Ingredient of the Week, February 17: Mozzarella Cheese
Mozzarella cheese is made by a special process where the curd is dipped into hot whey then stretched and kneaded to the desired consistency. At one point, mozzarella was made only from water buffalo milk. Now, it is usually made with cow's milk. There are two forms, regular and fresh. Regular mozzarella is available in low-fat and nonfat forms and has a semi-soft, elastic texture and is drier than fresh mozzarella. Fresh mozzarella is made from whole milk and has a softer texture and sweet, delicate flavor and is typically packed in water or whey. Buffalo mozzarella, is the most prized of the fresh mozzarellas, and is a combination of water buffalo milk and cow's milk.
Buffalo Mozzarella cheese is not aged like most cheeses and is actually best when eaten within hours of its making. The process of making mozzarella is called pasta filata, which means the curds are heated in water or whey until they form strings (hence the term "string cheese") and become elastic in texture. The curds are stretched, kneaded until smooth, and then formed into round balls to make fresh mozzarella cheese.
Mozzarella's name derives from the Italian verb "mozzare," meaning "to cut off," from the action of cutting the curd into smaller, less unwieldy pieces. Mozzarella production began...well, nobody knows exactly when this happened, but this cheese has been around for centuries. There appears to be a print reference to mozzarella in the twelfth century in connection with a monastery in Capua, but a better-documented reference is found in a 1570 cookbook, written by the cook of the Papal Court, Bartolomeo Scappi. Most sources indicate that mozzarella was being made sometime after the introduction of the water buffalo into the Campania area in southern Italy (although one source tells me mozzarella was made from cows' milk before it was made from the milk of the water buffalo). And when did the water buffalo arrive in Campania? Again, no one is sure. There's some thought that this might have happened in the sixth century C.E. (one account specifies the year 596); other historians believe that water buffalo were introduced into Italy by Hannibal, no later than around 200 B.C.E.
Shredded mozzarella cheese is a staple for pizza or lasagna. Part-skim, low-moisture mozzarella may be a better choice than full-fat cheddar cheese as it contains fewer calories and less fat. Part-skim, shredded mozzarella melts easily and has a mild flavor.
One cup of shredded mozzarella cheese contains 341 calories. It provides 23 g of fat, 14 g of which is saturated.
How do you use Mozarella? On pizza or a baked dish like lasagna or baked ziti, or in cheese sticks?