Second Helpings

Cheese Wiz: Readers with long memories may recall a column I did in this space about a year ago about one of the world's great cheeses, mozzarella di bufala.

Italians have been making mozzarella from water buffalo for 2,000 years. Good as the fresh, cow's-milk mozzarella we're used to in America may seem, it doesn't have nearly the sweetness, subtlety or depth of its water buffalo cousin.

Occasionally, imported mozzarella di bufala would show up in the Valley, in the cheese section of a local gourmet market, or on the appetizer list at a fancy Italian restaurant. But its freshness would always be suspect, which could cause anxiety, because the flavor degrades over time. Moreover, you'd have to pay for your thrills: A four-ounce retail packet runs about $9. And restaurants sometimes charge 10 bucks or more for barely a taste.

But an immigrant Italian cheesemaker has changed everything. Virgilio Ciconni heads Italcheese, a Southern California outfit that's been making fresh cow's-milk mozzarella for 15 years. It's good stuff, but Ciconni yearned for old-country mozzarella di bufala. So he did what any enterprising businessperson would have done: He brought in a herd of Italian water buffalo in 1997. By the end of 1998, production was under way.

Now comes the good part. Italcheese's mozzarella di bufala is available locally, at Whole Foods, 5120 South Rural, in Tempe. And it's luscious, with just the right not-too-creamy, easy-to-cut texture. The price is right, too--$2.99 for a four-ounce packet. Slice a piece on top of a juicy summer tomato, drizzle on a little oil, and pretend you're in Italy.

Domestic mozzarella di bufala is not the only gem in Whole Foods' cheese section. This place offers an astonishing variety of hard-to-find cheeses. Check out superb Roncal, a hard, nutty, sheep's-milk cheese from Spain. There are three top-of-the-line brands of Parmigiano-Reggiano, the world's greatest cheese, from Rocca, Zanetti and Virgilio. Reblochon, Gorgonzola dolce, taleggio and explorateur (my favorite Brielike creamy cheese) are all here, as well.

Reader's Wrath: My recent rave review of Convivo (7000 North 16th Street) didn't impress one unhappy customer.

He wrote me about his miserable meal, from the "semi-stale" olives, "mushy" rock shrimp and "bland" chicken breast, to the "dry" ahi tuna and "amateurish" lemon tart.

His overall impression: "I have eaten better food at the Iowa State Fair."
It's hard to believe that we were talking about the same restaurant. Still, when perceptions and tastes are concerned, there are no universal standards to fall back on.

While writing to me no doubt helped him work through his anger, he might have better expressed his disappointment by communicating directly with Convivo. A well-managed restaurant takes complaints very seriously. A civil letter, detailing the unpleasant particulars, should bring a response. And if the restaurant doesn't respond, the remedy is obvious: Cross it off your list.

--Howard Seftel

Suggestions? Write me at or New Times, P.O. Box 2510, Phoenix,


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