Mozzarella has become a standard cheese for many Americans over the past decades. Despite its widespread availability and the many creative uses chefs have found for this stretchy white cheese, mozzarella is still most often associated with Italian food.
There’s more to mozzarella than meets the eye: here are five facts about mozzarella that you probably didn’t know.
1. Americans Love It.
Let’s face it, from cheeseburgers to the famed grilled-cheese sandwich, Americans love their cheese. But it isn’t cheddar or Swiss that gets the award for most-consumed cheese in the US—it’s mozzarella. Per capita, Americans consume a whopping 11.5 pounds of mozzarella per year as estimated by the USDA. And with the popularity that pizza holds in the US, it doesn’t take much to guess what dish Americans consume their mozzarella on.
2. One cheese, many varieties.
Mozzarella is a key ingredient in official Neapolitan pizza margherita—but not just any mozzarella will do for a certified Neapolitan pizza . The cheese has to be traditional mozzarella di bufala campana, which is only one of the varieties of this mild and slightly salty cheese.
Along with mozzarella di bufala campana, or buffalo mozzarella, some of the other varieties include fior di latte (from cow’s milk), mozzarella affumicata (smoked mozzarella), bocconcini (egg-sized mozzarella cheeses), ovolini (smaller version of boccocini), treccia (braided mozzarella), burrata (cheese made from mozzarella and cream), and pomodorini (mozzarella stuffed with small tomatoes). Stuffed mozzarellas like pomodorini are a relatively new development and can also include ingredients such as ham or olives.
3. Mozzarella is all cut up.
The Italian word mozzarella is a form of the Neapolitan-dialect verb mozzare, which means “to cut off.” The name refers to the process of making mozzarella, as it’s cut up twice as it cures. It’s also stretched and kneaded until it becomes soft.
4. Opinion is split on if you should refrigerate it.
Seeing as it’s a dairy product, you might be inclined to always place fresh mozzarella in the refrigerator after you get home from the grocer. Packaged, vacuum-sealed mozzarella should definitely be refrigerated to the manufacturer’s specifications, but with fresh mozzarella the experts are divided. Some argue that fresh mozzarella should be eaten the day it was made, so it doesn’t need refrigerating. They maintain that it acquires a rubbery texture if you refrigerate it, while others say you can refrigerate it but should take it out to cool two hours before eating. Others say that there’s no issue caused by refrigeration, but that you should eat it within a week.
5. You can make it yourself.
With a little practice, you can become a mozzarella chef in your own home!
It is possible to purchase mozzarella curds from some specialty stores. Books on cheesemaking, as well as myriad articles and videos online, teach home cooks the process.
Once the milk and starters have been combined, the milk coagulates and becomes solid. This solid is then cut into curds which heal, or firm up, even more.
You can pick these ingredients up at the store and take them home to continue processing them: cutting them again, heating them until the curd separates from the whey, draining the whey, leaving the curds to form a solid mass, and then stretching and kneading that mass into a delicate mozzarella. And you can try making your own treccia, burrata, or stuffed mozzarella once you get the hang of it!