A Gourmet's Guide To Mozzarella Di Bufala
Knowing The Difference Between Delicacy And Dross
My family moved from Italy to Canada in the early Sixties and we underwent various cultural shocks adjusting to the new country in those days. When you asked for coffee you got a big mug of hot dirty water. The only place to buy olive oil was in tiny bottles at the pharmacy. The bread section at the market only had blanched spongy squared-off logs cut up into strange thin slices. However, nothing could compare to the ultimate disappointment which made us all pine for home: A hard white brick sealed in plastic was called Mozzarella.
The profound impact this had on my entire family was palpable. We were from the land of Mozzarella Di Bufala, the muddy coastal marshlands between Naples and Rome where yaks contentedly chew their cud and every street corner features a Caseificio which retails the local white gold fresh every morning at dawn. This was almost enough to make us start checking Alitalia flight schedules to move back home.
Mozzarella Di Bufala is literally spun from the milk of yaks (not buffalos!). This process creates a moist, creamy sphere about the size of your fist, dripping with thin, milky liquid and as the local saying goes: "as tender to the touch as a mother's breast." This delectable delight is purchased and consumed in the morning or not at all.
It's hard to believe but Mozzarella Di Bufala has a sell-by-date measured in hours. Most Caseificios open at 7 am and there is usually a queue outside to get the freshest product. Most of the Mozzarella Di Bufala sales are completed well before 10 am, and for the rest of the morning the Caseificio only stocks local Ricotta and Provola/Scamorza, which is a form of strongly smoked, dried Mozzarella.
The conventional wisdom is that if a Caseificio still has Mozzarella Di Bufala for sale at noon then the place is a scam and you should shop somewhere else. The true Caseificio closes at 1 pm for the day. Only the "tourist trap" outlets re-open at 4:30 pm post-Siesta to sell dried up, chewy, semi-spoiled rubbish that was left over from the morning's production to doe-eyed German and English couples who gobble up the putrefying lump in their Beemers and Vauxhalls and exclaim how wonderful it is!
We can land rovers on Mars. We can communicate instantly around the world on our computers. But technology has never found a way to preserve Mozzarella Di Bufala for more than a few hours. Within eight hours of its creation, the sphere loses its creamy center and begins to turn into milky ragcloth. The outside "skin" becomes chewy and changes in flavour from a delicate lightness to a mawkish cheddariness. This rate of metamorphosis applies only if it is kept in a sealed plastic bag floating in its own liquid! If it taken out of the fluid container and placed on a plate, the half-life of the sphere approximates that of highly radioactive isotopes. In 5 minutes it's drying out, in 10 minutes it's "skinning" up, and in 15 minutes it's trash liner. If the sphere is cut up into slices, you can easily halve those times.
That's why I laugh so heartily when some three-star overpriced highfalutin restaurant boasts that the Mozzarella Di Bufala on its Caprese Salad was flown in from Italy. Unless they arrived in an X-43A at Mach 7, those miserable little "bocconcini" bleeding acrid slimy goo all over your tomatoes are at least half-way to becoming blue cheese.
When you get the real Mozzarella Di Bufala in its fresh state, you will quickly realize that what you previously knew as mozzarella is really nothing more than an Italianized Monterey Jack. The delicate spheres are only ever served completely fresh and never ever ever ever refrigerated or cooked. Some pizzaioli pride themselves on serving the real Mozzarella Di Bufala on their pizzas. You pay double for it, and you end up with a chewy ivory mass which has given up all its liquid to soaking the crust. A complete mess. However, if you serve it soft and moist on a cold sandwich, on a Caprese Salad, or even just by itself with a little salt, pepper and extra virgin olive oil... you'll never settle for anything else!
It would not be difficult to get a big chunk of otherwise useless marshland somewhere around the Florida Panhandle and plunk a bunch of yaks on it. Then import an entire Caseificio family from Mondragone (the Vatican of Mozzarella), pay them a decent salary and tell them to do what they do best: make Mozzarella Di Bufala. Considering that the high-falutin "top chefs" in major cities are paying $25+/pound for the chewy garbage they're serving now (it retails for $4/pound at the Caseificio), providing these high-buck restaurants with real, fresh Mozzarella Di Bufala would not only be doing a service for the long-suffering North American fans of this creamy delight, but it could also line your bank account with some serious coin!
Hey! If you do this, you owe me royalties!