it’s made in the Italian manner just as when Lambert made it nearly three decades ago.
And yes, it’s still soft and delicious.