Alleva Dairy | The Oldest Cheese Store in the U.S.
I took W 22nd Street to 4th Ave, following it into Lafayette Street. I was heading to Mulberry Street to start out in Little Italy under the famous metal archway.
Somehow I ended up on Mott Street, passing the corner lot for Lombardi’s — one of the first pizzerias in the United States. Lombardi’s opened in 1897 as a grocery store, selling a version of a pizza to laborers in the area. Lombardi’s officially became a licensed restaurant in 1905.
I didn’t try Lombardi’s as a pizza pie was $23-$35 and I think that’s excessive. So I continued down Mott Street looking for another famous Italian landmark.
After walking through Piemonte Ravioli (which is right next door to Alleva) — I followed a typical Italian father into Alleva.
Alleva Dairy | Little Italy
Alleva has been in business for over 100 years. As their name suggests, they’re famous for their ricotta and mozzarella, which were recipes from founder Pina Alleva who immigrated from Italy in 1892.
Alleva Brand and Decor
Alleva is the classic store front you might imagine. A cannoli case sat on the corner, attracting tourists from the sidewalk.
An Italian-green awning hung over the front windows. Neon “Alleva” signs glowed from the front windows. Paper signs with thick red font showcased: "mozzarella, sandwiches, panini, ricotta, capocollo.”
I pushed through the metal doors. The case of meats was to the left in an L-shape. Metal racks in the center of the room had pasta and olive oils.
I wandered down the right-side of the room and ended up by the cheese and meat cases at the back of the room. The Italian father was hovering near the prepared foods.
I was trying to figure out what to order. I thought a sandwich or panini was too basic. I didn’t think it was possible to ask for a tiny portion of any of the cheese or meats (as I didn’t have a refrigerator to put them in).
Two younger men came around from the back counter, “Can I help you?”
I indicated to the Italian father, “He was here first.”
“Go ahead.” He told me.
Oh no, what do I order?!
Y’all must’ve gathered by now, if you’ve read my previous food reviews, that I like to study the menu, think about what would be best, etc. In hindsight, I can say that I’m disappointed because rather than asking for cheese at the world’s oldest cheese shop, I pointed to the case in front of me and got a rice ball (Arancini).
A rice ball. *Face-palm.*
What was worse, is that the guy put it in a paper dish and popped it in the microwave.
This isn’t going to be good. I thought.
“Would you like sauce?” He asked.
“Please.” I figured the addition of sauce might revive what I was about to eat.
The other man behind the counter asked the Italian father what he wanted. The father answered vaguely, saying pasta with several different toppings. I didn’t see that anywhere in the case, and I didn’t think they served pasta combinations in a cold-cut shop, but what did I know.
I was handed my microwaved rice ball — which had a small puddle of sauce on the side. An older woman called from the counter in the other corner of the room, “You can pay here.”
I walked over and placed the paper container on the counter. “That’s $5,” she said.
Jeeze, for microwaved rice? I handed over a 5-dollar bill and walked out onto the sidewalk. Four benches formed a square, two right in front of the storefront, and one closer to the street, facing the front door. I took that one, looking at the front banner and signage of the store as I tried my snack.
Arancini | $5.00
Well, you can imagine how bread-crumbed rice reheated in the microwave tastes. It did not have the best crispy outside as fresh arancini does, but it wasn’t mushy either.
The inside of the arancini did have al dente rice and stringy pulls of cheese. Overall it was a bit dry, so I was thankful for the sauce.
For $5 this was a softball-sized arancini. It was enough for me as a snack. A half of this arancini would’ve been enough for me.
As for the sauce, I prefer my arancini swimming in sauce, so I should’ve asked for extra. I ran out of sauce before I was halfway through my portion.
Without the sauce, the arancini is just that — plain risotto rice with cheese. There’s not much flavor in this one, though some recipes add peas, ham, pine nuts, etc.
This arancini was not a good representation of Alleva’s recipes and traditions. I enjoyed Alleva’s sauce — as it was sweet and similar to the texture and consistency that my family makes. The sauce had the most flavor out of everything.
It’s only now after I’ve done more research that Alleva’s is, in fact, known for their panini and cold-cut sandwiches. Trying the arancini was not a worthwhile judge for what Alleva’s produces.
The next time I visit Little Italy, I will be sure to stop in Alleva’s and buy a block of cheese to take home. Overall, I’m just happy to have stepped foot into this Italian landmark and thought you’d be interested in learning about its history.
The Next Little Italy Destination
Since I was restaurant-hopping across New York, I didn’t want to eat any large meals. So after trying my sad arancini from Alleva’s I happened to turn around and see that my next destination was across the street.
Click here to read about my visit to Ferrara’s Bakery and Cafe.