Buffalo Mozzarella is a fresh & stringy cheese with a porcelain-white color. It has an extremely thin rind and a delicate taste. When cut, it produces a white watery fluid with the aroma of milk enzymes. In addition to the typical small round Bocconcini, it is also produced in plaits or braids and larger baseball-sized balls.
In North America, Buffalo Mozzarella is a term that is used pretty loosely by marketers and even a cow's milk cheese can be labeled as a buffalo mozzarella. Cow's-milk mozzarella can be very tasty swimming in brine, but the real buffalo milk cheese is an altogether different animal, literally.
Real "Mozzarella di Bufala" (Buffalo Mozzarella) is made only from buffalo milk and it has been for quite some time. Italians brought in buffalo in the 7th Century to carry loads and plow the compact and watery terrain of Southern Italy because of the buffalo's strength and its hoof size (which do well in muddy soils).
For most of its domestic history in Italy, the buffalo was a draught animal. References to buffalo cheese only begin to appear in the 12th Century but by the late 18th Century, buffalo Mozzarella was widely made and consumed. Today almost all the buffalo milk produced in Italy goes into cheese making. Very little is drunk because it is so nutrient rich (fat & cassein) that raw buffalo milk it is difficult to digest. Much of the artisanal Italian Buffalo Mozzarella production is located in the district between Caserta and Salerno.
Making Buffalo Mozzarella is a very fast process. The milk is taken in, curdled, then drained to eliminate the whey. Then the curd is cut into small pieces and ground up in a sort of primitive mill. Often the curd is put into a mold and dunked in hot water to reduce crumbling before being stirred to an elastic, rubbery dough-like texture that the cheesemaker will knead by hand to achieve a smooth, shiny paste that he can work.
Strands are pulled out and cut forming the individual mozzarella, which in turn are put in cold water and then brine to soak and absorb salt. "Mozzare" actually means to "cut off" in Italian. Mozzarella, prepared in the evening is ready the next morning, soft and mushy when cut but also fibrous & elastic and oozing freshness & rich flavor.
Buffalo Mozzarella is rich in calcium, protein, vitamins and mineral salts.
Mozzarella comes in a variety of shapes. Small balls called Bocconcini (little bites), plumper baseball-sized orbs and plaited braids are all mozzarella forms and can weigh anywhere from one ounce to twenty ounces.
Buffalo Mozzarella is a fresh product and should be eaten within days, if not hours of its production. Indications of freshness include:
- An elastic consistency
- A tight smooth surface.
- A humid product that is neither too dry or too wet.
- Pure white color without yellowish spots.
- When poked gently it should not be soft nor rubbery.
- Once sliced open it should have a grainy surface.
- Pearls of Milky Whey should seep out of it when it is cut.
And it should melt in your mouth.
Fresh: Inevitably a bit of the good buffalo mozzarella never makes it to a dish and is "sampled" for quality control before actual use. If served fresh, a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil, and some ground salt and/or pepper augment the product. Fresh, It is also a strong complement to Mediterranean herbs like Basil or Oregano and ripe garden grown vegetables like summer tomatoes.
Many Mediterranean dishes (pizza, pasta, pannini, crostini, vegetables) are terrific showcases for a fine Buffalo Mozzarella.
Some Italian variants include:
- Insalata Caprese (Caprese Salad), where a Buffalo Mozzarella Slice supports a tomato slice, basil and a drizzle of olive oil
- Diced in Salads
- In Carroza (in a "Carriage" in Italian) or between two slices of bread, in Campania the combination is often battered and fried.
- Stirred into hot or cold pasta dishes, or into vegetable dishes.
- Melanzane alla Parmigiana (Eggplant Parmigian)
- Atop Crostinis (toasted bread slice, open face) (best if drained in a colander before use to prevent soggy bread).
- In Pizzas or Calzones (best if drained in a colander before use to prevent soggy crust). Though in Italy they have a drier mozzarella just for pizza.
- In Foccacia (best if drained in a colander before use to prevent soggy foccacia).
- Kebab Style, skewered and grilled with vegetables and bread topped with sauce. A traditional Roman Antipasto uses an Anchovy Sauce.
If you are lucky enough to come across a source of consistent, fresh Buffalo Mozzarella maximize your enjoyment. As Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin is quoted to have said “A meal without cheese is like a pretty woman without an eye.”