From the mystery of the blue cheeses to the scandal of toxic waste dumping in Campania, mozzarella, one of the world’s most popular cheeses, has been at the eye of many recent food-safety storms. A conference at Cheese, “Buffalos or Bluffs?,” will explore all these issues.
What can be done to raise the profile of the many producers who are scrupulous in their pursuit of quality? What tools do consumers have to help them choose the best mozzarella, in terms not only of taste but also food safety, environmental concerns and legality? We asked Antonio Lucisano, director of the Consortium for the Protection of PDO Campanian Buffalo Mozzarella.
“We’re talking about a sector that involves around 1,800 farmers whose animals produce 240,000 tons of milk a year.” With scientific precision, Antonio Lucisano calmly analyzes the current situation. A Calabrian native, he has been the director of the Consortium for the Protection of PDO Campanian Buffalo Mozzarella (Consorzio di Tutela della Mozzarella di Bufala Campana Dop) since 2010. And he’s happy to tell Slow Food people about the glory of mozzarella – the real kind!
The consortium brings together 15,000 operators, who every year bring 37,500 tons of mozzarella to Italian (and international) tables. The total turnover is around 500 million euros, of which 90% stays in the Campania region.
Is this why the “white gold” is so often the victim of serious accusations, often by the media? “I think there are essentially two reasons,” says Lucisano. “The first is a past management characterized by some serious mistakes. But we also have to realize that for the management style here has been completely different for the past three years. Now we have a more managerial direction
, which was unthinkable until a few years ago. Secondly, we must understand that all the problems of the area where we work end up falling on us.” He is not referring to all nine of the areas where PDO Campanian buffalo mozzarella is produced, including Alto Casertano, Cilento and Foggia, where these problems don’t exist. Instead, he means the part of the province of Caserta that has suffered from environmental disaster because of the dealings of the ecomafias (the sector of the mafia dealing in the trafficking of environmentally hazardous substances) with businesses all over Italy. “If this was a country that solved problems,” says Lucisano, “the solution would be to delimit the area in which the problems can arise, establish forms of income supplementation for the producers and take care of cleaning up the area before any businesses can start again”.
Defending the brand to protect consumers
This sounds like a drastic utopia, but the reasoning is clear: “The only weapon consumers have is the brand. We are doing everything we can to fight any kind of inconsistent behavior. To do this, however, we need the official institutions and organizations like Slow Food to work with us to help educate and to understand the serious gaps in the past. We want to offer our fullest collaboration in working towards the shared principle of Good, Clean and Fair. We’re the only Italian consortium to have applied a Code of Ethics and to have established a joint committee made up of 50% farmers and 50% processors.” 
So why keep the option of using frozen curd to make PDO mozzarella in the new regulations?
“To keep up with the other consortia in the dairy sector. Our product cannot be aged, which means it must be made in a day. If the dairies must use only buffalo milk, we have to leave the producers the ability to self-manage so that they can produce mozzarella when demand is at its highest. The PDO was withdrawn from 37% of the production in 2012 because this option was not yet given”.
The draft modified regulations have not been approved for over a year and a half, despite much formal back and forth. And this delay has brought many problems: “One of the many past mistakes that this product suffered from was that regulations about the use of the brand were never put into place. It’s an essential marketing tool for any collective brand, and it didn’t exist here! We included them in our draft modified regulations, which has been languishing in regional government offices for 18 months, and meanwhile we continue to not be able to register our brand in emerging-market countries because this is the first condition necessary to do so. Crazy, isn’t it?” That’s not all that’s bothering Antonio Lucisano, though, who confesses: “We have major difficulties in convincing serious and virtuous producers to stay in the PDO system, especially because our product does not have an unambiguous name. When we talk about Parmigiano Reggiano or Asiago, we know that only producers who belong to the consortium are allowed to use those names. In the case of Grana Padano, the consortium has even managed to protect not only the Padano denomination of origin, but also the common word Grana. Meanwhile, despite the fact that the name ‘mozzarella’ was coined in Naples in the 17th century, we have no guarantee once you leave Italy.” He’s right: Just think of all the “mozzarella” made in China…
Italian (fake) sounding
It’s not even necessary to go abroad. Lucisano is all too aware that if you go into any Italian supermarket, you’ll find the chiller cabinets full of many “mozzarella” cheeses. “In Italy, the big retail channels are colluding in the confusion, putting PDO and non-PDO products in the same line of sight, thus preventing PDO mozzarella producers from setting a higher price than the non-PDO producers.” Finally, there’s the question of localness: “The product is often sold exclusively in situ, and for the producers who practice this kind of marketing, in which the value of the brand merges with that of the person, the brand’s importance is practically non-existent”.
But there are some solutions… right?! “Of course,” reassures Antonio. “Even though I thought I could do much more. I believe that our task is to talk to citizens and explain how things stand, but we are not always given the opportunity. And most of all they are not always ready to hear what we have to say… For this reason, I’d like to put together a comic that translates the Mozzarella story into something that everyone can grasp immediately”.
 According to Italian laws relating to consortia, the managing body must be made up of two-thirds processors and one-third farmers. Only the addition of a joint committee can compensate for this rigidity.
By Antonio Puzzi, Slow Food Campania