SOMERVILLE — Lourdes Smith closed her cheese production here so quietly that it took a couple of months for customers who didn’t see her regularly at farmers’ markets to notice.
But Boston area chefs noticed and Smith was stunned at the reaction. She shuttered Fiore di Nonno, the mozzarella business she ran for a decade, at the end of April. She supplied chefs, cheese shops, and specialty markets with fresh, handcrafted, buttery orbs, creamy strands of stracciatella, and luscious, velvety burrata filled with fig or mascarpone. She had a devoted following.
Since the closing, a flood of customers have contacted her to say how much they loved the cheeses and meeting her at the markets, Smith says. “I didn’t realize the impact I was having on people.”
Cheesemaking is a family tradition for Smith. Her Italian great-grandfather and grandfather were cheesemakers who immigrated from Coratto, in Italy’s Puglia region, to New Jersey. As a child, she watched her grandfather Joseph Fiore stretch mozzarella for his store, Fiore’s of Hoboken, where Frank Sinatra’s mother, Dolly, was a customer. When Smith decided to start her mozzarella business, she went to learn her grandfather’s techniques from his former worker, John Amato, who bought the business and still owns the Hoboken store, now called Fiore’s House of Quality.
Smith named her company Fiore di Nonno, which means “my grandfather’s flower,” to honor him. She worked long, hard hours, stretching curd till her hands felt raw, using the same muscles constantly. Sales peaked in the warmer months when tomatoes are in season, and Smith and her staff would craft 2,000 pounds of mozzarella a week. The rest of the year was slower. Ultimately, she couldn’t make the finances work. “I poured my heart and soul and money into the business and was just staying afloat,” she says. “This winter’s storms did the business in.” Smith was also about to face losing her two key cheesemakers, young women who planned to move away.
Ana Sortun of Cambridge restaurants Oleana and Sofra Bakery and
Cafe, and Sarma in Somerville, is one of the chefs who will miss Smith. “It’s a huge loss for us,” says Sortun. Fiore di Nonno’s cheeses were always on the menu, and Smith would craft an array of custom cheeses especially for Sortun, such as shanklish, a ball of cheese, aged and dried and covered with za’atar, which went with Middle Eastern dishes. For the last five years, Smith’s burrata was served “every which way,” says Sortun.
“The stracciatella is life-changing, ultra-decadent, creamy, sinful,” says Brad Wasik, co-owner of Wasik’s Cheese Shop in Wellesley. During the summer, the store sold 50 to 75 pounds a week. “Everyone is disappointed,” he says of Smith’s closing.
But Smith has landed on her feet. She’s now the production manager at Forge Baking Co. in Somerville, which is also the commissary for owners Jennifer Park and Tucker Lewis’s other Somerville bakery cafes, Diesel Cafe in Davis Square, and Bloc 11 Cafe in Union Square.
Smith is a trained pastry chef and once worked at the former Le Meridien Hotel in the Financial District, the former St. Cloud restaurant in the South End, Iggy’s Bread of the World in Watertown, and other bakeries. She did a monthlong stint at Le Cirque in New York.
“I’m still here. I’m in the community. I’m not gone,” says Smith. “In two or three years maybe I’ll be back in the cheese business.”
Friends tell Smith she looks calmer.
“Bittersweet” is how she feels.