‘A soft ball of deliciousness’ is perhaps the most apt description of mozzarella cheese. Or at least that’s the first thing that comes to my mind whenever I eat a good Caprese Salad. Let’s take a look at how this popular cheese is made.
WHAT IS MOZZARELLA CHEESE?
Originating in southern Italy, mozzarella is a traditional fresh cheese named after the Italian verb mozzare, which means “to tear”.1 Known for its mild flavour, springy texture, and super cool melting abilities, mozzarella has gained popularity throughout the world as the cheese that makes pizza taste the way it does. Historical records indicate that the first large-scale production of mozzarella cheese dates back to the 12th century, in the Campania region of Italy.1
WHAT MAKES MOZZARELLA SO STRETCHY? THE PASTA FILATA METHOD
Mozzarella cheese gets its unique texture and taste from a production method known as ‘pasta filata’. Pasta filata translates from Italian as ‘spun paste’, or ‘stretched curd’. The process starts with procuring the right quality of milk which is then fermented using thermophilic lactic acid bacteria.2,3 The ratio of fats and proteins in the milk has an important role in achieving the desired end texture and taste. The milk is then heated to 34-38° C, followed by the adding of a substance known as rennet. Rennet is a mixture of several enzymes, and is produced in the stomachs of ruminant mammals such as cows. Chymosin, a protease enzyme found in rennet, then curdles the casein in milk. Once the milk starts curdling, it is agitated so that the curd separates into smaller pieces. The freshly formed curds are allowed to ripen in the whey – usually for around five hours from the addition of the rennet.
Next, the curds are immersed in hot water (around 95°C) and stretched.2 The stretching causes a significant rearrangement in the curd structure and this in turn creates mozzarella’s unique textural and melting characteristics.3 After stretching, the curd is first immersed in cool water and then in brine. Traditional mozzarella is packaged in a diluted salt and acid solution and consumed fresh.3 Mozzarella is usually shaped like a ball but can be made in other traditional shapes such as bocconcini (small balls), treccia (shaped like a braid) and nodini (knot shaped) as well. The final product is coloured like white porcelain, has a very thin rind, and a smooth surface.
The pasta filata method is also used for making several other varieties of cheeses such as caciocavallo silano, ragusano, and provolone.2
Fun fact: Burrata is a creamier cousin of the mozzarella. It is made by turning mozzarella into a pouch after the stretching process, filling it with scraps of mozzarella, and then topping it off with fresh cream!
TYPES OF MOZZARELLA
Yes, there’s more than one type of mozzarella!
MOZZARELLA DI BUFFALA CAMPANA
Mozzarella di bufala Campana is a specific kind of Mozzarella cheese made in the Campana region of Italy, using the milk of buffaloes from this region. Its flavour is influenced by the fodder consumed by the cattle, sourced from the same region.4 The geographic environment and artisanal skill of the producers set this variety of mozzarella apart. The product is protected under the European Commission’s Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) scheme. This means that every part of the production and preparation process of the Mozzarella di bufala Campana must take place in the specific region.5
Traditional mozzarella, simple, or high moisture mozzarella can be produced outside of Italy. Mozzarella is protected by the European Commission’s Traditional Specialities Guaranteed (TSG) scheme. Differing from PDO, this quality scheme does not guarantee that the protected product has a link to a specific geographical area. To qualify for a TSG, a food product must be of specific traditional character that is reflected in its raw materials, production method, or processing.6
LOW MOISTURE MOZZARELLA (PIZZA CHEESE)
In the United States, a variety of mozzarella with lower levels of moisture is popular.7 Following the 20th century migration of many Italians to the United States, the community grew large enough to establish a market for Italian food. Italian-American cheese makers strived to popularise the traditional mozzarella but transportation over long distances did not agree with this moisture-rich cheese. This led to the development of “pizza cheese”, a lower-moisture, firmer-bodied pasta filata cheese with a longer shelf life.7 Once melted, the taste and texture of pizza cheese closely mimics that of the traditional mozzarella.
- Rankin, at al. (2006). “Mozzarella and Scamorza cheese”. Accessed 29 April 2020.
- De Angelis & Gobbetti (2016). “Pasta Filata Cheeses: Traditional Pasta Filata Cheese”. Accessed 30 April 2020
- Kindstedt (2002). “CHEESE| Pasta-Filata Cheeses.” Accessed 29 April 2020
- “Mozzarella di Bufala Campana PDO”. European Commission. Accessed 1 May 2020.
- “Quality schemes explained”. European Commission. Accessed 29 April 2020
- Regulation (EU) No 1151/2012 of the European Parliament. Accessed 1 May 2020.
- Kindstedt, P. S. (2019). “Symposium review: The Mozzarella/pasta filata years: A tribute to David M. Barbano.” Accessed 29 April 2020.