Wisconsin. France. Italy. When you think of cheese, I’m guessing those are some areas of the world that come to mind — not Florida.
Tampa resident and Italy native Antonio Casamento is looking to change that.
With his business Cheeselicious, Casamento offers Italian-style buffalo mozzarella cheese as well as around a dozen other cheeses — including Toscano, burrata and gorgonzola, to name a few.
Casamento started his business four years ago. He has a background in the hospitality industry but had never even milked a cow before. He decided he wanted to try something different, and the buffalo angle seemed to fit. In his native country, there’s a bigger emphasis on freshly made food — and he wanted to make a product that’s fresh, made to order and healthy.
Casamento offers his cheeses at a variety of area farmers markets. Although he does not use third-party distributors, he does have agreements with a few area country clubs and hotels that buy his cheeses.
On a recent Saturday at the St. Petersburg Saturday Market, Casamento and a co-worker charmingly offered free samples from cheeses made the day before. That market is the biggest outdoor fresh market in the Southeast, attracting thousands of people every Saturday.
Of course, I had to try a few samples. Compared with cow’s or goat’s milk cheeses, the buffalo varieties had a slightly different taste I had trouble pinpointing — but I still liked them. I bought a chunk of Toscano cheese that I later enjoyed with sesame flatbread crackers and a sweet red wine. I also bought a yogurt that had a thick consistency similar to Greek yogurt — only Casamento told me his yogurt is “100 times better.”
To give you an idea of prices, a one-fourth pound of buffalo mozzarella, his best-selling cheese, is $10. However, he added that price is in line with a supermarket like Publix and more affordable than a number of upscale markets in the Tampa area — and likely fresher.
So just why should someone indulge in a product from Cheeselicious?
His cheese uses organic ingredients. You can still eat buffalo cheeses if you are lactose intolerant. Plus, some sources I found online say that buffalo milk is healthier than milk from a cow.
And more and more consumers want to know where and how their food is made.
“People here are getting more food conscious,” said Casamento. “Many people try to save money on food, but then they end up spending more at the doctor.” Purchasing a fresher, healthier product — even if it’s a little more expensive — is better off in the long run, he said.
Casamento recently purchased property in Thonotosassa where, by early summer, he hopes to keep his buffalo but also expand to produce other ag products, such as eggs and honey. He also plans to host farm-to-table events there, where visitors can come and enjoy a meal made from farm products.
Cheeselicious also offers cheesemaking classes, with the next one coming up on May 12. If you’ve never made cheese before, it’s fun and a lot easier than you might think. Although I’ve never made buffalo artisanal cheese before, I love the mozzarella cheesemaking kit that a friend gave me a few years ago, where I produce fresh, warm cheese in about 30 minutes. I imagine learning how to make cheese with someone who really knows what they’re doing would be quite the experience.
The buffalos used for the cheeses are in Plant City.