Living in Hoboken, one can’t escape noticing all of the amazing food available in town, but there’s one prized specialty that stands out. Fresh mozzarella, a.k.a. mozz or mutz (sounds like nuts) is as prevalent in Hoboken as trucks on the NJ Turnpike! It’s another item on a long list that makes Hoboken so special. But questions remain about why Hoboken seems to have this yummy cheese so perfectly figured out.
The tradition of producing fresh mozz in Hoboken is likely linked to when the Italians immigrated to Hoboken from the Southern regions of Italy after World War I. Most of the Italian delis in Hoboken are family owned and operated, and the secrets to making mozz have been handed down to family members throughout the years.
I visited many of the delis in Hoboken to discuss the process of fresh mozz. I learned that one person in each deli is in charge of making this delicacy daily, typically in the morning. I also learned that these men don’t like to share their secrets. There is a lot of passion and pride behind the process so I’ll share what I have learned over the course of my research.
First, all of the deli owners and staff believe they make the best mozz in Hoboken, which isn’t surprising! Secondly, based upon opinions from the loyal customers consistently frequenting their favorite Italian deli, they tend to agree.
Fiore’s may be the most widely known for mozz outside of Hoboken. It’s even listed on their sign outside: “Famous For Our Mozzarella”. Fiore’s mozz has been written about for years as well as listed in many publications and on website reviews. A recent article in Time Magazine by Joel Ozersky said Fiore’s had “ruined him for life” as he can’t find mozzarella that tastes as good anywhere else. Fiore’s, which is located on 4th & Adams has been around since 1913 and is run by the Amato family. I had the pleasure of speaking with Vincent Amato, a.k.a. “Vinny,” and when I asked why he thought Fiore’s mozz was so famous, he responded, “It’s so good because we’ve been doing it for so many years–there’s no guess work.” Then he added with a grin, “We do it like everyone else. We just do it right.”
Vinny works with his brother, John who owns Fiore’s. He shared that the hot roast beef with mozz and gravy is their top seller, maybe in part because it’s also the special twice a week. But there are other daily specials each week, as well as other options to choose from—but not many. This is not the place to go if you’re looking for a sandwich with a lot of the normal trimmings such as lettuce & tomato. But that’s not a problem because the mozz is definitely the star. The first time I went to Fiore’s I’ll admit I was slightly intimidated as everyone was quietly waiting in a single file line waiting to order. But the staff was very friendly & helpful and gave me a sample of the mozz. Let’s just say I can understand why Fiore’s is so popular, as the mozz has amazing texture and taste.
Vinny explained the process, which seems quite simplistic. The curds are cooked in hot water for about 15 minutes. Then it sits until it is ready to be kneaded to the right consistency. He confirmed it takes about 30 minutes to make delicious mozzarella.
Hobokenites as well as visitors are passionate about their mozzarella as well as where they get it from. It’s easy to find people who want to talk about their favorite Italian deli—and mozz is always part of the factor. While many will try different places, most go to the same place over and over again.
Another family-owned favorite at least by the number of people being served on any given day, is Lisa’s Deli located on 9th & Park They come in for everything, such as basic deli meats, Italian meats and sausages, as well as the mozz. Lisa’s has been around since 1971, and is owned by the Lisa family. Angelo is the one who makes the mozz daily.
When I asked him if he thinks the water temperature is what makes the mozz so special, he looked and me with a smile and asked if I actually liked mozz. I guess I asked the wrong question! Sadly, he didn’t ask me at that time if I’d like to sample the mozz, which he was meticulously making while I was talking to him. He was working his magic with what appeared to be different metal bowls—adding water to one, rinsing water out of another. But as I have eaten the mozz at Lisa’s on several other occasions, there is no question Angelo knows how to do it right!
Gary Enrico, a teacher at Hoboken High School has been a regular customer at Lisa’s since it opened in 1971. He grew up on 10th and Park and knows the Lisa family very well. The whole staff seems like family as many of them have worked there for years. Enrico said most days he goes there for the food, but also because it’s convenient to Hoboken High where he’s been teaching for 36 years. He lives in Paramus now, but still orders platters and antipasti for the holidays. When asked why he doesn’t just get it in Paramus, he replied”, “You can’t find anything like it in Paramus”!
Vito’s deli, which is located on 8th & Washington, is also well-known favorite for mozzarella, or rather, “mutz.” Everyone on staff at Vito’s wears t-shirts with “Hoboken’s best mutz” on the back, seemingly to justify their confidence in the product. Freddie Perez, who is Vito’s partner, said it has so many loyal customers “because the food is good and it’s the best deli in town.” What makes it so good? According to Perez it’s the fresh ingredients, made to order items, and a strong business for the past 25 years.
Ryan Martinetti and William Flournoy took a break from their jobs at the Lincoln Tunnel to grab some sandwiches for lunch. Ryan said when he heads into Hoboken to Vito’s he gets the “great roast beef with fresh mozz”. He’s tried Fiore’s and some of the other delis, but he thinks this is the best. Flourney adamantly stated that “Fiore’s doesn’t compare to this”. Clearly a lot of people agree that Vito’s mozz is tasty, as Perez said that over 150 pounds of their famous, mutz is made on an average day.
Luca Brasi’s is another place known for its fresh, homemade mozz. Their menu of “sandwiches you can’t refuse!” lists various combinations—many` including the fresh mozz. While they were too busy making mozz to talk about it when I stopped in, the reviews on their mozz are always good. It’s also located on 1st & Park, which makes it very convenient for this heavily travelled street. Any given day you will see the local police or other city employees ordering their favorites inclusive of the fresh mozz.
Michael Tagliaferro, a.k.a. “Tags” who has lived in Hoboken for 5 years is a big fan of Luca Brasi’s. He’s a big fan of their roast beef, mozzarella & also of great importance, the roasted red peppers. For a deli that also makes a lot of great Italian style sandwiches, Tags said he prefers more of the basics. “I love mozzarella with roast beef or turkey. Mozz is powerful and can carry a sandwich. I don’t need it on an Italian sub—too much other stuff going on. Better in more simplistic settings, like with tomato or roasted red peppers”.
Tony’s Italian Bakery and Deli is located on 2nd between Grand & Adams. Danny and Nick Losurdo, who grew up in Hoboken working at the deli are not only still running it, but are also joined by their kids who also work there. Originally opened only as a bakery, a deli was added back in 1975. Charlie Rozzi has been going there almost every day since he can remember. He knows the Losurdos well as he was born and raised in Hoboken. He still lives in Hoboken and works around the corner from Tony’s. When asked what his favorite thing is, he said “Everything!” He then said that he loves the mozz and appreciates how it’s stayed the same throughout the years. “Hoboken has changed, but this place hasn’t.” When one wanders into Tony’s, it still has the feel of an old-time Italian bakery.
Danny said their mozz is definitely one of the best in town. Although it’s a running rumor that the water is what makes Hoboken’s mozzarella taste so good, Danny thinks it’s a little simpler than that. The more you make it, the better it gets!”
The quality of mozz in Hoboken is hard to beat. I definitely have my favorite, but because each mozz tastes slightly different and each deli offers its own menu and style, I highly recommend doing your own taste test. While mozz may not have been created in Hoboken, there are many options to choose from to find your local favorite. Mozz is still a thriving delicacy in this town of one square mile.