Mozzarella is one of the world’s favorite cheeses, but unlike many others, its name has not been adequately protected. Today you can walk into any store and find a very industrial piece of cheese called mozzarella that has nothing to do with its authentic cousin made exclusively from buffalo milk in the region Campania in southern Italy. So how to know if you’re choosing the real thing? And what to do with it once you’ve got it in your hands? The internationally known Obikà Mozzarella Bar has a stand at this year’s Cheese, giving visitors tastes of mozzarella paired with Slow Food Presidia products. We asked President and founder, Silvio Ursini, for his expert advice. Here’s what he says:
• The first thing you need to do is look for the protected name: Mozzarella di Bufala Campana DOP from Italy. In order to use this name, producers need to be in the Campania region and follow strict procedures, for example, they are not allowed to have any cows on their farm to avoid potential addition of cow milk.
• Stay away from the dry yellowish-colored mozzarella used for grating.
• Fresh mozzarellas made with cow’s milk can sometimes be good, but this is a completely different cheese!
• Be careful about “smoked” mozzarella. It is very rare to find one that is smoked naturally with hay. The vast majority are produced with artificial flavor.
• Look for the white round ball that comes in a bag with brine.
• Check the expiration date. This can technically be after 2-3 weeks, but the further you get towards the end, the less likely it is that it will be good. Talk to your grocer about when the mozzarella is coming in and buy it immediately – the same day if you can. Mozzarella that is exported is generally made and shipped within 48 hours.
Once you get it home…
• Keep it out of the fridge for a few hours before eating it to get it to the temperature up to where it tastes best.
• A little trick for consumers outside of Italy: Dip the whole bag in really hot water for a few minutes. This will reactivate all the enzymes in the brine and the mozzarella will recover from the trip. An anti-jet lag!
• On the eye: The mozzarella should be shiny and porcelain white.
• When you cut it you should see little holes that weep droplets of milk.
• On the palate: The texture should be slightly crunchy, not totally soft. The taste should have notes of hazelnuts and slight hint of musk that comes from the buffalos.
• When the mozzarella is very fresh you can eat it by itself without condiments. If abroad (when the cheese will be a few days old) a dash of good extra-virgin olive oil won’t hurt. But please people – no garlic! It will kill the taste buds and for all you know you might as well be eating a piece of Camembert. Stay away from oregano and other dry spices that overwhelm.
• If you want to use it on pizza made sure to cut it first and squeeze out the liquid, otherwise it will make your pizza too soggy.
Mozzarella has been at center stage during Cheese over the last few days; the star of workshops, conferences and a live demonstration of its production at the Slow Food Foundation’s Biodiversity House (pictured).
Read more about mozzarella and efforts to protect it from fraud.