Mozzarella Is Not Just for Pizza
Before we start on our mozzarella journey, it’s important to note its correct pronunciation (mohtz-ah-REHL-lah). Now, this stringy, elastic, slightly salty cheese that often smothers pizza is not indicative of true mozzarella cheese. In fact, this mozzarella cheese is usually specially made for pizzerias. In 1899, Giuseppe Pollio came to the United States bringing with him a recipe for success… his family’s old world tradition of making mozzarella; the company is Polly-O, which also makes a “string cheese” mozzarella. Now, the mozzarella I’m going to discuss and pair with wine and fruit, is the freshly made cheese, often found still warm, in the Italian neighborhood latticini (store that makes dairy products).
The making of mozzarella dates back to the 1400s in southern Italy but it wasn’t until the sixteenth century that the white buffalo, descendants of the Indian water buffalo were brought to Campania. The buffaloes are bred in Campania, Italy and their low-yield milk is utilized in making mozzarella, although cow’s milk is used in most other countries. In addition to Campania, the cheese is also made in other regions such as Apulia, Latium, and Molise and in 1996 it was awarded its own PDO by the Italian government and called Mozzarella di Bufala Campana.
The name “mozzarella” is derived from the word mozzare, which means “to top off or cut,” referring to the hand method of production. When freshly made the cheese drips profusely with whey. A smoked version, called mozzarella affumicata, is also produced. Mozzarella is rindless with a creamy white exterior and interior. Various shapes and sizes including round, rectangular, and salami-shaped are available. When twisted or braided it’s called treccia. Mozzarella is soft, moist, and quite pliable, sometimes almost elastic, hence the popularity of “string cheese” sticks. It has a mild, delicate, and slightly tart-sour flavor.
Regarding food, I like to use mozzarella in the classic salad of Capri, Italy known as Caprese. Purchase some freshly made mozzarella (there is some mail-order buffalo milk mozzarella available, but it needs to be eaten within two or three days). Now, a simple overlapping of similar sized, thinly sliced tomatoes and mozzarella sandwiched between pieces of fresh basil, sprinkled with salt and pepper, then lightly drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil and perhaps a delicate touch of a high-quality balsamic vinegar. The simplicity of the cheese makes all the difference in this dish.
When paring mozzarella, look for young red or white light-bodied, fruity wines that don’t overpower the cheese. Some of the red wines I happen to like from Italy include Barbera, Bardolino, Brachetto, Dolcetto, Sangiovese, and Valpolicella. White wines from Italy would be Frascati, Gavi, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio, Soave, and Verdicchio.
“Wine and cheese are ageless companions, like aspirin and aches, or June and moon, or good people and noble ventures.” (M.F.K. Fisher, introduction, Vin et Fromage)
Bob Lipinski, author of ten books; writes, consults, and conducts training seminars on Wine, Spirits, and Food and is available for speaking engagements. He can be reached at www.boblipinski.com OR firstname.lastname@example.org