In 1903, my great-grandfather Savino Di Palo embarked on a journey that changed his life and the lives of the future generations of his family. Between 1880 and 1920, there was a mass emigration of Italians to the United States, and Savino made the decision to immigrate to this country. Upon doing so, this cheese-maker left behind his family, his farm, and all that he was accustomed to in the small mountain village of Montemelone, Basilicata, Italy.
After settling in New York City’s Little Italy, he opened a latteria (dairy store) in 1910. It wasn’t until 1914 that his family finally joined him in the United States. Working together with his children, Savino inspired them to preserve the traditions of his homeland, Basilicata, Italy. In 1925, Savino’s daughter (my grandmother), Concetta, after having just given birth to her second son, continued this tradition by opening up a latteria of her own with the support of her husband Luigi. The latteria, called Di Palo’s, was located on the corner of Mott and Grand Streets, within a half block from her father’s shop. Always bustling with Italian immigrants, this small four-hundred square-foot store sold exclusively cheeses that were handmade by Luigi and Concetta and fresh milk ladled from large milk cans which were delivered daily from nearby farms. Over the years, Concetta and Luigi, along with their sons Michael and Savino, slowly increased their product line to include southern Italian cheeses such as Caciocavallo, Provolone, and Pecorino Romano. Despite struggling through some of this country’s the most difficult times, the store survived the depression era, world wars, and a changing community. In the 1960’s the influx of Italians to this country decreased dramatically as immigration polices shifted.
Over the next twenty years the Italian community drastically diminished. It was then that I realized that the footprint of the Italian immigrant that had been established in New York City’s Little Italy needed to be preserved. When my father, Savino, known as Sam, retired, I, along with my brother Salvatore and sister, Marie realized that in order to move forward we had to first look back. It had become apparent that we needed to continue one of the greatest contributions that Italian immigrants made to the United States- the appreciation of traditional foods. My mission became rediscovering what my great grandfather, Savino DiPalo left behind in Italy in 1903.
By making frequent trips to Italy, I seek out the authentic tastes and select traditional products from the twenty regions. Along with this, I bring back to you the knowledge and history of these authentic flavors. I have made it my obligation not only to meet the producers but also to visit the farms during harvest times and see the animals and the land on which they graze in order to guarantee that these products are of the highest standards and quality. And now my son Sam, the fifth generation of our family to be passionate about this work, has spent four years in Italy reclaiming his heritage and ensuring that his family—our family—has come full circle to share the vision his great-great-grandfather, Savino DiPalo, began.