Brand Stories: Reimagining Traditional Italian Cheesemaking
Italy is known for its superior quality food, expertly matching traditional production methods with taste. In 2021, dairy accounted for €4094 million in Italy’s exports, and the country exported more dairy than meat (€3601 million respectively). One of these exports is mozzarella, which is used across the food and beverage industry, most notably for pizza. Over ten years ago, three entrepreneurs recognised the potential for a plant-based alternative and joined forces to create one for the market.
MozzaRisella is the producer of an innovative range of 100% plant-based cheese made from germinated brown rice sprouts. It is an Italian company that sells in Italy and worldwide. MozzaRisella Classic, their most popular product, is a white springy meltable mozzarella substitute ideal for pizza toppings. It is currently available in wholesalers and retailers: in the UK it is used in high street restaurant chains including Pizza Express, Zizzi and ASK Italia. It is also used on other branded ready meals, and can be sourced from wholesalers CLF, Suma, Wholegood, Bidfood, and Delitalia.
Pioneering Plant-Based Cheese
The MozzaRisella story began around 2010 when three entrepreneurs joined forces: Franco Vessio, Andrea Buffolo and Alessandro Menegon. Alessandro Menegon is from an established cheese-making family and was keen to pioneer plant-based cheese in Italy. Franco Vessio and Andrea Buffolo produced sprouted cereals using innovative sustainable techniques. The three combined their expertise to try a new and unique idea – making cheese from rice grown using permaculture techniques. Rice usually uses a lot of water, with seeds and shoots submerged. The founders wanted to grow it in a more environmentally beneficial way. They wanted to avoid the air-mile impact of imported ingredients and the soil degradation of conventional intensive farming. They were particularly inspired by the natural farming principles set out by Masanobu Fukuoka in his book The One Straw Revolution and applied this approach to their own food production methods.
Sowing the Seeds
Permaculture principles involve minimum intervention on soil and crop. Chemical fertilizers are not used, reducing damage to the soil and native wildlife. The founders practiced these regenerative farming methods in the mountains of northern Italy, using natural free-flowing spring water to germinate rice seeds. The rice resulting sprouts, known as BioSurice® were made into a rice-milk drink. The company then applied traditional cheese-mongering skills from the dairy cheese-making industry. The rice-milk was put through a cheese-making process using machinery adapted to handle non-dairy inputs. Ingredients were mixed to find to right the balance of acidity and fats to achieve the familiar taste and mouth feel of cheese. The company tested the product and found it had a good texture, consistency, and flavour. It also had a good nutritional value, containing eight essential amino acids and being relatively low in saturated fat compared to coconut and cashew-based cheeses. The company has benefited from private investment and the manufacturing plant in Italy is fully dairy-free which means that the products are suitable for customers with dairy allergies and intolerances.
Testing the Market
Around 2011 the first products were launched. The company decided to launch the range in the UK rather than Italy, as London is considered a good testing ground for new innovative foods. Launching in Italy, where the making of mozzarella is a tradition dating back hundreds of years, was more of a challenge. The company worked hard to persuade Italian consumers that the product was not a replacement for traditional cheese but was a different and much needed alternative for those who can’t eat dairy. They did this by launching initially in health food shops where consumers are generally seeking healthy alternatives and are open to different products. Once in health food shops, the brand gained visibility and positive feedback, especially from those with allergies and intolerances. One delighted customer reported that she had been able to enjoy a pizza with her dairy-intolerant grandson for the first time. With the brand more established, mainstream retailers became interested.
Mozzarisella now sells a range of ready meals such as pasta dishes made with the rice-cheese in Italian supermarkets. Mozzarisella are now adding a rice-based Parmesan-style hard cheese called GranRi to the line. The strong-tasting hard cheese is aimed at foodservice for use as a topping, grated on to pasta dishes or shaved on to salads. It comes in different sizes including a small pack for retail. The company is also prototyping a feta-style rice-cheese. To learn more visit mozzarisella.co.uk , Facebook, Instagram , Twitter