Let’s go back in time to May of 1889. We find Queen Margherita and her husband, King Umberto I, being served pizza at the palazzo in Naples where they are staying. The king and queen had heard about the famous pizzas of Naples, so naturally they wanted to try them. The pizzaioli chosen to make the pizzas for the king and queen was Raffaele Esposito and his wife, Donna Rosa. Raffaele and Donna brought enough ingredients to make three kinds of pizza. But when all was said and eaten, Queen Margherita chose as her favorite the pizza made with tomatoes, mozzarella and fresh basil. Patriotism met good taste head-on, since the ingredients on that pizza was the same as the colors in the Italian flag –– red, white, green. So, to this day, pizza Margherita is one of the most popular pizzas sold in this country and in Italy as well. The cheese used on that pizza was undoubtedly fresh mozzarella that was made using the milk of the water buffalo. Water buffalo milk has about 9 percent butterfat, which accounts for its incomparably rich flavor (cow’s milk runs about 3.5 percent butterfat).
There is nothing that quite approaches the lush, rich flavor of buffalo milk mozzarella. That’s the good news. The bad news is that it is very expensive, relatively hard to come by and has a short shelf life. Also, it does not melt the same way as other mozzarella choices, so the end result can get a bit dicey, especially with varying oven temperatures and pizza styles. When it comes to fresh mozzarella, cow’s milk mozzarella, known as fior di latte, is perfect for pizza. Since it is a pasta filata cheese it melts beautifully, has good flavor and is readily available.
The name “mozzarella” comes from the verb mozzare. Mozzare means “to lop off or tear,” and the process of working the curd, slicing or breaking the curd into small pieces is one of the key steps in making your own fresh mozzarella. I encourage you, quite emphatically, to try making fresh mozzarella. It’s quite easy once you get the hang of it. And in the same breath, I would encourage you not to try making your own curds (unless, that is, you have a cow and a book on the art of cheese making). My point is this: If you want to make your own fresh mozzarella, buy the curd (the solid pass that results when milk and certain enzymes are heated together). Curd to make fresh mozzarella is readily available from any number of cheese purveyors. Curd for making fresh mozzarella comes in various weights and is usually vacuum packed. It needs to be refrigerated and has a shelf life of about three weeks.
Let’s get started. There are 10 easy steps in making fresh mozzarella. Don’t let the instructions below dissuade you from giving this a try. The whole process goes very fast (probably around 15 to 20 minutes from start to finish), so in a few hours you can make enough fresh mozzarella to last for several days (relative, of course, to overall usage for fresh mozzarella).
Yield: about one pound fresh mozzarella
2 gallons water
1/3 cup Sea salt or kosher salt
1 pound whole milk curd
1. In a large stockpot, add and stir in the sea salt. Bring the water to a temperature of around 160 F. Stir again to make sure the salt is fully dissolved.
2. Meanwhile, slice the curd off the block into pieces or strips that are similar in size. Put the strips into a large stainless steel bowl.
3. Pour the hot water around the sides of the bowl, not the curds. Keep adding the water until the curds are completely covered.
4. Using a wooden or metal paddle (or large wooden spoon), stir the curds for about five minutes to allow the water to be absorbed into the curds.
5. Let the curds rest for about 5 minutes. Discard about half the water. Repeat step No. \
6. Insert the paddle under curds. Stretch the curd over the paddle, working a small section at a time, until the texture is smooth. It should have a string-like or taffy-like consistency at this point.
7. Continue to stretch the mass, pulling it into a long rope. Work quickly –– stretch, knead, stretch –– to get the mass to a consistent, elastic, silken texture.
8. Take the cheese in your hands and begin to fold it under itself, which at this point allows you to pinch off sections and shape into various sizes and shapes.
9. Presto! You now have fresh mozzarella. Put the cheese into ice-cold water for around 15 minutes to set the shape.
10. To enhance the flavor, store your fresh mozzarella in a mild brine (salt and water) solution. Or you can simply store it covered with water, container covered and refrigerated.
CHEF’S NOTES: When using fresh mozzarella on a pizza, keep in mind that you will use a lot less than when using, say, part-skim, low moisture mozzarella. In fact, I use 3 to 4 ounces of fresh mozzarella (diced or cut into rounds) on a 14-inch pizza.
Flavor enhancements: For the ultimate pizza Margherita, you can infuse your fresh mozzarella with fresh basil. At the point of Step 7 add finely chopped fresh basil. Knead the basil into the cheese.
Pat Bruno is Pizza Today’s resident chef and a regular contributor. He is the former owner and operator of a prominent Italian cooking school in Chicago and is a food critic for the Chicago Sun-Times.
Marinated Fresh Mozzarella
This is a good recipe to have around when using fresh mozzarella as part of an antipasto platter or for use in a Caprese salad.
1 pound fresh mozzarella, sliced
1/4 cup torn fresh basil leaves
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 Teaspoons fresh lemon juice
Put the fresh mozzarella in a stainless steel or non-reactive bowl. Add the remaining ingredients. Toss gently to combine the flavors. Allow to marinate for up to an hour. Serve at once or chill a bit.