The dominant cheese of southern Italy is very popular in many places. Mozzarella is often eaten with salads, pasta, pizza or sandwiches, as the fresh cheese with its relatively neutral taste and pleasant texture easily adapts to almost any dish.
Table of Contents
History of the Mozzarella
The origins of mozzarella are lost in the mists of time. The cheese was created when water buffaloes first appeared in Italy. The only question is when and how these buffaloes appeared in the southern parts of the Italian boot.
According to most sources, the buffalo appeared in Italy sometime around the 6th century BC, while others believe that they arrived with Hannibal in the 2nd century BC. There are also theories that buffalo appeared in Campania in the early Middle Ages thanks to the Goths, but the most likely is that they arrived in Sicily in the 10th century, through Arab mediation, and settled in the marshy areas of central and southern Italy.
However these animals arrived in the Campania area, the first written records show that in the 12th century the cheese made from their milk, mozzarella di bufala, was already known. The cheese, made from the fatty milk of these disease-resistant, low-fat animals, quickly became known in the area.
During this period, cheese called mozza or provatura was made in monasteries and served with bread to pilgrims. By the 14th century, it was no longer only the faithful who could buy them in monasteries, but the mozzarella was also sold commercially in the markets of Naples and Salerno. Provatura cheese became more widely known because it retained its quality thanks to the smoking process.
The word ‘mozzarella’ is derived from the Italian verb mozzare, meaning ‘to cut’, which refers to the characteristic process of shaping the cheese by the cheesemaker’s fingers.
The most famous chef of the time, Bartolomeo Scappi, the Pope’s cook, mentions mozzarella in his cookbook of 1570, and by the 18th century it had become a widely known and consumed cheese. The only decline in cheese consumption occurred during the Second World War, when the retreating German army slaughtered a large proportion of the dairy buffalo.
How mozzarella is made?
In the Campania region, mozzarella cheese is still made according to the original recipe, and the DOP (Denominazione di origine protetta) designation guarantees its authentic origin.
The mozzarella is made using the pasta filata method – the fat-rich cheese paste is stretched and kneaded until it is shiny, homogeneous and mouldable. The resulting large blocks of cheese are then torn into smaller pieces by hand (hence the name of the cheese – ‘mozza’ meaning ‘torn’). Traditional ceramic or porcelain pots are used for the remaining shapes. There are many different shapes – the most popular, apart from the well-known ball, are the bite (‘bocconcini’), the braid (‘treccie’), the pearl (‘perline’), the cherry (‘ciliegine’), the knot (‘nodini’) and the egg (‘ovoline’). The moulded cheeses are stored in water and sold fresh (within 24 hours) with the liquid.
Nowadays, lower water content products are also produced, which are more concentrated and can be sliced and grated (these are usually sold in slab or lump form, but without water).
Mozzarella cheese can also be made at home, using only rennet, citric acid, milk and water.
The first step in making mozzarella is to filter and purify the milk. It is then pasteurised, and renneted and the resulting curd is moulded. The curd is then stirred with a stick while it is still warm, and once the cheese strands are elongated, it can be moulded. The cheese is then stretched by hand, being very careful not to massage out the moisture, as this would make it chewy and hard. During the stretching process, the cheese can be shaped into a classic ball or a braided shape.
The final step is to immerse the cheeses in a 10-18% brine solution, where they will keep their quality for up to 3-4 days at 10-15 degrees. If the cheese is kept at this temperature for longer than this, it loses its quality and its elastic, homogeneous consistency changes. It is therefore advisable to eat the mozzarella as soon as possible, preferably at room temperature. Once removed from the fridge, it is advisable to let the cheese warm up before eating.
