October 14, 2022 at 6:18 p.m.

More cheese, please

Portesi Pizza, Wisconsin dairy a great relationship
Rusty Mitch displays several varieties of pizza and cheese fries that Portesi Italian Foods markets in Wisconsin. Mitch is the third generation to operate the company based in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. PHOTO BY DANIELLE NAUMAN
Rusty Mitch displays several varieties of pizza and cheese fries that Portesi Italian Foods markets in Wisconsin. Mitch is the third generation to operate the company based in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. PHOTO BY DANIELLE NAUMAN

By Danielle Nauman- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

STEVENS POINT, Wis. – Rusty Mitch is not a dairy farmer, but his connection to the dairy industry is strong. Mitch is the president of Portesi Italian Foods Inc., which is home to Portesi frozen pizza, a central Wisconsin tradition.
Mitch is the third generation of his family to make pizzas in Stevens Point; he follows in the footsteps of his grandfather, George Portesi, who immigrated from Altopascio, Italy, and his father, Joe Mitch.
“We put a lot of emphasis on the whole quality of our pizzas,” Mitch said. “Wisconsin dairy farmers take a lot of pride in the cheese they produce, and we are proud to use that cheese to make a quality product.”
Portesi Italian Foods operates from a state-inspected facility in Portage County. That licensure limits the distribution of Portesi Pizzas containing meat to within the state of Wisconsin. The company currently markets their pizzas primarily in the central and northeastern areas of the state and are working with distributors to bring their pizzas to all corners of the state.                                                                       
“We are starting to get our pizzas into some markets in southeastern Wisconsin,” Mitch said. “We really don’t have a presence in western Wisconsin yet, but that is something we would like to change.”                                          
Because they lack a meat component, Portesi can market its cheese fries across state lines, and the fries are available in Minnesota as well as in Wisconsin.  
Portesi produces their original style pizza with five variations of toppings; a thin crust pizza with six variations of toppings and a line that features three variations with extra-thick toppings and cheese.  
In addition to the pizzas, Portesi produces two styles of cheese fries, high-rise and thin crust. Mitch describes the popular cheese fries, which were launched in 1980, as pizza dough with garlic butter and topped with mozzarella cheese and Portesi’s spices. Basically, garlic bread with cheese in a pizza form.                                                                                                                           
“We don’t make frozen pizzas; we make fresh pizzas frozen,” Mitch said of what sets Portesi Pizzas apart from the rest. “There are many kinds of pizzas out there, but there is only one Portesi.”
Mitch said that what makes Portesi original style pizza different is that the pizzas are partially baked in a 600-degree oven before being frozen.
“By pre-baking the pizza, we are able to seal in the flavor that you lose when you freeze an unbaked pizza,” Mitch said. “That is what separates us from frozen pizza.”
All pizzas and cheese fries are hand-made.
“The way we do things, it is hard to bring in a lot of automation,” Mitch said. “But that individual attention to detail is part of what sets us apart.”
Portesi Italian Foods ties their brand to the well-known reputation of Wisconsin cheese and proudly display’s the Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin’s Wisconsin Cheese logo on their products. Cheese fries and pizzas are each topped with 5-8 ounces of Wisconsin-made mozzarella.
“It’s a whole quality thing,” Mitch said. “Wisconsin takes great pride in the cheese made here. We are thrilled to be a part of that legacy.”
Each week, Portesi utilizes over 6,000 pounds of cheese.
Working at Portesi has some good fringe benefits, said Mitch.
“Pizza gets made for lunch pretty much every day,” Mitch said. “You always hear about people that work in the food industry don’t like to eat the product they make, but that is not the case here. Our employees love our pizza. No one gets tired of it.”
Mitch can attest to living a life of eating Portesi Pizza.
“I grew up on this stuff,” Mitch said. “I have our pizza almost every day for lunch, and we have it at home for dinner at least once a week. It is good, and people enjoy it immensely, myself included.”
Portesi Pizza is a healthy food choice, said Mitch.
“There are no preservatives or additives,” Mitch said. “It is all natural.”
Portesi Italian Foods is a part of the local school lunch program, and Mitch said Italian flatbread – the foodservice version of Portesi’s cheese fries – is one of the most-requested items on the school district’s menu.
In addition to working with schools, Portesi is the official frozen pizza of the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.                                       
Like many Wisconsin dairy farms, Portesi Pizza is a small, family-owned business and employees around 20 people to operate the enterprise.
“I started working here myself when I was a kid, starting when I was 11 or 12 years old,” Mitch said. “At some point in time, I have pretty much done every single job here. I was able to learn the business well from that point of view.”
That long-standing involvement in the family’s business allowed Mitch to grow up with a great deal of respect for what his grandfather and father built before his time.                                                                    
“As a family-owned business with more than 65 years under our belt, we take a lot of pride in what we do,” Mitch said. “That same sentiment carries through for dairy farmers in the product they produce. All our businesses benefit from that commitment of the other.


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