Semolina MKE sells handmade pasta in Milwaukee’s Bay View
Kristine M. Kierzek
Just outside the entrance to Semolina MKE, 2474 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., you are greeted by an edible herb garden including nasturtiums, basil, and rosemary. Every item can be found in pasta and home-made products by owner Petra Orlowski.
She spent years working in some of Milwaukee’s best-known restaurants, from Sanford to Mistral and Blue’s Egg. When restaurants closed during the pandemic, she perfected pasta recipes. Then people started asking her to buy her pasta.
The Bay View native opened Semolina MKE in October 2021. Now with a reason to explore her Sicilian roots more deeply, earlier this year she traveled to Italy. She stocked up on food, took cooking classes and visited farms and vineyards producing the products she offers in her shop. Every item is made or hand-picked by Orlowski, from pastas, sauces and meatballs to marinated olives, capers, cheeses, olive oils and cannoli.
Semoule MKE is open Tuesday to Friday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Orlowski offers select classes Fridays from 7:30-9:30 p.m. and Saturdays from 3:30-5:30 p.m. To register, call the store at (414) 249-4472. For current course offerings, go to semolinamke.com.
Family Food Roots
I am half Mexican and half Italian. My mother is 100% Sicilian, born here. My two grandparents, his parents, are Sicilian.
We stayed in a domain, Mandranova, which also produces the olive oil that we transport. We were literally in the middle of olive groves. We could see how they grow everything. We also went to Bona Furtuna, which is located in the center of Sicily in Corleone. My grandmother’s family comes mainly from the neighboring town. We went to a few wineries. Sicily is incredibly beautiful. It is completely different from mainland Italy.
We plan to make this an annual trip now so that we can maintain these relationships and create new ones to bring in more products from small producers.
My grandmother Rosie, she’s in the picture on the wall here, was a big influence. His food was simple but very tasty. Everyone wanted to eat grandma’s food all the time. She wasn’t shy with salt, but nothing was salty. It was right. My sister and I, my cousins, we stayed at their house all the time. She would cook every day. As she got older, she started showing me more. She was a character.
The first time I made pasta, I can’t remember. I remember seeing my grandmother do it. She didn’t do it often. We were definitely a store-bought pasta family. But when she did, it was usually for chicken soup.
Feeding his needs
I have twins. I was at home with them until they went to school. I wanted to go back to work. … My husband worked during the day. OK, I can get a night job somewhere and the kids don’t have to go to daycare. … I looked at the restoration. I started as a banquet waitress. Then I saw an ad for Sanford and started as a host, then became a server and operations manager. I stayed there for about 15 years. I worked there, I ended up getting a divorce.
To do this, I did a lot of different jobs, bartender, pastry chef at Sheridan’s in Cudahy. I loved working with Joe (Schreiter). I worked with him at the Mistral before he left The Diplomat. In 2018 I started at Blue’s Egg in Shorewood. I worked there until it closed during the pandemic.
Perfect the pasta
I was sitting at home and starting to make pasta and sourdough. I went deep into pasta and really turned my dining room into my pasta lab. My husband made me a big board to make all the pasta on the dining room table. I bought bins for my flour so I could buy 50 pounds at a time.
Start your business
I felt like because it was flour, it was okay to sell my house. I did that for a while. Then I was on the Milwaukee Foodie page on Facebook. One of their posts said something about we understand a lot of you are doing stuff but we can’t post your stuff if it goes against any of the food laws of cottages. It lists all the things you can’t sell outside of your home. The noodles were one of them. Wait a minute, I thought that was good.
I had to work in a commercial kitchen. I decided to buy the extruder, a big investment. I was planning on doing this and contacted Katie Rose at Good kind. Paul (Zerkel), Lisa (Kirkpatrick) and Katie were willing to let me work from their kitchen, but then I went through other issues. The machine (extruder) was made in Italy, so it is not NSF (certified). The health inspector said I needed a waiver. I’m not going to put another company at risk, so no Goodkind. Then I worked in front of this building. There was a “for rent” sign here. That was it.
what she wears
It’s not exclusively Italian, but I try to go with small producers. Bona Furtuna, I wear two of their oils. I use their wild fennel seeds in my sauce and in my pickled olives. I’ll crush it for crackers. This fennel from their land they get about 300 jars a year. I was like “I’ll take it all!”
They have a guy who works for them, he has a doctorate in agronomy and botany. He has mapped everything and knows every olive tree on this property, its type and age, as well as all the other plants.
About its products
My dry pasta that I always have on hand. I use a combination of semolina and stone ground wheat from Meadowlark Mills in Ridgeway. It is important for me to support local producers as well as small producers in Italy. I also carry their beans and polenta.
I still have my sauces that I make, a pomodoro sauce which is vegan, and a spicy arrabiata sauce. For my fresh pasta, I make ravioli on Wednesdays. Culurgiones, Sardinian pasta stuffed with mashed potatoes, I make them on Saturdays. The other days, I just play.
A few years ago, I was making ravioli. We had a group of friends for a pasta night. I set up my dining room table and everyone had their place, their garnish. It was a fun time. Shortly after, my husband and two children traveled to Italy for their 21st birthday. We took a cooking class. … I could do it.
I did some testing with friends back home. I really enjoyed the lessons. My husband, Andy, acts as the house elf. We can accommodate up to six students. It keeps everything very handy. You get wine, we have fun.
The first is a classic egg batter. … The other class I do is hand-shaped pasta, which people seem to really like. It’s like Play-doh. You can create all these different shapes. … Classes are $65 per person plus tax.
Its eating everyday
If I’m just at home making pasta, I love pappardelle.
Dry pasta, six (forms). Then I usually have at least one fresh dough on hand. Right now I have ravioli and pappardelle. It almost always sells out. I don’t overdo it, because I can always do more.
I will start making potato gnocchi again in the fall. It wasn’t as popular once it was hot. It was a big seller in cooler weather. It was available on Thursdays, and it will be again in the fall.
What she likes to teach
The best part about pasta is that it’s very hard to mess it up. That’s what I like to teach people. Everyone can do it. I may be learning how to get out of the sale with this, but I think it’s fun.
Taste and travel
We brought back a lot of wine, jams and marmalades, dried tomatoes bought at the Palermo market and salted capers. I use these things sparingly as I won’t be going back for a while. They are so delicious.
At Mandranova, we did a cooking class with the owner and learned the pesto with dried tomatoes, her recipe with almonds, cheese, lemon juice, basil and mint. Very simple, but the most delicious sauce I have ever had. I just went to Paradise Roast and I got almonds to make this sauce.
Come for the cannoli
I make cannoli kits. I do the filling. I have sets, full dozen or half dozen. The kit comes with a piping bag and a half or full pound of filling and something to decorate the ends, either chopped chocolate or candied orange peel. You fill them up as you eat them. No soggy shells.
Perfect preparation of pasta
No oil in the water. Yes to salt. Yes hard salt. What I say in my classes regarding oil, you put a waterproof over your pasta if you add oil to it. it coats it so your sauce slides off. You want the sauce to stick to your starch.
When she’s not cooking
Honestly, I’m at Puddler Room. I worked there and all my friends are there. This is where I met my husband.
Fork. Spoon. Life. explores the daily relationship that local notables (both within and outside the food community) have with food. To suggest future personalities to profile, email [email protected]