You might have seen pizzas with all kinds of cheeses on them. Commercial pizzas tend to have a harder- yellowish cheese; others come with a thick layer of cheese. And although that thick layer of cheese is satisfying, you end up chewing for so long that you wonder whether you will ever stop. Others pizzas come with pure white little patches of cheese, leaving behind a little milkiness in every bite. The latter is the one we will discuss today: Mozzarella cheese
Pro tip: To achieve the perfect milkiness of the mozzarella on your pizza, you need to cook your pizza at high temperature for just around a minute. This can not be achieved in a conventional oven. Instead, you will want to look into an oven like the Ooni Koda 16 or the Gozney Roccbox.
Much confusion surrounds the word “mozzarella”, not just abroad, but even in the country which gave it the name, Italy. If you tell someone from Napoli that fior di latte is mozzarella, they will frown upon you, but mention it to a Roman and they will agree. So what is the truth, and what are the differences between these wonderful cheeses?
Table of Contents
Mozzarella is made from a few ingredients:
The exact process of making mozzarella involves first pasteurizing the raw milk, then adding the rennet and fermented bacteria. Rennet is taken from the lining of a veal’s stomach. While it may sound gross, rennet is the substance used in most cheeses as it contains enzymes that “coagulate” the milk so it can be turned into cheese. Some rennet kinds come from mold or vegetal sources, but since the traditional way used for centuries involves animal rennet, for an Italian cheese to be considered DOP (of the highest quality and pure processing), it must contain animal rennet.
The fermented bacteria cause the production of lactic acid. At this point, the milk, rennet, and lactic acid bacteria are left to rest until a shiny, firm film forms on the surface. Subsequently, the whole mixture is stirred and broken apart. Two consistencies come to the fore: a solid one- the curd- and a more liquid one, the serum. The curd is left in the serum until it reaches a perfect Ph. Then the serum is put aside and used for other preparations, such as cream and ricotta.
The milk curds are now sliced into thin strips to be stretched and kneaded, a process called “filatura” which creates “pasta filata” - string cheese. Hot water (80-90 degrees Celsius) is added to help the curds melt. At this point, the curds are softer and can be shaped into a ball or a braid - the way we all know our mozzarella.
Whether you are using buffalo or cow’s milk, the process is very similar. So what is the difference between mozzarella cheese, buffalo mozzarella, and fior di latte?
Check out the video below where Gaetano Sorrentino and Davide Civitiello explain exactly how authentic mozzarella is made.
SummaryMozzarella is made from cow or buffalo milk (mainly) using a process called “filatura”- pulling and kneading cheese curd with hot water until the perfect acidity, consistency, and shape are achieved.
Initially, mozzarella was exclusively made from buffalo’s milk. As the years went by, cow’s milk also started being used and this caused some confusion, as both products bore the same name. After some bureaucratic fights, it was decided that mozzarella made from buffalo milk would specify this on the label and must be named Mozzarella di bufala campana DOP ( if coming from its original region, Campania and South Lazio) or Mozzarella di latte di bufala (if coming from anywhere else in Italy).
If the mozzarella is made from cow’s milk it can simply be named mozzarella OR fior di latte. In Campania, being the original creators of mozzarella, only buffalo milk mozzarella can bear the name of mozzarella, whereas cow milk mozzarella is named fior di latte. Do not dare to call fior di latte mozzarella! In other parts of Italy, fior di latte is an alternative name for mozzarella, and if it comes from buffalo milk then you would just specify this.
A bit clearer? Good.
But we are not done. There are still some small differences. Italians are not the most organized people, and even when it comes to cheese, they like to make some matters complicated. Even though all fior di latte IS mozzarella (from cow’s milk), NOT all mozzarella is fior di latte! Fior di latte- meaning milk’s flower- must be produced in a specific traditional way. However, some mozzarellas on the market might be lactose-free, low fat, made from different milk, or simply lower quality, so these cannot be called fior di latte. For this reason, the best quality cheeses for pizzas can be narrowed down to two: Fior di latte and Buffalo mozzarella.
