Italian brings traditional cheese production to centre of Prague
Italy is famous for its family run businesses making top quality products. But in recent years the economy has been contracting and many young Italians have moved abroad to seek jobs and new opportunities. In this week’s marketplace we look at one Italian couple who have moved to Prague with the idea of creating their own one stop site for producing and selling mozzarella and other specialities from their homeland.
Around eight months ago and after a year’s preparation, they started their business producing and selling mozzarella at a site in the not so fashionable Prague suburb of Nusle, a kilometre or two from the city centre. You walk through the doors into a small restaurant with the walls filled with olive oil, wine, pasta, and preserved vegetables from the couple’s home region of Puglia in the south of Italy. All the produce is from small family businesses. And from a large window in the restaurant and from the street you can see the workers making mozzarella and other cheeses five or six times a week.
Marco says that starting such a business in Italy would have been unthinkable. First of all, of course, is the novelty of such a business in Prague, but there is also the fundamental fact that start up costs are a lot lower in the Czech Republic than in Italy. The mozzarella business, Mozzarellart, was funded from their own money from selling an Italian betting business and that of an Italian partner already living in Prague for 10 year, who helped to smooth the launch for a couple who admit that their Czech is still undeveloped and shaky.
Marco and Tiziana have followed a circuitous route to Prague, although they already knew the city after winning a masters’ grant to study there after in 2008. Marco later worked as an assistant to an Italian member of parliament and also at the Italian consulate in London.
What they are bringing to Prague is a taste of traditional Italian know how. Making mozzarella from cows’ milk is still practiced by many families for their own needs though the small businesses that do this commercially are under pressure from big producers who, Marco says, cut costs by adulterating the milk with cheaper additives.
Marco says that there is no way of cutting out such expertise which might add up to around 25 years in cheese making which might have started with the family as a child. Knowing what you can do with a batch of milk is an art, he adds. “Milk is something that is alive, it changes day by day. One day is one thing, another day is another. Today the milk might be basic, tomorrow it might be acidic. Today the cows are stressed and produce fatty milk, tomorrow they are relaxed and produce more liquid milk. Milk is something that changes day by day. And the good worker is one who can read the milk, speak with the milk, and tells me ‘okay, yes, today I know what sort of work I must do’”
And he is more than happy with his Nusle location which in one way had the advantage of sparking a lot of interest from passing Czechs. “We are lucky because we have the tram, the tram stop. And people ask themselves ‘what are they doing’ and they come. That is my first marketing. I know that the area is not the best, I know this. But my idea is to open something for the citizens and maybe this area is good because it is not so far from the centre, from Prague 10 and Prague 2, where people for the most part live more of less. And people come from every part of Prague and ask me ‘Marco, when are you going to open in Prague 6 or Prague 7?’”
So clear evidence there that the traditional Italian business model is being transferred to the more hospitable Czech environment for start ups without losing some of its basic traits.