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Mozzarella: Profile of a Favorite Italian Cheese

A cheese

From pizza to lasagna, your favorite Italian dishes usually come topped with a generous portion of stringy mozzarella cheese. It's a staple in American households as well as Italian, and it's found on almost every grocery store shelf. But how much more do you know about this meltable favorite?

Where Did Mozzarella Originate?

Mozzarella originated in the southern portion of Italy - more specifically, in Naples, a city on the southeast coast. The word mozzarella comes from the Neapolitan word mozza, which means to cut, and is a reference to the way the cheese is made. Literary accounts as far back as the 12th century mention mozzarella being served in Italy, and the cheese is mentioned in a cookbook printed in 1570. 

How Is Mozzarella Made?

To make mozzarella, cheesemakers begin by warming the milk and adding a specific type of bacteria. The bacteria are allowed to replicate, and then an enzymatic solution called rennet is added to the milk. The rennet causes the fats and proteins in the milk to coagulate, forming clumps known as curds. The liquid left behind is called whey. 

Once the curds have formed, the cheesemaker slices them into smaller pieces and then heats the entire mixture. The curds are collected and squeezed to remove any excess whey. Then the cheesemaker kneads and pulls the ball of mozzarella until it reaches the desired texture. The pulling motion is what gives mozzarella its famously stringy texture.

What Are the Different Types of Mozzarella?

There are three main variants of mozzarella that you may see on store shelves. 

Mozzarella di Bufla

In the early years, mozzarella was almost always made with the milk of water buffaloes because that's what was available to the people of Naples. Today, much of the mozzarella made in Naples and throughout Italy is still made from buffalo milk. This variety is referred to as mozzarella de bufala or buffalo mozzarella.

Fresh Mozzarella

Fresh mozzarella is very soft and pillowy. When purchased in the U.S., it is typically made from cow's milk, unless otherwise specified. Fresh mozzarella is usually packaged in a yellowy brine, which helps keep the cheese moist. It's excellent for eating cold in sandwiches and salads, but not so well-suited for melting.

Low-Moisture Mozzarella

Low-moisture mozzarella is mozzarella that has been aged slightly longer and then gently dried to reduce its moisture content. It melts better and has a longer shelf life than fresh mozzarella, and it is therefore the popular choice for pizza, lasagna, and other hot dishes. Low-moisture mozzarella is typically sold in bricks or pre-shredded. You may also see it sold as part-skim mozzarella.

What Are Some Tips for Using Mozzarella at Home?

If you want to enjoy mozzarella at its best, keep the following tips in mind.

  • Unless a recipe specifies otherwise, use low-moisture mozzarella in dishes that are served hot and fresh mozzarella in dishes that are served cold. 

  • Allow fresh mozzarella to come to room temperature before serving it.

  • Pair mozzarella-based dishes with wines like chardonnay, pinot noir, and sauvignon blanc for the best balance of flavors.

  • Use frozen mozzarella only in hot dishes in which the cheese is melted.

Italian cheeses such as mozzarella are popular in the United States for a reason. Mozzarella has a rich history, and thanks to the variants that exist, it is suited for a wide range of dishes.

If all this talk of cheese has you in the mood for a gooey slice of pizza or a fresh mozzarella salad, visit Picano's Italian Grille. We're known for our delicious Italian dishes, including our Pomodori Con Mozzarella di Bufala, which features fresh buffalo mozzarella cheese.