I think I know the reason that production of mozzarella di bufala increased by more than 11 percent in the first half of this year (according to the Mozzarella di Bufala Campana DOP consortium).
The bump in output coincided with my visit to Salerno Province—a major producer of mozzarella di bufala—where I savored the heavenly fresh cheese at every opportunity.
I learned that until you eat DOP (“protected designation of origin” zone) mozzarella on the day it is produced, you haven’t eaten true mozzarella. The milk of water buffalos is higher in fat (about 9 percent) than cow’s milk (about 4 percent) and fat = flavor + mouth feel. Tangy and supple mozzarella di bufala is simply divine.
Our group of travel professionals was invited to watch the artisans at the Fattoria del Casaro in Paestum making mozzarella. As we entered the spotless production room, we were cautioned to tread carefully. The tile floor was slick from dissolved milk fat splashing out of vats filled with steaming water and walnut-sized cheese curds.
The mozzarella men pulled the curds with a long stick to create skeins of cheese. Prior to the scalding stretch fest, the curds relaxed in warm water for about four hours. The name mozzarella comes from the verb mozzare, meaning “to cut.” The stretched curds are pinched by hand into varying sized balls or braids.
In the U.S., fresh mozzarella di bufala is available in big city shops but is very expensive. A good alternative is cow’s milk mozzarella, called fior di latte “flower of milk.” Since freshness is its calling card, overcooking mozzarella is a big no-no. Melting it atop pizza is about as much cooking as it can take.
In summer, a classic way to savor fresh mozzarella is in insalata caprese, named for the island of Capri. The dish is prepared by placing alternating slices of mozzarella and ripe tomatoes on a plate and drizzling with extra-virgin olive oil, fresh basil, salt and pepper. New York-based cookbook author Arthur Schwartz, who teaches cooking classes in Paestum, writes in Naples at Table that vinegar is never used in a caprese. Also, he recommends cooks outside of Italy select ripe Big Boy tomatoes as a good stand in for the Caprese pomodori cuore di bue.
Here is a recipe from Naples at Table for a wonderful pasta dish made with fresh mozzarella.
Spaghetti con Melanzane e Mozzarella
(Spaghetti with Eggplant and Mozzarella)
1 pound eggplant, peeled or unpeeled, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
Oil for frying
2 large cloves garlic, lightly smashed
1/2 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
1 pint (1 pound) cherry tomatoes, cut in halves or quarters
12 to 14 ounces spaghetti
2 tablespoons finely cut basil or parsley
8 ounces fresh or several-days-old mozzarella, cut into1/4-inch cubes
Grated Pecorino or ricotta salata
- Salt the eggplant and let it drain in a colander for 30 minutes or longer. Dry it well with paper towels, pressing the eggplant to remove moisture.
- In a skillet, heat about 1/2 inch of oil and fry the eggplant until it is soft and lightly browned. Remove the eggplant with a slotted spoon and drain on absorbent paper.
- Pour out (and discard) all but about 2 tablespoons of the frying oil. Add the garlic and the pepper flakes and place over low heat. Cook the garlic, pressing it into the oil a couple of times to release its flavor, until it barely begins to color on both sides. Remove the garlic.
- Add the tomatoes, immediately cover the pan, increase the heat to medium-high, and cook the tomatoes until they fall apart and become saucy, about 8 minutes.
- Meanwhile cook the spaghetti until al dente in plenty of salted boiling water.
- Just before the pasta id done, add the eggplant cubes to the tomato sauce, lower the heat, and cook gently, still covered, for another minute or so.
- Drain the spaghetti and turn it into a well-warmed serving bowl. Add the eggplant and tomato sauce, plus the finely cut herb. Toss well. Add the mozzarella and toss again.
- Serve immediately. Garnish with some grated Pecorino or ricotta salata if desired.
La Fattoria del Casaro packages mozzarella di bufala for airplane carry-on. You can also purchase fresh mozzarella di bufala from Fattorie Garofalo which has a shop in Naples Capodichino Airport.