Mozzarella first appeared in the 12th century or so, in the province of Campania, near the city of Naples. Legend has it that it was invented by chance, when a cheese factory accidentally dropped curdled milk into a bucket of boiling water. It is not known whether this is the romantic version or the real one, but it is certain that the first mozzarella was made from the very rich, fatty and tasty unpasteurised milk of the Italian water buffalo (bufala). As the technology for refrigerating food was still in its infancy at the time, this was a very fresh product to eat.
It is important to note that in Italy only cheese made from buffalo milk is considered mozzarella, the cow’s milk equivalent being the equally creamy and delicious fior di latte.
And then we have stracciatella – no, not the chocolate chip ice cream, but still a cheese preparation, soft and spreadable, which is basically a mixture of cream cheese/cottage cheese and shredded mozzarella.
It is this silky, almost melting stracciatella that is the heart of burrata, as it is stracciatella wrapped in a mozzarella shell. A very thin layer, masterfully crafted.
The mark of a good, quality mozzarella is that it can be picked by the slice, and the long-lasting cheeses we know in our country are nowhere near the protected delicacy that Italians so respect and love.
It is a Traditional Speciality Guaranteed (TSG) product, protected by the EU, which means that it can be produced anywhere, “but only from traditional raw materials and/or using traditional processes as defined in the approved specification”.
In Italy, the term ‘mozzarella‘ is commonly used to refer to mozzarella made from buffalo milk. Outside Italy, these names are being scattered in accordance with commercial requirements. A good quality mozzarella is fat, moist, sweet and slightly field-scented, with a texture that beautifully reproduces the kneading and moulding into a dumpling of the raw material, which is made from milk by renneting and then rolled out while still warm. This cheese is creamy and loose inside, easy to slice, very moist and fatty (40-52 %). The sliceability is a basic requirement, a consequence of the production technology, and the mozzarella with the texture of a rubber eraser is a disgrace to the variety.
The best mozzarellas are made from the milk of water buffalo, mainly in the provinces of Lazio and Campania in Italy. Buffalo mozzarella made in a particular area of Campania has been PDO since 1996 and is marketed as mozzarella di bufala campana, so it’s worth trying one once and then sitting down to redefine the concept of mozzarella when producers are so lenient with their own products. This cheese can only be made from milk from buffalo kept in the area and only in this area, like all EU regulated products of origin.
The word burrata, of course, comes from the Italian burro, which is nothing more than butter. Sort of… because the stuffed cheese made from buffalo milk can be cut and knifed and spread practically like butter. It’s sweet and salty at the same time, silky and, for a cheese lover, a delight. It’s two cheeses in one!
Don’t be alarmed, there are two types of burrata: the plain and the knotted, a larger and a smaller one. The latter is essentially the real matryoshka doll, because inside is the real surprise.
It’s one of the best fresh cheese, is essentially mozzarella stuffed with creamy mozzarella, if you ever see it in Italy, buy some. Unfortunately, only when it’s extremely fresh does it have that sweet, buttery intoxication that everyone who’s had it loves so much. If it’s just a little sour, it’s worthless, so it’s hard to find a perfect one in this country.
As all mozzarella is a fresh cheese, never aged (possibly smoked), it is only really good when extremely fresh. It can be preserved in brine, which is how it is commercially sold, but the fresher it is, the better it tastes. Buffalo mozzarella is best eaten fresh, with experts saying that it is at its best eight to nine hours after preparation. The fact is that refrigeration reduces its quality considerably, so fresh mozzarella should be eaten within a day or so, as refrigeration changes the texture of the mozzarella completely.
How to use them?
Real buffalo mozzarella is often used in pasta dishes, while fior di latte, or cow’s milk mozzarella, is most often used as a pizza topping on real Neapolitan-style pizzas. It melts beautifully and perfectly complements tomatoes and blistered pasta. And burrata… it’s no wonder that its most dense use is a rich caprese, which is a high-quality tomato, olive oil and fresh basil leaves. To all of this, a few grains of freshly ground pepper and salt flakes are the perfect catalyst.