Finally, some low moisture cheeses similar to mozzarella are also popular. Scamorza and Provola are made the same way as mozzarella (both with cow or buffalo milk) but are then left to dry and sometimes smoked. The advantage is that these processes allow them to last longer and add extra flavor. These are mainly used for cooking as they melt easily leaving no sogginess behind. They are used for pizzas when a little smoky kick is needed (for example, with a mild and delicate zucchine cream, to boost flavor).
SummaryMozzarella di bufala is made from buffalo’s milk, while fior di latte is made from cow’s milk. fior di latte is a good quality mozzarella that follows traditional regulations. Modified mozzarellas (low fat, lactose-free, sheep’s milk, industrial) are just called mozzarella. Buffalo mozzarella and fior di latte are of the highest quality as far as genuineness and wholesomeness.
At first look, burrata and mozzarella may appear identical- until you cut through them and a white thick cream pours out of the burrata. Burrata does not originate from Campania (like mozzarella), but from Puglia. During a harsh winter in 1956, it became hard to transport fresh cheeses, so a dairy producer decided to salvage mozzarella and cream by wrapping them in a pouch made from the mozzarella stringed curds. As it turned out, this concoction tasted absolutely heavenly, so burrata was born. The filling of burrata is called stracciatella. Burrata is surely heavier than mozzarella due to the cream content, but totally worth the calories. It is usually eaten on its own or with some veggies, cold cuts, and fresh bread. It is also delicious as a fresh pasta filling (like inside ravioli) and of course- you guessed it- on pizza.
Which one of these two is better? A lot of it depends on taste, and some of it has to do with the dish. For a Margherita pizza, both work beautifully. Buffalo mozzarella is milkier and makes the pizza a bit wetter. Many prefer this, as the milk mixed with the tomato sauce makes for a delicious creamy bite, while others prefer it a bit drier. On the other hand, some pizzas require a drier cheese - for example in a potato pizza you do not want soggy potatoes, so fior di latte or even provola are preferred.
True buffalo mozzarella is pure white. When you cut into it, lots of milk should come out. In every bite, you would taste milk, and the flavor is richer than fior di latte, as this mozzarella is fattier. Especially in Campania, the region that mostly produces it, buffalo mozzarella is NEVER refrigerated. Even at the supermarket, you would not find it in a fridge but simply on a counter, in a bag full of water. You buy it and let it sit in its own liquid for up to 24 hours. By refrigerating it, it would harden a bit and lose that amazing milkiness. If you consume it within 24 hours it will not go bad, as the liquid has natural preserving enzymes. People from Campania also assume it can never last more than 24 hours in your house, as it is so delicious! If you MUST refrigerate it, you should take it out of the fridge one hour before consuming it and let it sit in warm water so the milk inside can soften again and be “rehydrated”. Buffalo mozzarella does not really need anything else to be enjoyed, many eat it alone with no salt or oil added. Driving down Campania you can see many dairy farms called “caseificio” which give free tastings of this incredible cheese. I highly recommend this activity near the Battipaglia area!
Fior di latte has a milder flavor, for this reason, it is more often dressed with olive oil, tomatoes, basil, or cooked in a dish. It is better for cooking as it melts nicely without completely watering down the dish. Fior di latte can be refrigerated for up to four days and frozen for up to six months. It is best to freeze each mozzarella separately, with no water, and in its entirety (if it is sliced it will be drier when thawed). To thaw it, let it slowly thaw in the fridge overnight. Whereas fior di latte can be great raw, for example, in a Caprese salad, fior di latte that has been frozen is best used for cooking (like on a pizza) as it will lose a bit of its fresh flavor.
SummaryBoth are great, it is really up to your taste buds! Especially if sticking to DOP products, you can be certain they are both high-quality cheeses. Standing alone, Buffalo mozzarella is more flavorful and is delicious raw on its own or on a nice pizza sauce/cherry tomatoes. For that gooey and melty cheese without extra water, fior di latte is best.
