Cow Palace owner Tino Massotto has beef, and not the kind that's lining his shelves. The owner of this Rocky Point butcher shop says state violations that prompted his market to fail health violations three times in 2012 were silly technicalities, though he's already made changes to avoid future failures.
The state's Department of Agriculture and Markets flagged Cow Palace's vacuum-sealing practices related to how it packaged cheeses and homemade stuffings.
"We have a license to vacuum-seal cheese and meats and poultry and everything else," Massotto said. "We have people who are in charge of it and a professional machine."
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But on Jan. 30, 2012, inspectors slapped the market with a critical violation for not labeling vacuum-sealed cheese with a 14-day expiration window, a deficiency the state deems a health hazard.
According to Massotto, it went like this: The butcher usually buys huge wheels of Locatelli Romano cheese, which he said has a shelf life of six months. However, once he carves them up into single portions for resale, and vacuum seals them, under state guidelines they must to be labeled with a 14-day expiration date.
"Basically, we decided at this point that we were just going to buy the cheese already vacuum sealed from the company," he said.
Patch has accessed the inspection data as part of a region-wide project culling information on grocery store inspections across New York state to create an exclusive interactive map.
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The market had a similar incident in its June 6, 2012 inspection, when it failed due to frozen turkey burgers and breakfast sausages not being labeled "keep frozen until use," state records show. Most recently, the market failed for vacuum-sealing a prepared spinach and feta stuffing it makes in-house.
"We're allowed to vacuum seal feta and we're allowed to seal spinach, but they didn't like that we mixed the spinach and cheese together," he said, calling the violation unfair.
"There's no book, no novel to go to that says, 'You cannot mix the two products you vacuum pack and freeze them.' And you learn the hard way and get written up and get a fine."
Cow Palace, which has stores in Patchogue, Westhampton, Middle Island and Moriches as well, also failed in October for allowing its store-made Strombolis to cool in the open and not in a refrigerator.
"We've been selling 1,000 Strombolis a week for 30 years and not one person has been sick," he said.
The failures, however, might be outweighed by the butcher's following. When we asked our local Facebook following what they think of Cow Palace, the response was overwhelmingly supportive.
"Cow Palace is the ONLY place we get our meat! The Service is Great!!!," said Constance Pappas Burelle.
Suzanne Bahnken Cloke agreed. "Their deli salads are great AND their frozen ravioli's are EXACTLY the same as the ones sold in Italian markets. I always search for their coupons and buy WAY more than necessary! Not just a store for meat, that's for sure."
Despite his gripes with inspectors, Massotto said he made the changes and passed an inspection just two weeks ago.
"We have a clean store. Everything gets soaped and disinfected on a daily basis."