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The Best Fresh Mozzarella
What makes the best fresh mozzarella? It's all about balance.
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What You Need To Know
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.
What Exactly Is “Fresh” Mozzarella?
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...
Everything We Tested
This “plush” mozzarella was “pillowy” and “tender,” with a “melt-in-your-mouth” richness that tasters loved. It had a moderate amount of sodium and “balanced tang” as well as a flavor that was “buttery,” “creamy,” and “fresh.” Overall, it's a “well-seasoned,” “luscious” mozzarella.
An all-around “balanced” cheese, this mozzarella was “tender but not too squishy” and “firm but not too dry.” It had “the perfect amount of salt,” and tasters also picked up on “grassy” notes of “cultured” milk (it uses cheese culture to acidify the curds). Its texture was “springy” and “soft,” and we loved its “luxurious,” “buttery” richness.
This “bold” mozzarella had plenty of sodium; most tasters found it “balanced,” but a few thought it was “overseasoned.” Its texture was “springy,” “bouncy,” and “smooth,” and it had a “mild,” “sweet” milkiness that contrasted with its more “savory” notes.
This mozzarella was “soft,” “moist,” and “chewy,” with “tangy vinegar notes” and a “buttery dairy flavor.” Its “shaggy,” almost “grainy” texture reminded a few tasters of “hand-pulled mozz.” Though it was “a bit too salty and tangy” for some tasters, most liked this “fresh,” “complex” cheese.
Recommended with reservations
This cheese, which was more “yellow” than the stark white we're used to with mozzarella, had a “buttery” and “fairly salty” flavor. Tasters were split on its texture, which was “soft” and “almost spreadable” when uncooked. While this cheese would be fine for a margherita pizza, it was a little atypical for a Caprese salad or for serving plain because of its softer texture.
One of two brine-packed cheeses in our lineup, this mozzarella was “moist” and “tender,” with “vegetal,” “fresh dairy” notes. Its interior was “soft” and “creamy” but a bit “loose,” almost like “cottage cheese,” likely because of its lower pH. This also meant that the cheese was more acidic, and many tasters noted “a hint of sourness,” which they were divided on.
With the lowest moisture content of any cheese in our lineup, this mozzarella was “firm” and “chewy”—more like low-moisture shredding mozzarella than fresh. Tasters also thought it was “a bit bland” and “slightly sweet” from its low levels of salt and acid. Still, many tasters applauded this cheese's subtle “fresh,” “milky” flavors.
This mozzarella was “bland” and “rubbery,” likely because of its low amount of sodium and high pH. Its “dense” yet “watery” and “gritty” texture confused tasters, with a few comparing it to a “wet sponge.” In Caprese salad, it was “weepy” and “flavorless,” disappearing among the stronger flavors of the tomatoes and basil.
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