In our long road to gastronomical sophistication, we have recently discovered cheese, in particular artisan cheeses. Yet, it wasn’t anything so bucolic as a fondness for cows or goats that led Paula Lambert to the cheesemaking business. It was a taste.
Paula wanted fresh mozzarella; the moist kind that oozed milk when cut with a knife, the kind that she’d savored on numerous trips to Italy. Such mozzarella was not to be found in Dallas.
Whenever a new Italian restaurant opened near her, Paula would call and ask, “Do you have fresh mozzarella?” When told “yes,” she would rush over to taste it. But it was never right: not like the mozzarella that sold in every corner market in Italy or straight from the cheese factories. It was always old and dry and sour.
So Paula became a mozzarella cheesemaker herself. (She had a will to find whey.)
Her training began by traveling to the source of great cheesemaking: Italy. Her first stop at a small, family-owned cheese factory at the foot of the hills in Assisi. “It wasn’t a place where the milk went into a tube and you never saw it again,” she recalls. The family welcomed her to spend time and learn the process.
“They just let me put my hands in it and let me touch the cheese and ask all the questions and make notes and take photographs,” says Lambert, who spent a month observing and learning.
From there she went to visit a renowned professor at a government-run cheesemaking trade school in northern Italy. He, in turn, referred her to a young professor, who was excited by the idea of a trip to Texas to help set up a cheese operation.
Back home, Lambert set to work converting an old drugstore in a warehouse district on the edge of downtown Dallas’ Deep Ellum neighborhood and in 1982, The Mozzarella Company was born. Paula was ahead of her time but her will still held. After three years of losing money, it moved into the black.
When asked what made her successful, Paula replies, “Owning a business is always harder and takes more time than you anticipate,” Lambert says. “But if you love what you do, it’s not really work.”
Today, Paula’s hand-crafted, award-winning specialty cheeses are sold throughout the United states to restaurants, hotels and gourmet shops, as well as to cheese lovers. She and her staff of 18 produce 27 different cheeses. A James Beard Foundation “Who’s Who,” Paula can be credited among the earliest artisanal cheesemaker pioneers in the United States.
Over the years Paula’s cheeses have become famous. They have been featured in publications such as Gourmet, Food & Wine, Bon Appetit and The New York Times. And they have been served at the Academy Awards.
Best of all, Paula’s work has enabled her to travel extensively, to teach, to write and to become a leader in the hospitality industry and a respected community leader too. She has created a life.
If you’re like Paula and have a passion to make cheese, you may have to chart your direction, find your own way. It may be as simple as taking course and getting started.
Besides investing in Paula’s book, may I also suggest The Cheese Chronicles: A Journey Through the Making and Selling of Cheese in America, From Field to Farm to Table by Liz Thorpe.