When Michelangelo made his Moses statue at the beginning of the 16th century, he found it so lifelike that some say he asked the statue, “Why don’t you speak?”
Michelangelo’s Moses, which is now housed in a church in Rome, never said a word. But centuries later, in 2009 to be exact, a customer entered Lello Massa’s deli in Naples and, after biting into a ball of Lello’s mozzarella, exclaimed, “This mozzarella speaks.”
“I didn’t think for a moment. I took a large sheet of paper and a red marker and wrote: my mozzarella speaks,” says 46-year-old Lello. And from that day on, this served as the new name of his rosticceria.
Lello describes his rosticceria, technically a shop selling premade dishes, as a real Neapolitan bistro. The son of Michele Massa, one of the most famous and oldest restaurateurs in the Sanità district, Lello decided in 2008 to move the family business to Via Foria, where it still stands today. “I started as a simple delicatessen and then gradually I added ready-made meals, first courses, pizzas of all kinds… in short, a Napoli-style bistro,” says Lello, who is always enthusiastic and smiling.
But the strong point of the delicatessen from the beginning was certainly the mozzarella, “the white gold of Campania,” a product that he receives fresh every morning from a dairy in Caserta. “I won’t reveal the manufacturer’s name, it’s a secret, but I can assure you that the quality is unbeatable,” says Lello.
“I started as a simple delicatessen and then gradually I added ready-made meals, first courses, pizzas of all kinds… in short, a Napoli-style bistro.”
In the morning the clientele mainly consists of local families who come to do the shopping and are looking for products of particular quality. Here, for example, they find “noble milk [latte nobile], a milk that has exceptional qualities as it is produced from cows that eat only grass, or rather a set of diversified herbs,” Lello tells us, very attentive to the origin of the products he sells.
Then in the late morning, it’s time for sandwiches. Workers and office employees in the area frequent the deli for a quick lunch. The interior is very small, although there’s enough room for a large refrigerator case full of cold cuts and cheeses of all kinds. “Now with the post-Covid rules it is necessary to allow in a maximum of two people at a time, and this always creates a bit of a queue outside,” Lello says.
These new restrictions are what prompted Lello to place a slew of tables outside his Neapolitan bistro, so that all customers can enjoy his fabulous products on the premises. Lately we have taken to sitting at one of these tables and ordering a plate of mozzarella, provola and salami, with a couple of bacetti (“kisses”), savory bread rolls. It’s a very Neapolitan lunch, as the rustic “kiss” is emblematic of the city.
Another good option is a macaroni omelet, which are made every morning. One of the oldest and most popular dishes in Naples, the macaroni omelet was born centuries ago as a way to reuse pasta left over from lunch. In fact, the family cook would often throw extra pasta into the water for lunch just to have some left over to make the macaroni omelet for dinner – it was a genius way to prevent food waste.
“The macaroni omelet must be brown and crispy on the outside. The already cooked spaghetti is sautéed again to create a tasty crust,” reveals Lello.
We have also enjoyed the tortani, Neapolitan rustic pies made of bread dough and filled with salami of all types, and the escarole, olive and salted anchovy pizza.
Lello works together with his two nephews. Michele is the cook, preparing food from morning to night, and Pasquale oversees service. The secret of the place, however, is Lello’s dad, Michele, the one who started the family business over 40 years ago. “At 5:30 in the morning he is already here and opens the delicatessen,” Lello tells us. “He is the true soul of our food, he is a great innovator,” he adds.
While the provola comes fresh every day from Latteria Cavaliere on the Sorrento peninsula, the mozzarella – the cheese that “speaks” – comes instead from the Mazzoni area, in the Upper Caserta region.
At this point a small clarification is needed on the production of Campania’s “white gold.” In southern Italy, the battle is fierce between two types of mozzarella: that of Caserta, north of Naples, which is saltier, and that of Paestum, south of Naples, which is often made without any added salt.
Obviously, the battle is fierce among mozzarella experts. Lello defends the mozzarella of the Caserta region, while we prefer that from Paestum. In short, Neapolitans are divided into two factions. But despite our differences, we admit that Lello’s mozzarella does in fact speak – it tells us to keep coming back for more.
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