Once a month, Bruno Ponce and his three-person team toil for endless hours twisting out thousands of pounds of smooth orbs and knots of fresh mozzarella.
They’re destined for Marky’s Gourmet on NE 79th Street, where they’ll be packed up and dispersed throughout the Caribbean. The rest of the month Ponce, 38, and his crew arrive at 6 a.m. daily to prepare a few hundred pounds of the creamy cheese for delivery to Miami Beach’s Juvia, Caffe Abbracci in Coral Gables, and the Biltmore Hotel.
He’s been at it for seven years, quietly operating out of a nondescript North Miami building mostly filled with walk-in refrigerators and stainless steel work tables. The milk comes from Wisconsin cows and is processed into curd in New Jersey before it’s sent south. Ponce is an Argentine whose grandfather emigrated from Bari on Italy’s Adriatic coast to Buenos Aires. Still, it would be decades until his grandson made a foray into cheese.
Ponce pulled his first curds in warm water nearly a decade ago while working at Sunset Harbour's Sardinia Enoteca Ristorante. In between manning the pizza oven he would help the restaurant’s cheesemaker Mimmo (now his shop’s namesake) turn out the day’s supply. He’s still a mentor, and though now in New York City the two talk regularly to exchange ideas.
“I also spend a lot of time on YouTube,” Ponce says. “You can learn anything on there.”
Seven months ago he added a small storefront and café to his operation. Here, the best way to sample the work of Miami’s best mozzarella man is with a cheeseboard for two ($24.99).
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Ponce lays out crescents of scamorza, a smoked, aged mozzarella, alongside a sphere of fresh burrata filled with creamy stracciatella cheese and flecks of porcini mushrooms and black truffle. A pinwheel of mozzarella is wrapped around speck and spinach. There are, of course, a few wedges of fresh mozzarella (ask him to grab those warm from the back for you), as well as velvety fresh ricotta and creamy ricotta salata that gathers its must from sheep’s milk.
More important, however, is the fact that Ponce's work is a respite from Publix’s rows of industrial mozzarella. Some people fantasize about American neighborhoods filled with highly specialized bakers, butchers, and cheesemakers each in their own store. Daydreaming is a waste of time when you can walk out of Mimmo’s with a clutch of fresh mozzarella. Don’t forget Proper Sausages is only a short drive away and with those two you’ve got all the makings of a great meal.
Mimmo’s Mozzarella is located at 475 NE 123rd St., North Miami; 305-351-6826.