Mozzer- Hella Good Cheese Guy!
20 Questions with Nat Caputo President of Wiscon Corporation and Caputo Cheese Company
So, in addition to writing this amazing blog, I work day to day as the Culinary Director for a Cheese Manufacturer. I love, love, love all sorts of cheese and since I have been working with the Caputo Family I have learned more about the process. The business was started about a gazillion years ago by Pasquale and Rene Caputo. Since the mid- nineties it’s been run by their son Natale.
Since I’ve started my blog I’ve been wanting to add a few interviews to my website. I thought it could provide a nice window to the inside world of everything food related. For my inaugural interview I thought I would keep it close to home and talk to my boss (I mean, he’s right there like everyday)! So, let me break it down for you. Wiscon Corporation is the big dog cheese processor and manufacturer. Caputo cheese has two cheese markets (1931 N. 15th Ave., Melrose Park, Il and 231 E. Wisconsin Ave., Lake Forest, Il). At Caputo we make a variety of fantastic fresh mozzarellas as well as some creamy slap your Nonna ricottas. The location in Melrose Park has over 400 varieties, while the location in Lake Forest boasts over 1,000. Now that’s some mad cheddar. Well, here goes…..
1. So, why cheese? Chicago is a big meat town. Why not meat and sausage products?
What’s wrong with being the “Cheese King” of Chicago? My Father had a lot of jobs back in the day. Pizza, grocery business, hamburgers Mc Donald’s operator, etc. but always came back to cheese.
2. What did you study in college? How do you think it has helped you here?
Business Administration from Loyola University. My college experience was more than an education. It was more of an education in life. The greatest attribute that I received from Loyola was tolerance. There are many different people in the world and Loyola taught me to be patient and have tolerance for people.
3. I’m lactose intolerant, however, I love cheese. Any tips?
Just because you are lactose intolerant doesn’t mean you can’t have cheese. Lactose is found mostly in fresh cheeses. So, stick to the hard types and you are okay because as cheese ages, lactose burns off. Try a parmesan or asiago to fill those voids.
4. My Uncle hates cheese, but is open to changing that slowly. What type of cheese is a good “starter” cheese?
Well, NOT EPOISSES! Way too stinky. I would start with a good American made cheddar. Maybe something with a little age on it. Try a Wisconsin 3 year old cheddar.
5. Can you suggest a few cheeses and meats for a beginner’s charcuterie tray?
Charcuterie is usually just meats but that term does get thrown around a lot. My beginner’s tray: Beemster Gouda, D’Affinois Double Cream, Applewood Smoked Cheddar, Sartori‘s Balsamic Bellavitano, and a sheep milk cheese (maybe Manchego). On meats…Beretta Hot Sopressata, any of the Creminelli products and maybe some Speck (an Italian cured, smoked meat native to the Alto Adige).
6. What’s your opinion of vegan cheese? Do you carry any at Caputo’s?
Vegan? No comment…..
7. What other items do you carry other than cheese?
Italian staples such as olive oil, spices, pizza flour, etc. We also carry specialty jams and jellies, gourmet crackers and flatbreads, candied nuts too! Really all of the items you need to create an awesome cheese board.
8. Any plans for locations in the city?
No plans inside city limits but plans in suburbia.
9. What is your favorite cheese and why?
Cypress Grove’s Humboldt Fog. This cheese put American artisanal cheese making on the map.
10. What is your go-to wine and cheese pairing?
I am a Cabernet and Zin guy. Jordan Cabernet with any of the cheeses mentioned above.
11. What kind of cheese do you make at Caputo?
Fresh Mozzarella, Ricotta, Burrata
12. You sell a few different types of focaccia. Why so many? What is the difference?
Ask Chef Erika….🙄 Gee thanks Nat, (Chef Erika says we make a large 14″ tomato focaccia, a potato with caramelized onion focaccia, a mini sized with tomatoes and herbs and a medium sized Barese style. Barese focaccia is from the Bari region of Puglia. You would typically dress it with Extra Virgin Olive Oil from Southern Italy. The Olive Oil from that region due to the latitude has a buttery mouth feel which, to me, is super yum).
13. What type of wine goes best with cheese, red or white?
14. What are your plans for the future in cheese?
Continue to build our Caputo brand.
15. How do you stay innovative?
We do what we love, eat and drink. Lots of ideas come from the dinner table. Others come from trade and where trends are headed. However, we don’t try to do everything.
16. When people think of cheesemakers in the Midwest they mostly think of Wisconsin and Michigan. Are there other cheesemakers in Illinois or do you have that on lock?
There are many cheese makers in Illinois. We barely scratch the surface here in Melrose Park.
17. What is your favorite wine and can I have some?
Jordan Cabernet and you can purchase some, sure!
18. So, Caputo’s has a parent company (Wiscon Corp). What’s the diff?
No difference. We always thought that maybe Wiscon Corporation would diversify into other food companies. But, it seems that we are still working the cheese. Caputo, our brand, is owned by Wiscon Corporation.
19. I see a bunch of Caputo’s Freshmarkets around, are you affiliated with those guys? My cousins and great customers. We are separate family businesses.
20. You go by Nat, but your name is Natale. That’s a cool ass name. Why not make people pronounce your whole name?
I prefer Natale, but it can be difficult for people to say. I can’t tell you how many times my teachers in grade school would say Natalie. After a while, you get tired of correcting people and go with anything. There are two people that call me Natale besides my Father. The first one is my first college roommate, and the other, one of my closest friends from back home. Funny thing, both of those guys are named Michael! LOL