Mmmm - Mozzarella!

Submitted by admin on 3 Sep 2015

The first stop on our new Southern Italy tour is a visit to the Barlotti cheesemaker, famous for producing buffalo mozzarella in the shadow of the ancient Greek temple at Paestum.  It is well known that the most highly prized artisanal buffalo mozzarella is still found south of Naples, near Battipaglia and Caserta, where small factories continue the centuries-old tradition of making fresh buffalo mozzarella every day for their local customers.                                    

In the early days of production, because the cheese was not made from pasteurized milk and because there was no refrigeration, it had a very short shelf-life and seldom left the southern regions where it was made. As cheese technology, refrigeration and transportation systems developed the cheese has spread to other regions of Italy. The cheese is rich in calcium and proteins and takes its name from the verb "mozzare" meaning to lop or cut off.

It is not known exactly when the water buffalo first appeared in Italy. Some believe they came with the Lombard invasion of the peninsula in the sixth century AD, others that the Normans bought them across from Sicily around 1000 AD where they had been introduced by the Arabs. Several theories exist but what is certain is that from the 13th century onwards the populations of water buffalo in the south of Italy were thriving, in the malaria-ridden marshlands of the Volturno basin. They were used as draught animals, being strong and resilient in watery terrain.

To make the famous cheese a whey starter is added from the previous batch which contains bacteria, and the fresh buffalo milk is left to "ripen" so the bacteria can multiply. Then rennet is added to coagulate the milk. After coagulation, the curd is cut into large pieces and left to sit, so the curds firm up in a process known as healing.

After the curd heals, it is further cut and the pieces stirred and heated to separate the curds from the whey. The whey is then drained off and the curds are placed in a hoop to form 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 and kneaded by hand like dough to produce the correct smooth delicate consistency.  This process is generally known as pasta filata.

Visitors to Italy will almost certainly have come across a cheese called Fior di latte. This is made using the same process but from fresh pasteurized or unpasteurized cow's milk and not the milk of the water buffalo. It is therefore much cheaper to buy.  It is fair to assume that mozzarella bought around the world which is not clearly labelled as coming from the milk of water buffalo will have been made with cow's milk.

In the UK Laverstoke Park Farm in Hampshire is now keeping a herd of Asian water buffalo and making fresh buffalo mozzarella each day which they sell through Waitrose supermarkets. Australia’s only water buffalo dairy is located at Shaw River in Victoria. The herd began with the importation of Riverine Buffalo from Italy in May 1995 and Murrah Buffalo from Bulgaria in 1996. 

There are many ways to enjoy mozzarella in salads, or on its own with crostini and olive oil, but its unique stretching and melting qualities make it the perfect topping for pizza, a combination which is now famous across the globe. Hikers on our inaugural Southern Italy tour will be lucky enough to taste and enjoy the real thing!!  This tour will run twice in 2016 in the month of October.