Characteristics of Mozzarella cheese
Mozzarella is a porcelain white cheese with a layered texture and a fibrous texture. It has a neutral taste. The original buffalo milk does not contain carotene and is therefore pure white in colour. Buffalo mozzarella has a soft, slightly juicy texture inside, which makes it difficult to slice and is therefore usually eaten in shreds. Products made from cow’s and goat’s milk are also white, but they are more gooey. There are also smoked and seasoned mozzarella cheeses, but these are modern industrial, not traditional, products. It is also worth mentioning reduced-fat mozzarella, which can be an important staple of a health-conscious diet and most diets.
The different types of mozzarella are determined not only by the way they are made but also by the quality of the milk used. In addition to buffalo milk, mozzarella made from cow’s milk is common. There are also salted and natural cheeses, high and low moisture varieties.
In Italy, if you want to taste cow’s milk mozzarella, look for mozzarella fior di latte, which is made from pasteurised cow’s milk.
Sheep’s milk mozzarella is found in certain areas of Italy, including Sardinia, Abruzzo and Lazio. Goat’s milk mozzarella is produced by a small number of small producers.
Burrata or Burricotti
A cheese with a short history, with the well-known mozzarella on the outside and a soft, creamy cheese on the inside. Served with toast, tomatoes or fresh ham, it is the real deal. Scamorza is a semi-hard cheese, available in natural and smoked versions, which is very good for gratinating and is also excellent with pasta dishes.
If you see the words ‘Mozzarella di Bufala’ on the mozzarella, you know it is a cheese made from buffalo milk, although the price is a good indication of this. If, on the other hand, you see the words ‘Mozzarella fior di latte’ on the bag, you are dealing with the more common, cheaper but less flavoursome mozzarella made from cow’s milk. Mozzarella is also used to make ‘affumicata’, which is hard, smoked mozzarella that is available in larger balls.
Buffalo mozzarella contains between 40 and 45 % fat, although lower-fat cheeses are now available in a low-fat version. Mozzarella contains vitamins A and B, as well as some calcium, phosphorus, sodium and iron.
What can mozzarella be used for?
Buffalo mozzarella is perfect on its own with a drizzle of olive oil, and is a fantastic topping for a green salad or crostini. Italians eat it wrapped in Parma ham as an antipasto.
Mozzarella is a classic ingredient in pizza and lasagne. But it’s also a popular filling in sandwiches, soufflés, pies and stuffed vegetables.
Slicable, chunky mozzarella is a popular ingredient in hot sandwiches and burgers. It can also be fried, baked and grilled
The mini balls are ideal as a party snack or antipasti, for example mixed with a simple dressing, and also look good in salads.
Salads, it is an essential ingredient in caprese salad, where it adds the flavour of tomatoes, basil, balsamic vinegar and olive oil. As well as eating raw, mozzarella is also great for gratinating dishes. It’s best to choose a cheese with the lowest possible moisture content for dishes cooked in the tube. Buffalo mozzarella or semi-hard scamorza are best for this purpose.
Smaller mozzarella balls make the perfect starter. You can use them for small canapés or marinate them in a spicy oil, which not only adds a pleasant flavour to the cheese, but also extends its shelf life.
Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir are good with mozzarella. Its neutral flavour allows it to be paired with almost any spice, but it is particularly good with herbs, fresh pepper and garlic.
Buying and storing mozzarella
Mozzarella is traditionally sold fresh, but the real thing is only available in Italian delis. In the wholesale trade, mozzarella is usually packaged in brine or other preserving liquid.
Fresh mozzarella must be used within 24 hours. Large-scale products can be consumed for a few days after opening, but only if stored in water (completely covered) in the refrigerator, which should be changed daily.
The block and the grated mozzarella made from it can be used for weeks.
Once removed from the fridge, it is advisable to let the cheese warm up before eating.
Physiological effects of mozzarella
Mozzarella is one of the healthiest cheeses, despite its relatively high fat content (40-45%). It is high in protein and calcium compared to other cheeses, and is a good source of A, K, B2, B3, B7 and B12, and has a high content of phosphorus, sodium, zinc and selenium. Mozzarella also contains valuable probiotics (Lactobacillus casei and Lactobacillus fermentum) that help our intestinal tract to function optimally.