What makes the best fresh mozzarella? It's all about balance.
Published July 1, 2018. Appears in America's Test Kitchen TV Season 21: Simple Chicken Dinner
Mozzarella is the most popular cheese in America, even beating out cheddar for the top spot. You can find it in a variety of forms: string cheese, dense blocks of “pizza cheese” for grating, shredded cheese, tiny balls of snacking cheese, and larger balls of “fresh” high-moisture mozzarella, which we use when we want the milkiest, richest flavor and a tender, soft texture.
Mozzarella is a remarkably simple cheese; in fact, you can make it at home in less than an hour using a few specialty ingredients. According to the traditional method, milk, rennet, and an acid are heated until the curds separate from the whey. The curds are strained, salted, and then plunged into hot water to make them flexible. Once removed from the water, they are stretched until they become smooth and elastic. While this stretching was once done by hand, most manufacturers now rely on machines to do it. Finally, the cheese is shaped into either a block or a ball and cooled. Unlike aged cheeses such as cheddar and Brie, mozzarella is ready to eat right away.
For centuries, mozzarella has been made in Italy using buffalo's milk, which contains twice as much butterfat as cow's milk, for a notably rich cheese. Authentic mozzarella di bufala campana is a Denominazione di Origine Protetta product hailing from the Campania region of Italy, which includes Naples. But since buffalo mozzarella is not aged and is usually produced with unpasteurized milk, it has an extremely short shelf life—only four to five days—and is therefore difficult to export to the United States.
While there are a few buffalo mozzarella producers in the United States, most domestic “fresh” mozzarella is instead made from less-expensive pasteurized cow's milk (this same cheese is called fior di latte in Italy). The term “fresh mozzarella” is not recognized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, so manufacturers can label any product that meets the guidelines for mozzarella as “fresh.” However, cheesemakers typically use the word to denote a style of mozzarella that is higher in moisture than block mozzarella and is eaten raw (“fresh”) rather than cooked (though a few recipes, such as pizza margherita, do rely on melted fresh mozzarella). Mass-market domestic mozzarellas also have a longer shelf life than Italian buffalo mozzarella.
With all this in mind, we set out to find our favorite fresh mozzarella. We focused on products labeled “fresh” and sold in shrink-wrapped balls or packed in brine. We rounded up eight nationally available products priced from $0.32 to $1.00 per ounce and tasted them plain, uncooked in our recipe for Cherry Tomato Caprese Sa...
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