Part of the appeal of Brooklyn Square was the number and variety of businesses packed into eighty acres of land in the Chadakoin River valley on the south side of Jamestown. They peppered the Square and also the neighborhoods that formed the residential boundaries of that commercial area of Jamestown. But one unique business was situated near the corner of S. Main and Derby Street, actually at 11 Derby Street, and it was known by residents of that block quite simply as The Cheese Factory.
I believe it was in the summer of 1945, that Joseph Parasiliti, an immigrant from Tororici, Sicily, established a business that became known in the Lost Neighborhood as the Cheese Factory. Built by the hands of one man, the factory was a simple, square concrete block building where Mr. Parasiliti could make and distribute cheese. As Mr. Parasiliti’s business increased from sales to neighbors and friends in Jamestown and the Falconer area, he enlisted the help of his brother-in-law, Joe Galati, Sr., who was also from Tortorici and a cheese-maker, having learned the craft from his family as Joe Parasiliti had.
When I was a kid living on Derby Street, watching the manufacturing of cheese, especially ricotta, was an education in itself. Much of the labor intensive cheese-making in the summer time by these excellent cheese men was done in full view of the neighbors because the large overhead garage door in the area of the building where the cheese was made was open. Milk in large metal cans was directly delivered to the factory by Nelson’s Dairy. It was poured into two large cone-shaped vats about five feet high and four feet wide that were fired up by gas burners beneath each vat. Once the milk reached the right temperature, both men, clad in overalls, a rubber or leather apron to protect them from the heat, and tall rubber boots, would use long wooden paddles to stir the whey as curds began to form. Then they would collect the curds and pack them into cylindrical tins with holes to have the excess water drain and, thus, a delicious container of fresh ricotta! Some times a collection of neighborhood kids would be an audience to this task of cheese making, and often we would be rewarded with a scoop of freshly made, warm ricotta. And some times Mr. Parasiliti would ask me to bring a bowl from my mother’s kitchen where he would place a generous scoop of the fragrant cheese for my family.
In 1954, when Mr. Parasiliti retired from the cheese business, his partner, Joe Galati, bought the cheese factory and fulfilled a life-long dream of setting up his own food importing business in that location. He contacted owners of many Mom and Pop groceries, Italian groceries, chain stores, super markets, restaurants and pizza parlors and established a steady stream of customers who depended on his specialty food products such as cheeses of all kinds, canned fruits and vegetables, Italian tuna fish (tonno), sardines, and all types of tomato products. In fact, Joe had a canning company design a label for his own brand of tomato products that he sold under the name “Rondo.” He also brought the popular Brown and Gold coffee to the area and sold various kinds of pepperoni, salami, Italian specialty cold cuts, and Bravo macaroni products. As his business increased from the Jamestown area to neighboring towns in Pennsylvania, his wife Dorothy became his bookkeeper, and his son, Joe, Jr., worked with his father until 1971 when they closed the business because of urban renewal.
Not to be discouraged, Joe Galati then moved his family to Erie, PA, where he formed a partnership with Bobo Arnone in another Italian food importing business that was highly successful. Joe died in 2001 and left a tradition of another immigrant story of a man who worked hard and found a new life for him and his family in this New World. (Much of the credit for the information in this article goes to Jim Auria, who interviewed Dorothy Williams Galati, for his article “The Cheese Factory at 11 Derby Street” in Brooklyn Square, The Lost Neighborhood, and Beyond.)
To read more from Joan V. Cusimano Lindquist and her insights into Brooklyn Square and the yesteryear of Jamestown, NY visit www.JamestownGazette.com.