Salem native Brian Civitello is out to reshape the cheese industry. It's a whale of a task, one the proprietor of Mystic Cheese is pursuing through both his product and the way it's manufactured.
“I ran into the same problem time and time again — cheesemakers having poor infrastructure that wasn't made to last,” says Civitello. “So I sprung out this idea to make the world’s first modular cheese factory.”
A year of research and development yielded what he calls cheese pods — whale pun intended — which are semipermanent setups constructed from two shipping containers. The fully functional prototype at Lebanon's Graywall Farm has been churning out the flagship Melville cheese (named after Herman Melville, author of “Moby Dick”) since November.
Civitello's story is the increasingly common one of a Connecticut native turned journeyman, returning home to set down roots and establish a business with his or her experience. He trained in the Italian Alps before traveling across America, working with cheese programs that include Rogue Creamery's award-winning cheddar and blue cheeses.
After returning to Connecticut, he decided to make a go at starting his own cheese company. A simple request for input from friend Jason Sobocinski of New Haven's cheese-centric Caseus Fromagerie & Bistro netted a business partner, and Mystic Cheese was born.
The company's Melville is a versatile cheese based on the Italian Crescenza variety. Civitello says the cheese is great for cooking but often finds its way onto cheese boards at restaurants like Max’s Oyster Bar and Caseus.
“It just goes with everything — jams, jellies — and it melts like no tomorrow,” Civitello says. “[It’s] probably one of the most versatile cheeses in the marketplace right now as far as artisan domestic cheeses.”
A French-style cheese called Melinda Mae is also on the horizon. Its name is a nod to the Shel Silverstein poem “Melinda Mae,” about a girl who ate a whale. Mystic Cheese products are sold throughout the New London and New Haven areas. In the Hartford area, they may be found at The Meat House in Avon, and are expected to be sold in Hartford-area Whole Foods Markets by the end of February. www.mysticcheese.com