Most days, Giuseppe “Joe Mozz” Badalamenti overlooks clouds of fresh mozzarella as they plunge into a warm water bath where they’ll become burrata, ciliegine (cherry-size balls), and loaves. These creamy delicacies sell alongside artisanal Italian provisions at his Staten Island wholesale and retail shop of more than 25 years, the eponymous Joe Mozz, Inc. Badalamenti is a fixture of the borough, and his products are found all over the city, supplying restaurants, Sunday suppers, and picnickers viewing the sunset at Staten Island’s historic Conference House.
Born in the coastal village of Carini in Palermo, Sicily, Badalamenti learned the comforts of Italian cuisine under the tutelage of his mother. “I worked under many great chefs over the years, but my true inspiration was my mom and her passion for cooking,” he says. “Not a day went by that we didn’t talk about or cook food together.” On the other hand, his father was a farmer and goat herder who helped cultivate a love for the art of cheesemaking within his son from a young age.
In 1971, an eight-year-old Badalamenti and his family boarded the S.S. Raffael and sailed to New York. As a kid, he galloped through Canarsie on horseback and spent Sunday nights in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn scooping clams from their shells at Randazzo’s Clam Bar. He worked in the front and back house at the restaurants Michael’s and Pollio Italian (now closed) in Brooklyn, hoping to open his own place one day.
“NYC is truly a place for opportunity to open a business and diversify when needed,” he says. A fine dining restaurant and piano bar in the Port Richmond neighborhood of Staten Island, was his first venture, but after 11 years, he stepped down to raise a family. While he never thought he’d follow in his dad’s footsteps, the road led him to Joe Mozz, Inc., a tribute to his Italian heritage. “The cheese business has never felt like work, just passion.”
A culinary cornerstone
At 63, Badalamenti is at the shop six days a week. “Monday to Friday, just ring the bell, and I will sell you the fresh mozz and Italian specialties, especially our famous Sicilian caponata.” On Saturdays, doors are open to pick up pizzetta, arancini, prosciutto balls, fresh ricotta, panelle (chickpea fritters), and homemade antipasto items jarred in-house. Some afternoons, he fills his car and delivers to various locations across the city: L’arte della Pizza in Park Slope; Pier 76 in Staten Island; and Pasticceria Monteleone in Cobble Hill, to name a few.
As his delivery route suggests, there’s no shortage of delicious Italian cuisine to savor in Brooklyn and the cheesemaker is happy to share his favorites. Marco Polo Ristorante in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, is beloved for its old-world Italian fine dining, spanning northern and southern Italian dishes. Since opening in 1983, it has established legendary status. Host Joseph Chirico greets regulars who laud famed dishes, like fried artichokes or the Fettuccine al Vino Rosso, red wine fettuccine graciously tossed in a parmesan wheel.
Badalamenti also frequents Aunt Butchies of Brooklyn on Arthur Kill Road in Staten Island, where Irene Santo, aka “Aunt Butchie"—the co-owner’s mother—still helms the baking. Here, they offer house made sodas, coffee, confections, baseball-sized meatballs, and the much-loved almond caramel cone, a rolled lace cookie filled with cheesecake mascarpone.
The nerve center of the city
Beyond Staten Island, it’s clear that Badalamenti carries a deep reverence for the entire cityscape of New York, where memories of his life here play out wherever he goes. For one of his favorite vistas, he recommends staying at New York Marriott Marquis in Times Square. “It’s in the heart of it all,” suggesting dinner at the property’s The View Restaurant and Lounge, a revolving rooftop restaurant with panoramic views of Midtown. It’s where he proposed to his wife and “it’s close to the theaters,” he adds.
One of his cherished pastimes is a dinner cruise around Manhattan. “It always reminds me of when we immigrated from Sicily. Seeing the Statue of Liberty still gives me hope of what America and New York has and continues to offer me.” (Pro tip: Charter a private yacht from World Yacht like Badlamenti did for his wedding reception or try the classic Hornblower Cruises for something more laid-back.)
Other favorite activities include taking the family to Rockefeller Center during the holidays or catching the Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall. It’s all part of his very New York way of life—while Badalamenti plans to dial back cheesemaking, it’s so he can develop roaming mozzarella stations at weddings and farmers’ markets or even open a burrata bar. Even when he slows down, he doesn’t stop.