Joe's Dairy closed on Saturday, May 11, after 60 years of doing simple and honest business in SoHo. The closure was the owner's decision. He's decided to continue on doing only wholesale business, not retail. So there's a chance you may still get to eat Joe's peerless cheese at a local restaurant, or buy it at a local store. But where? That remains to be determined.
When I went there, on Friday afternoon, many people were already paying their respects, praising the cheese and lamenting the fact that the store was going under. "It wasn't my decision," said the busy clerk, who was evidently not happy about the turn of events. Joe's famous smoked mozzarella was gone by early afternoon. So I bought a pound of regular, which I ate plain and used in pasta over the next 24 hours. It was fantastic, among the best I've tasted in the City.
Joe's Dairy was one of the last remnants of working-class SoHo. It hailed from a time before the art galleries, before the boutique shops, before the luxury chains. In a way, it belonged more to the old South Village Italian community of Bleecker Street and thereabouts than it did to the cast-iron region real estate agents christened SoHo.
Joe's opened in 1953. Its original owner was Joe Aiello. Since 1977, the shop has been owned by Anthony Campanelli, who had worked part time in the store when Joe ran it. Anthony was only 18 when he bought the business. (Meaning he's 54 today.) Anthony was eventually joined in the business by his brother Vincent, father Frank and uncle Nick.
Joe's sold a variety of Italian goods, as the pictures above attest, including 35 kinds of cheese. But customers mainly came for one thing, the mozzarella, which was made daily. He sold more than 1,000 pounds a day.
To make the famous smoked mozzarella, Joe's put the in a barrel with wood chips underneath and exposed them to the smoke. No liquid smoke or other fake smoking methods.
While I was there, a walking tour came by. The guide pointed out Joe's Dairy and told its history. She then came out with a tray of samples for the group. It was surely the wast walking tour to find Joe's open for business.