Say Cheese to Mozzarella

With the opening up of the economy and the influence of globalisation, international cuisines have fast made their forays not only in Indian restaurants but also across Indian homes. It is now quite common for an Indian family to be preparing spaghetti, pasta, pizza and other exotic dishes from different parts of the world.

Nowadays you are likely to find that the supermarkets and the specialty stores stock a variety of cheese, sauces and seasonings for this purpose. But one of the most common types of cheese that is used in making pizzas in Indian homes and restaurants is mozzarella. Often grated and sliced into small pieces, it is strewn over the top of a pizza, and after appropriate heating in an oven, it gives that yummy taste to a pizza; leaving many a kids and adults licking their fingers. Various types of mozzarella cheese are also used for most pizzas and several pasta dishes. Mozzarella cheese is also served with sliced tomatoes and basil in insalata caprese.

But what are the origins of mozzarella cheese and what is the history behind it? Mozzarella is a fresh cheese, whose origins can be traced to southern Italy. Abruzzo, Basilicata, Calabria, Sicily, Campania, Lazio, Apulia, and Molise in Italy are some of the towns famous for creation of Mozzarella cheese. Traditionally, mozzarella cheese is made from the milk of Italian buffalo’s milk. The weather there is such that it favours the rearing of this type of animal and even the fodder which the animal is given from the southern regions of Italy is more favourable in making this variety of cheese. 

Character and Varieties

So how is Italian mozzarella cheese different from other types of cheese? Though by mozzarella we often mean cheese made with buffalo’s milk, but broadly speaking, the term mozzarella is used for several kinds of Italian cheese that are made using spinning and then cutting (Italian verb mozzare means ‘to cut’).

Domesticated buffalo’s milk in Italy and other types of buffalo’s milk in other countries are being used to prepare Mozzarella di Bufala (buffalo mozzarella). However, it needs to be mentioned that credit goes to Italian breeders or entrepreneurs to begun production of Mozzarella di Bufala in other nations.

Though generally fresh mozzarella is white, but they can be slightly yellow too, depending upon the diet administered to the animal.  This semi-soft cheese is characterised by high moisture content. As a result of its high moisture content, mozzarella cheese is conventionally had the day after it is made. However, when sold in vacuum-sealed packages, this cheese can be kept in brine for up to a week or longer.

Mozzarella has also been prepared by cow’s milk by the pasta filata method. Indeed, there are various types of mozzarella cheese. You have Mozzarella fior di latte, whose raw material is the fresh pasteurised or unpasteurised cow’s milk; and low-moisture mozzarella, which is derived from whole or part skimmed milk. You can also find mozzarella cheese in smoked (affumicata) and reduced-moisture packaged varieties. Low moisture mozzarella has prevalent usage in the food-service industry. Low-moisture mozzarella cheese is particularly useful for its application on pizza.

There is also mozzarella affumicata or smoked mozzarella.Variety is the essence of mozzarella. Preserving mozzarella cheese and extending its longevity is an important issue and is addressed at most of the hotels. Hoteliers or bakers should remember that refrigeration of a month is possible for low-moisture mozzarella, and some shredded low-moisture mozzarella does have a shelf life of up to six months.

When twisted to form a plait, mozzarella is called treccia. ‘Stuffed mozzarella,’ which has come into being as a new trend, may feature olives or cooked or raw ham, or small tomatoes. 
An essential character of low-moisture part-skim mozzarella is low galactose content. It can meet the demand for some consumers’ liking for cheese on pizza which has low or moderate browning. Some pizza cheeses derived from skim mozzarella variants were tailored in a way so that they don’t require aging or the use of starter. Others can be derived from the direct acidification of milk.

The Making of a Cheese

So, what are the ingredients that go into making of mozzarella cheese and how is it made?  Conventionally, the milk of the domestic water buffalo is used for the production of Mozzarella di bufala. A whey starter is added from the previous batch that contains thermophilic bacteria, and the milk is allowed to ripen so the bacteria content can increase manifolds. Then, rennet is introduced for milk coagulation. After the process coagulation, the curd is cut into 1”–2” pieces, and left to sit so the curds firm up. This firming up process of curds is known as healing.

After the healing of the curd, it is further sliced into 3/8”–1/2” large pieces. The curds are stirred and heated to demarcate the curds from the whey. The whey is then drained from the curds and the curds are placed in a hoop to constitute a solid mass. The curd mass is left until the pH is at around 5.2–5.5, which is the point when the cheese can be stretched.

The cheese is then stretched and kneaded to form a delicate consistency—this process is generally known as pasta filata. According to the Mozzarella di Bufala trade association, “The cheese-maker kneads it with his hands, like a baker making bread, until he obtains a smooth, shiny paste, a strand of which he pulls out and lops off, forming the individual mozzarella.” It is then typically formed into ball shapes or in plait. In Italy, a ‘rubbery’ consistency is generally considered not satisfactory.

Mozzarella cheese is now being made in India and there are many companies in India engaged in the making of mozzarella cheese. The mozzarella cheese is used in salads and antipasti but primarily used in the making of pizza.

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