So far we agree mozzarella is special. This soft, milky, and delicious food has conquered palates all over the world. But its origins are humble. Historians don’t exactly know when buffalos were imported to Italy, but some think it might have been around the year 1000 by the Normans. The central-southern part of Italy had the best weather to raise these calves, so the production of buffalo milk was started. Many of these farmers were poor and had no way of preserving the milk, so to prevent it from spoiling they would turn it into cheese, which lasted a bit longer (especially the smoked ones!). They would sell these cheeses, then called “mozza” at different markets throughout Campania. For centuries mozzarella never left this area, as it would spoil during long travels. The first document to speak of mozzarella goes back to the XII century where it talks about this cheese being donated by monks from the San Lorenzo monastery to a church in Capua. The Church actually elevated the status of this cheese by encouraging people to eat it on the days they abstained from meat - thinking mozzarella was a lean and light food! When Italy became united in the 1800s, mozzarella spread to the rest of the country, and soon, the world.
If you are on this website, we already know you love pizza, so this use is a given. Like briefly mentioned earlier, some pizzas lend themselves to buffalo cheese, others to fior di latte or provola, and others can accommodate either one. What you will mostly see in Italian pizzerias is buffalo mozzarella mainly on Margherita pizza, pizza with cherry tomatoes, or white pizzas with just buffalo mozzarella and freshly sliced prosciutto or ham. In other words, buffalo mozzarella is perfect on a simple pizza, with just a few ingredients, so as to fully taste the cheese.More complex pizzas, with multiple toppings and strong flavors like sausage, fried eggplants, anchovies, artichokes, and the like, are best topped with fior di latte.
Baked pastas are fantastic with mozzarella, a common one being gnocchi alla sorrentina (Sorrento style gnocchi): gnocchi in a simple tomato or tomato ragù sauce topped with lots of mozzarella and basil, then baked. Simple and perfect. Any baked dish is really elevated with mozzarella: think of eggplant parmesan, frittata and savory pies.
But mozzarella is also great fried. Some typical appetizers in Italy are arancini (fried rice balls with meat sauce, peas and a cheesy mozzarella heart), mozzarella in carrozza (similar to french toast, but stuffed with mozzarella and a savory egg mixture), and fried zucchini flowers (battered zucchini flowers stuffed with mozzarella and sometimes sardines).
However, to taste mozzarella in all its glory, you need to have it fresh! Farro, tuna, mozzarella, and zucchini go really well together for a hearty salad. In the region of Puglia, they make a crunchy bread named Fresella. You wet the bread with some water and top it with fresh juicy tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, olive oil, basil, and garlic. Sometimes pickled veggies are added- like marinated artichoke hearts or marinated eggplants- and tuna. This popular simple dish is eaten all over Italy now, and it is a refreshing hit during the summer.
Nutritional facts per 100g
|Vitamin A (µg)||219|
|Vitamin E (mg)||0.39|
Nutritional facts per 100g
|Vitamin A (µg)||164|
|Vitamin E (mg)||0.24|
Apart from the DOP denomination for buffalo mozzarella, there are some other regulations for mozzarella depending on the region. Italy has a list of typical agricultural products (named P.A.T) which include: Mozzarella Silana (from Calabria), Mozzarella della Mortella (Campania) and Mozzarella di Brugnato (Liguria) among others. These PAT products are linked to a specific territory and try to preserve the methods of realization and conservation as they have been used for centuries.
Mozzarella received a Traditional Specialities Guaranteed (TSG) certification from the European Union in 1998, which regulates the way it is produced- again sticking to traditional methods. Why do we care about these titles? When these high standards are met, we can rest assured we are eating a wholesome, genuine product without any added artificial ingredients. Interestingly enough, some people who claim to not digest dairy at all are able to eat mozzarella in Europe without problems. Could it be due to the use of these natural, traditional methods? We sure believe so.