When I first traveled to Italy in the early 1960's and tasted fresh mozzarella I couldn't quite decide what I was eating. It was so soft and moist, very bland and milky tasting, almost spongy and oozing with milk. It was often served with tomatoes in a salad. When I was told it was made from "buffalo milk", I couldn't imagine what Wild Bill Cody and his buffalos could possibly have to do with this delicious dish! Later I learned that some of this fresh mozzarella was made from the milk of water buffalos and it was called "Buffalo Mozzarella" and some was made from cow's milk and it was called "Fior di Latte"! Whenever I travelled to Italy I would enjoy fresh mozzarella and tomato salads.
I loved the fresh mozzarella in Italy and because it wasn't available in Dallas I founded the Mozzarella Company in 1982. My goal was to produce fresh mozzarella that I would sell as soon as it was made, just like they did in Italy, so that everyone in Dallas could enjoy mozzarella and tomato salads!
Today two types of mozzarella are produced in the USA. Low moisture mozzarella that has a moisture content of less than 50% and high moisture mozzarella that contains more than 52%. The former was developed in the USA to fit our transportation and distribution systems, and it has been available in grocery stores for years. This is the cheese that the huge factories produce for the pizza industry. Fresh mozzarella is different. It is soft and moist and more perishable.
Legend has it that mozzarella was first made when cheese curds accidently fell into a pail of hot water in a cheese factory near Naples...and soon thereafter the first pizza was made! Actually, new cheeses are often formulated when mistakes happen, so there well may be truth in the tale!
Mozzarella was first made in Italy near Naples from the rich milk of water buffalos. Because it was not made from pasteurized milk and because there was little or no refrigeration the cheese had a very short shelf-life and seldom left the southern region of Italy near Naples where it was made. As cheese technology, refrigeration and transportation systems developed the cheese spread to other regions of Italy. However, to this day it is widely known that the best and most highly prized artisanal produced buffalo mozzarella is still found south of Naples near Battipaglia and Caserta where small factories continue centuries-old traditions making buffalo mozzarella fresh daily for their local customers, who line up at the factories to buy this delicacy.
Thanks to the craze for Italian food, high-moisture mozzarella is more readily available in the USA than ever. There are three types: industrially produced fresh mozzarella that is available in many specialty stores, mozzarella curds that are available for delis to mix with hot water to form soft mozzarella in their stores, and some handmade fresh mozzarella that is available from company's such as ours. Fresh mozzarella can be packaged dry in vacuum-sealed plastic packages or in a governing liquid sometimes called "latte". It is available salted and unsalted. It is most often made from cow's milk; however it can be made from a combination of other milks such as cow's milk and goat's milk mixed. A small amount of buffalo-milk mozzarella is produced in the USA although very little water buffalo milk is commercially available. Most buffalo milk mozzarella sold here is imported from Italy and South America.
There are two basic ways to make mozzarella: direct acidification of the milk to form the curds or the culture/rennet method. In both methods, raw milk is pasteurized and then coagulated to form curds. Once the curds reach a pH of 5.2 they are cut into small pieces and mixed with hot water and then "strung" or "spun" until long ropes of cheese form. This "stringing of the curd" is unique to cheeses in the "pasta filata" family, such as mozzarella, scamorza and provolone. When the proper smooth, elastic consistency is reached, the curds are formed by machine or hand into balls which are then tossed into cold water so that they maintain their shapes while they cool. They are then salted and packaged. It is a short making process, usually less than 8 hours from raw milk to finished cheese. The critical moment is determining exactly when the cheese is mature and ready to be strung...waiting too long can result in a mushy cheese, while stringing too early can result in a tough dry cheese.
Once strung the curds can be formed into balls of varying sizes or into rolls or loaves filled with sun-dried tomatoes, basil pesto, and other delicacies. Mozzarella can be smoked, either in a smoking chamber with intense smoke or by "painting" with a liquid smoke. The curds can be mixed with fresh herbs or chili peppers before forming to flavor the mozzarella. The possibilities and variations are endless.
What distinguishes a superior fresh mozzarella from the rest of the pack? Taste above all. The cheese should taste fresh and reminiscent of milk. It should be mild and delicate. Some say it is bland, yet there is flavor. There should be a hint of sourness. If it tastes too tart or sour the cheese is past its prime. The color should be white; however, seasonally the cheese can be more yellow due to the cows' diet of grasses. The fresher the cheese, the more elastic and springy the curd. As the cheese ages it becomes more and more soft. The perishability of fresh mozzarella varies according to packaging. Vacuum sealing extends the shelf life dramatically.