Obiká's Taisha Speed Serves Fists of Mozzarella in Midtown

"We have Vermont, Paestum [outside Naples, Italy], and Affumicata, a smoked Paestum."
Photo: Melissa Hom

Taisha Speed had just come back from visiting her grandparents in Sicily when she heard the now three-week-old Obiká mozzarella bar was hiring. Without food experience, she came in as a barista but stepped up as a server to help tame the blast of office workers that sit and speed-eat around the kiosk during lunch. Expanded hours, pasta, and beer and wine are coming soon, but since Rob and Robin announced the Roman chain's invasion, Obiká has been going strong on its cheese orbs alone. We asked Taisha what makes these globes so great.

Do people only come for the mozzarella?
We have a big coffee rush in the morning with cornetti, croissants, and other pastries. We serve Mokarabia espresso, the same we serve in Italy — and La Colombe French press.

Obiká's a franchise — do the reps from Italy actually visit the kiosk?
The CEO of operations was just here about the menu. We're small and our kitchen is downstairs, so we had to take hot dishes off the menu when we opened, but in the next couple weeks we’re going to be serving soups and maybe eggplant parmesan and some sort of pasta or risotto. You know, everything runs a little differently here in New York. Things that maybe didn’t move as fast in Rome move here. We turn trays of takeout panini over so quickly since people want to just go.

How is artisanal mozzarella made?
Buffalo milk is curdled and drained, cut up into small pieces, and ground, put in hot water. It starts to take its texture, and once it becomes the right consistency, they put their fingers in to kind of form the individual mozzarella. And then they’re put into cold water and soaked in brine. It never touches a machine.

What identifies a quality mozzarella?
It shouldn’t be white-white, a more natural milk color. When you cut the mozzarella, it should release a milky serum, which is a sign of freshness.

What’s the difference in taste between the buffalo mozzarellas you serve?
We have Vermont, Paestum [from outside Naples, Italy], and Affumicata, a smoked Paestum. Vermont is a little more delicate in taste. The Paestum is a little bit stronger, where the taste of the mozzarella kind of lingers in your mouth a little bit longer. The texture is almost the same — the Vermont might be a little bit softer, but the difference is slight.

Do you ever change up the mozzarella options?
Once a week we get a special called Stracciatella, and once a week we get Burrata. It’s not exact when we get them, but it’s been pretty consistently Wednesday and Thursday. The Burrata [cream mozzarella] we sell out of that day. Straciatella within two. It’s a mozzarella, but it’s a little bit more liquid-y in form; it kind of has the texture of a cottage cheese. It’s the milk curd and it has a more buttery taste.

How much more is the Italian mozzarella?
They’re all the same price. The dishes start from, say, $10 to $18, and you choose your mozzarella. For all three, it’s $21, and they come on spinach leaves with cherry tomatoes and olives. Normally, two people can share the tasting: three whole balls, each a little bit smaller than a fist, a woman’s fist. It’s a good portion.

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