The making of…Mozzarella
There is no doubt that mozzarella has captured the hearts, minds and taste buds of even the most discerning palate. These sensational spheres of soft, creamy cheese have been produced in Italy since the 1200s, with a history as varied as its culinary uses. In this article, the first in a series on a number of our favourite products, we explore the early years of mozzarella making in southern Italy, through to its modern day production with our very own expert cheese maker, Salvatore.
Whilst the first mention of mozzarella came in the 16th century book by Bartolomeo Scappi, historians suggest dairy farmers in Naples first produced mozzarella as far back as the 12th century. As is the case with many fine culinary products, its beginnings have an element of serendipity: legend has it that the first mozzarella was made purely by accident when cheese curds fell into a bucket of hot water. An accidental act that may have resulted in a severe dressing down for the unfortunate junior dairy hand has left us with a cheese described in the famous book as one of the thousand foods to try before you die.
The original mozzarellas were made with milk from buffalo – an animal not native to Italy. There are many opinions on how water buffalo were first brought to the Italian peninsula – some claim that the Roman general, Hannibal, arrived in Italy around 200BC with hordes of water buffalo, alongside African elephants during one of his many attritional campaigns.
Hannibal: Was he a central figure in the history of Mozzarella?
Others suggest that the Arabs came to Sicily with ships of Asian buffalo during a series of invasions in the 7th and 8th centuries. More recent archaeological investigations suggest that the water buffalo was actually a native species of Italy.
Whether you side with the Hannibal or Arab origins, it is safe to say the marshy habitat in southern Italy at the time lent itself perfectly to a thriving buffalo population. This helped to support a gradually increasing demand for buffalo milk to be used in the mozzarella making process. Much like risotto, mozzarella was initially seen as a peasant’s food, however just like risotto, mozzarella began to develop its reputation as a delicacy to be enjoyed by even the most prosperous families, eventually becoming a staple Italian food.
Fast forward to the 21st Century…
Nowadays, just like other fine produce such as Champagne, buffalo mozzarella from Campagna is afforded protection for its original production techniques qualities – denoted by its ‘DOP’ designation. ‘DOP’ or Denominazione di Origine Protetta (the Italian for Protected Designation of Origin) is a status afforded by the European Union that signifies that the product is entirely manufactured within a specific region and thus acquires unique and traditional properties.
Like any good cheese, the quality of the buffalo milk, in particular the high protein and fat content, is seen as the key element of the best mozzarellas. Mozzarella produced using cow’s milk, also known as Mozzarella Fior di Latte is a very popular form of mozzarella and can be just as good, especially when produced fresh using premium cow’s milk.
As any Italian will tell you, mozzarella must be consumed when it is fresh – or within 1-2 days of its manufacture - to fully enjoy its sumptuous, creamy texture and flavour. This is what sets apart the typically very average mozzarellas available in most supermarkets.
We are very proud to say that our mozzarellas are handmade fresh every day by our very own expert cheese maker, Salvatore. When you order any of our range of hand made cheeses, you can be assured that it was made the morning it was delivered to your door, from fresh British cow’s milk. We are doubly proud of Salvatore and his handmade cheeses as they received a coveted 1-star at the Great Taste 2013 Awards. See our Awards Page for more information.
How Salvatore makes mozzarella
Salvatore, waxes lyrical over the quality of British cow’s milk even over its Italian equivalent: “For mozzarella, English cow’s milk is a lot better than Italian due to its higher protein and fat content.”
It is of course very rare to hear an Italian extoll the virtues of British ingredients over Italian equivalents, but Salvatore is well positioned to make such statements given he has spent his entire career making cheese – 10 years of which were working in a small artisan caseficio in southern Italy, before heading west to London 4 years ago.
Salvatore: The happiest cheese maker this side of Salerno
We are delighted to call him our very own cheese maker extraordinaire, and in the next section, Salvatore will guide us through the intricate steps required to make his award winning mozzarella.
The starting point for any mozzarella is fresh milk, which is pasteurised by heating the milk to high temperatures for around 20 seconds before cooling rapidly to 4 degrees to ensure any harmful bacteria are killed.
For fresh cheeses such as mozzarella, a ‘good’ bacterial culture is added alongside rennet to coagulate the milk, i.e. split it into curds and whey. This process of coagulation takes approximately an hour. Salvatore will play close attention to the coagulated mixture as it nears the magical hour point to ensure the consistency is just right for the rest of the process.
The natural effect of the rennet creates a thin layer of foam on the surface of the mixture – this is skimmed off to make the mixture easier to work.
At this point, the curd is settled at the bottom of the bowl. Since the curd will be used for the mozzarella making process, it is hand stirred using an aspide to break it into smaller, workable pieces.
Hand stirring the mixture to break the curd using an aspide
Once the curd has been broken down, the curd and whey is separated by hand using a metallic sieve. They liquid whey is used to make ricotta, whilst the solid curds are used for the mozzarella.
Hand pouring the mixture to split the curds from the whey
The solid curd is formed by hand into a block and left to reduce the acidification processes and to allow the optimum pH (~4.95) and consistency to be reached.
The mozzarella equivalent of Michelangelo prior to his sculpting of the statue of David?
The curd block is then ‘sharded’ into smaller pieces – this process is again very delicate as the desire here is to retain some of the natural protein elasticity which has already begun to form whilst ensuring the sharded pieces of curd can form larger shapes in the latter part of the process – this is known as ‘healing’.
Hand sharding the curd block
The shards of curd are placed into a large mixing bowl and are gently worked by hand to make the curd take on a consistency as in the image below.
Hand working the curd
This is then stirred using a large stick, with hot water simultaneously being poured into it – this is the pasta filata process. The hot water alters the chemistry of the proteins, effectively cooking them to create a slightly elastic or filatura consistency. The image below shows the filatura consistency.
The filatura consistency – the cheese is now ready to be made into shapes
Once this consistency is reached, the water is removed to prevent the fat from ‘leaking’ away from the cheese. This is always a critical moment in the lifetime of any mozzarella since the fat provides the desired creaminess – if too much leaks out the cheese becomes too rubbery and barely edible. These are the fine lines that experts such as Salvatore have to battle with every day.
At this point, the mozzarella dough is curled into large balls by hand and stretched – the stretching is another crucial step to ensure fat is kept between the layers to prevent a rubbery and tasteless mozzarella.
Mozzarella balls – ready to be torn into a variety of shapes
These large balls of mozzarella are the basis for the plethora of shapes which can be made – the large dough ball is torn into suitable sizes before being twisted, knotted or cut as required.
A range of the beautiful shapes that can be made with mozzarella, from Treccia to Taralluci
We hope you enjoyed the first instalment in delicatezza’s ‘Making of…’ series. The next instalment in the series will cover the delight that is burrata.
If you have any comments on this article or if there are any other foods you’d like us to write about, do use the comments box below or the contact form to let us know. We’d be delighted to hear from you.