Which would you rather eat: a replica of Mt. Vesuvius made from hand-tossed mozzarella or something called the “The Grande Cadillac” of macaroni and cheese?
You could have tried both – for a good cause — in Hoboken this past Sunday, January 31.
At the annual Mutzfest at the Elks Club, hungry patrons lined up for more than a block to try platefuls of handmade mozzarella, also known as “mutz.”
Further west, the Hoboken Parent Teacher Organization kicked off their first ever Mac & Cheese Cook-off at Hoboken High School, with twists on a classic dish.
Proceeds from the Mutzfest, which totaled $20,000 went to benefit the Hoboken Family Alliance (HFA), funding their special needs initiatives such as a local bike camp for individuals with disabilities.
Meanwhile, the Mac & Cheese cook-off raised over $800 to help the Hoboken High School Class of 2016 offset costs like their senior class trip, prom, and inaugural caps and gowns.
Mutzfest, a family affair
Mere minutes into the Mutzfest, Vito Buzzerio of Vito’s Deli on Washington Street – a Hoboken mainstay since 1986 – stood at his table preparing for the crowd, alongside his parents, girlfriend, and some neighbors.
“It’s been a tradition in Hoboken for a really long time,” he said. “That’s what Hoboken is known for: fresh mozzarella. It started out with just a few delis and then it grew from there. It’s a heavy Italian family tradition around a wonderful cheese that’s almost addicting at times.” Buzzerio has been making mozzarella by hand since he was 15.
The guests were overjoyed.
“My grandma makes the most bomb shells with cheese.” – Willie Allen
Closer to the entrance of the Elks, Frank and Max Losurdo prepared sandwiches, cheese knots, and toast topped with spicy marinara sauce and a slice of fresh mozzarella.
“It’s great to get to see a lot of people and let them try mozzarella how we make it,” said Max, who revealed that very hot water and sturdy kneading are key to his technique.
There were over 1,000 in attendance at the Mutzfest, which was less a festival and more a community feast. Eight delis/restaurants served their traditional takes on mutz: Losurdo Bros. Deli, Luca Brasi’s Italian Deli, M&P Biancamano, Margherita’s Pizza & Café, Resticeria da Gigi, Sasso’s Deli, Tony Baloney’s and Vito’s Italian Deli.
This year’s fourth annual Mutzfest did not pit the delis/restaurants against each other in a competition – instead focusing on the camaraderie that’s inherent among Italian families.
That didn’t stop some from innovating.
The M&P Biancamano Deli table, which proudly displayed their trophies — having previously won people’s choice award for best mozzarella for three straight years — had a “mountain” of mozzarella. “Mozzarella comes from Napoli [Italy], and this is Mt. Vesuvius in Naples,” said deli owner Peter Biancamano as he sloshed handfuls of mutz into hot water before plopping it on the growing hill before him.
His deli, which has been at 1116 Washington St. since 1981, made about 400 pounds of cheese for the event.
“Everybody’s got family owned delis and we all know each other,” he said. “It’s about the community not competition.”
Relative newcomers to the festival Tony’s Boloney’s restaurant was not shy about what they brought to the table.
“Who the [expletive] makes North African smoked Theresa mozzarella? Who makes their own curd, pulls it from scratch, and uses top-notch ingredients? Who doesn’t play games? Tony Baloneys!” exclaimed owner Mike Hauke as he wrote some of their unique offerings on a chalkboard.
Their smorgasbord was made up of homemade mutz and curd made from chiva (goat milk), gaucho (Argentinian chimichurri), and tunis (North African smoked harissa).
Theresa Howard, the Director of Children with special needs at the HFA, said her favorite part of the festival was its warm atmosphere, despite long lines and crowds.
From the corner of 10th Street where the Elks Club is located, the line to get in the Mutzfest extended all the way down Washington Street almost to 11th.
At the end of the near 200-person line, husband and wife Matt and Ann Marie, who have lived in Hoboken for nine years, waited for an hour.
“This is actually our first time here,” said Matt. “We’re waiting all this time because mozzarella is amazing and Hoboken fresh mozzarella is even more amazing. We figured, why not try it out for ourselves?”
During the time the couple spoke with the Hoboken Reporter, another 12 people joined the line.
Despite no competition among the businesses, in a smaller bout, three local contestants vied for the best homemade mozzarella. Vincent Morelli of Hoboken was judged to have made the best mutz of all. His wife Denise was there to claim the prize.
Mac & cheese…and so much more
A slightly les frenzied scene was the Mac & Cheese Cook-off at Hoboken High School, where nearly 200 people gathered.
Wendy Plasencia, a Hoboken resident of about 10 years, is lactose intolerant, but she couldn’t help indulge in the fare.
“I wanted to try one or two, and I end up trying them all,” she said, laughing. “I can’t have too much of it, so I’m fine. My favorites were number 8 because it’s so cheesy and number 9 because it was not cheesy at all; it was so crunchy.”
Plasencia’s overall favorite dish was made by her son Arturo Liranxo, who was volunteering for the cookoff.
Walking into the student cafeteria, attendees had assortment of numbered Mac & Cheeses with offbeat names to sample: TheBomb.com Mac & Cheese, Jumpin’ Jack Mack, The Grande Cadillac, Latin Chick Mac n’ Cheese, Holy Mac n’ Cheese, Get in my belly!, Makkaroni und der Käse, and Smackin’ Mac n’ Cheese.
Two food bloggers (Jackie Post and Casey Repetti), the Hoboken High School Principal Robin Piccapietra, and senior Willie Allen chose the winners for the overall competition.
“I need my mac and cheese to definitely be cheesy and have a good consistency,” said Allen. “I don’t do crunchy. I like smooth, and frankly, I’m really biased towards shells. My grandma makes the most bomb shells with cheese.”
Repetti, of local food blog Casey2Cook, agrees in regard to consistency. A firm noodle, flavorful crust and consistent texture make an ideal Mac & Cheese, in her eyes (or more accurately her pallet).
“I want it to look nice too, because you eat with your eyes first and its important that it doesn’t look just thrown together,” Repetti said.
In the end, Board of Education President Tom Kluepfel’s Makkaroni und der Käse took home first place, Leo’s Grandevous’ (Hoboken restaurant) Grande Cadillac won second place, and third place went to organizer of the cook-off Sarah Raynor. Raynor and Kluepfel said they would donate their winnings back to the High School.
“I was trying to find something that would appeal to our families and the community,” said Raynor when asked how she struck the idea to launch the event.
“Everyone has their own macaroni and cheese recipe and its obvious today there’s so many different varieties,” she said. “It was such a successful event and we have decided to hold it annually.”
Steven Rodas can be reached at email@example.com.