Served too cold, cut with a knife, over-seasoned… A specialist tells us about the most common errors when tasting this illustrious Italian cheese. And the secrets to best savor its flavors.
A coveted frugal food, mozzarella needs no introduction. This artisanal gem has been so successful over the past thirty years that its production has spread far beyond its native Italy. If we think we know it by heart, we nevertheless frequently make certain mistakes when we slip it into our menus. Alessandra Pierini, founder of RAP (1), a charming grocery store specializing in Italian products in the 9th arrondissement of Paris, is a specialist. Author of the book Mozzarella: ten ways to prepare it (2), she lists the mistakes to avoid in order to taste this beloved cheese properly.
Mozzarella di bufala and marinated red fruits
Confuse the mozzarella di bufala and the Mozzarella di fior di latte
When buying, we tend not to differentiate mozzarella fior di latte of that said di bufala. However, they are not the same cheeses, they are not made from the same milk, and they do not have the same textures. “In southern Italy, mozzarella from Bufala, is produced from buffalo milk”, this robust animal originating from the Campania region. The milk is fattier and richer in nutrients than that of cows. “Its exterior is firmer but its heart is more mellow and creamy. Visually, the mozzarella has a slightly irregular composition and when you cut it, you almost have the impression of hearing a noise; as if a crust were torn,” describes the specialist. It is protected by the controlled designation of origin “Bufala Campana Mozzarella“. For its part, the Fior di latte is produced with cow’s milk, less fat. The cheese is therefore “firmer and more elastic”.
Discard the guard liquid
In Italy it is called the government liquidator. This is the liquid in which the dough is preserved. “It’s not just tap water. It is specific to each cheese dairy because it is made according to the PH (the unit of measurement of acidity, editor’s note) of the cheese produced. This guard liquid, made from the water used to make mozzarella, still contains milk and ferments”. To throw it away is to waste! “You can use it in other culinary preparations, such as risotto, you just have to pour it into the broth. Otherwise, considering all its nutrients, it can be poured into plants and vegetable gardens to stimulate growth.
How to make an ideal cheese platter
Cut the mozzarella with a knife
Use the overnight cover with the natural texture of mozzarella. “It’s a pasta filata cheese, so you have to tear it with your hands,” informs Alessandra Pierini. For a ball of Italian cheese to enjoy for two, the specialist recommends “simply splitting it in half with your fingers”, then everyone eats their half. If we use it for a salad, we tear it at the very last minute otherwise all the water escapes”.
Mozzarella Fior di latte can be cut into slices. “Because of its more robust and less creamy composition, it supports cutting more”.
Eat it cold
“As the dough is spun, the composition of the cheese changes under the effect of the cold, its filaments freeze and the fat changes its structure, underlines the specialist. In addition, it is a fresh cheese, so its aromas are very subtle and the cold camouflages them easily. In practice, it is taken out 30 minutes before tasting it. You can also immerse the bag containing the mozzarella in lukewarm water to reheat it.
Sweet and Savory Strawberry Bites with Two Cheeses
Being too heavy handed on the seasoning
Pesto, olive oil, salt, pepper… The specialist sees no problem with seasoning, but warns against overdosing. “When you buy an artisanal mozzarella, the objective is to rediscover the taste of milk, cream, the farm, the animal and the vegetation with which it fed”, comments Alessandra Pierini.
Ideally, the Italian would even go so far as to outlaw salt. “The mozzarella already contains it and it brings out the water. If you sprinkle it on it thirty minutes before serving it, it’s finished, the mozzarella will be watery”.
Cook the mozzarella from Bufala
“A good pizza maker never uses mozzarella from Bufala on a pizza that he is about to put in the oven”. For Alessandra Pierini, as for any Italian, cooking this mozzarella is blasphemy. “The pizza maker tears it when serving, just after cooking. As soon as it touches the pizza, it lets go slightly, without releasing all its water. For a hot dish, it is better to opt for the fior di latte which is more suitable. But it’s not ideal either. “It does not support cooking because it does not have enough fat, it will very quickly turn brown”.
However, some recipes require cooking the cheese, such as mozzarella in body, a breaded version from the south of La Botte. While some recommend squeezing it before cooking to extract a little liquid, Alessandra Pierini is not of the same opinion. “We risk losing taste. Personally, I let it sit in a colander. With air, it will harden slightly on the surface, but it will keep its liquid inside”.
In video: How to make an ideal cheese platter
Only eat it in summer
As surprising as it may seem, mozzarella is a winter cheese. “If we followed the seasons and produced it as farmers do, we would be deprived of it in the summer. During this season, the milk of the buffaloes is reserved for their young, born at Easter.
Today, rotation systems and milk replacer allow us to enjoy it all year round. So there’s no need to deprive yourself of it during the cold season. “A mozzarella served with steamed winter vegetables is delicious, suggests Alessandra Pierini. It can be eaten with romanesco cabbage or with carrots…What a change from the so classic “tomatoes-mozzarella”.
(1) RAP Italian delicatessen, 4 rue Flechier, 75009 Paris. Open Saturday to Sunday, 9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.
(2) Mozzarella, ten ways to prepare it by Alessandra Pierini, Les Éditions de l’Épure, 24 pages, €9.
Our selection of mozzarella recipes
Selection of mozzarella recipes