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Pasta Store has customers far outside Queens

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Neil Russo’s pasta and mozzarella shop in Ozone Park may as well have a sign on the door warning customers its fare could be destructive.

“They constantly tell me that when they’re not able to get here, other pasta and other mozzarella ruin their meals,” he said.

Russo, 47, is owner and operator of The Pasta Store, a small retail shop located at 102-07 101st St.. It was started nearly 100 years ago by his grandmother, Rafaella Russo, as a latticini (milk products) store selling mozzarella cheese and ricotta in the East New York section of Brooklyn.

Russo’s uncle learned to make mozzarella and ricotta, and when his father returned from military service at the end of World War II, the two opened their own latticini store in Ozone Park in 1946. Over the years, they began to sell home-made pastas.

Russo took over the family business 15 years ago, leaving a job running a church art program in Manhattan. He expanded the shop to offer pasta-themed gifts, such as colanders, serving dishes, utensils and cooking pots, but still makes most of his business selling pasta wholesale to restaurants.

Each Christmas, he sells 3,500-5,000 pasta gift baskets, starting at $10. Striking dolls decked out in assorted varieties of pasta, which are handmade by a customer, cost $65.

But most walk-in customers come for the mozzarella and the pasta, which comes in more than 150 shapes and varieties.

Always fresh, the mozzarella is made on the premises by Russo up to three times a day. He described how he adds acid to farm milk to make it curdle. The curd that rises to the top is drained, aged and turned into mozzarella. Ideally it should be kept out of the refrigerator and eaten on the same day it is prepared, he said.

The whey that is left over is recooked and turned into ricotta, which Russo said is not technically a cheese because it is made from whey and not milk.

Russo’s pasta is made daily in a factory in Woodhull, N.Y. The biggest seller is one made from organic Jerusalem artichoke flour, a complex carbohydrate that is especially good for people on sugar- and fat-restricted diets.

Smiling, Russo tells of a customer addicted to The Pasta Store food who moved to a suburb outside Dallas. “He had pasta shipped to him,” Russo said. “He invited neighbors to dinner and it started spreading.”

Now, the Texans band together to rent a U-Haul twice a year and stock up on various types of pasta from Russo’s shop and other New York delicacies not typically found in their part of the country.

If not for the long distance run, there would be a neighborhood full of ruined meals outside of Dallas.

Reach reporter Daniel Massey by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 156.

Posted 7:05 pm, October 10, 2011
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