Let’s face it, one of the favorite ingredients of any pizza is the cheese. It’s that hot and stringy cheese that separates pizza from all other foods. The moment you pull that slice from the pie and the hot stringy cheese stretches unto your plate, we all get excited about “what’s next”.
Let’s take a moment to look a little closer at this wonderful an essential ingredient of our beloved pie.
Most pizzas are made with mozzarella cheese. Though this may vary from time to time, mozzarella cheese is by far the favorite when constructing a delicious pizza.
What is mozzarella cheese? Where exactly does it come from? How is it made? Have you ever asked yourself these questions?
Mozzarella cheese is a sliceable curd cheese originating in Italy. That’s probably not a surprise to you. Traditional mozzarella is made from water buffalo (Ok, before your eyes get big, not the North American buffalo or bison as many people mistakenly think) milk, and its flavor is highly prized. Water buffalo milk is three times more expensive than cow’s milk and is costly to ship, so expect a corresponding high price tag on imported buffalo mozzarella.
These animals are typically only herded in a few select countries, primarily Italy and Bulgaria. Due to this, most mozzarella as we know it, is now made from cow’s milk. Water buffalo milk is very high in fat and in many cases is not easily digestible in its raw form. As such, it is used exclusively for making mozzarella and not as a beverage.
Mozzarella contains 40 to 45 percent fat, although there are now lower fat, skim versions available as we’ve seen them make their way into the “low fat” pizza market space.
This type of mozzarella cheese is not aged like most cheeses and is actually best when eaten within hours of its making. The process of making mozzarella is called pasta filata, which means the curds are heated in water or whey until they form strings (hence the term “string cheese”) and become elastic in texture. The curds are stretched, kneaded until smooth, and then formed into round balls to make fresh mozzarella cheese.
Different Mozzarella Cheese Types – Fresh Mozzarella Varieties
Mozzarella is not aged and is best when eaten within hours of its making.
Most people are quite familiar with mozzarella cheese. It is the cheese traditionally used on pizzas and to make fried cheese sticks. It’s important to note, there is quite a difference in flavor and texture between fresh mozzarella and processed sliced or shredded mozzarella, and it’s well worth your time to understand the differences.
It is easy to make homemade mozzarella cheese, and it can be used in a variety of recipes, including salads, meats, poultry, seafood, and vegetables.
Fresh Mozzarella Cheese
Fresh mozzarella cheese balls are sold in a brine, whey or water solution which helps them retain hydration and shape. It is smooth, mild, and slightly sweet/sour with a distinct milk flavor. The texture is creamy and much softer than mass-processed mozzarella cheese forms that are familiar to most. True buffalo mozzarella is much superior to any made with cow’s milk and is highly sought throughout the world.
Small balls (typically about one inch in diameter) of fresh mozzarella marinated in plain or herbed olive oil are called boconccini. Smoked mozzarella is known as mozzarella affumicata. Manteca is fresh mozzarella molded around a piece of butter.
Mozzarella rolls can be found with fillings of olives, prosciutto, Parma ham, sun-dried tomatoes, and any variety of herbs. The simplest and most enjoyable way to eat fresh mozzarella is with sliced fresh tomatoes, basil leaves, and a drizzle of olive oil. You’ll see this dish in a variety of forms served in many authentic Italian restaurants.
Fresh mozzarella is in high demand across America. It can typically be found in most common commercial grocery stores and in some Italian markets. It’s a good idea to keep fresh mozzarella in its liquid bath until ready to eat, and eat. This will usually last 2 to 3 days. If you choose to purchase fresh mozzarella you should always check the product dating and buy the freshest cheese that you can find. It’s preferable to purchase cheese made the same day. It’s also important to note, fresh mozzarella becomes bitter and sour with age. Freezing this type of cheese is also not recommended.
Processed Mozzarella Cheese
Contrary to fresh mozzarella, mass-produced mozzarella cheese is dryer, less flavorful, and has a rubbery texture. This bears little resemblance to its fresh counterpart. It’s quite a firm cheese that melts easily, which makes it best used as a binder for sauces, for melted toppings, and in baked dishes like our beloved pizza pies. Processed mozzarella cheese is easily attainable in part skim, low-fat, and non-fat versions. It’s typically packaged in pre-sliced or shredded assortments. It’s a good idea to keep processed mozzarella cheese tightly wrapped. It can usually be used within 2 to 4 weeks, if you want it to retain its full flavor.
The next time you sink your teeth into your favorite pizza pie, remember it’s the cheese that makes our eyes widen and lips smack. “Oh my”, pizza, what a wonderful and delightful treat.