Here’s what we’re all in agreement about: mozzarella cheese is delicious.
But not everyone agrees on their favorite style of mozzarella, because there are a number of ways this awesome cheese can be part of your pizza, and opinion as to which is “authentic” (not to mention tasty!) varies considerably.
Mozzarella Cheese 101
Let’s start by defining what we’re talking about. Mozzarella (like many good things in life) comes from southern Italy. It’s a soft, white cheese that is creamy and melts easily, making it the perfect partner for all sorts of baking, but especially for pizza.
Mozzarella is traditionally made from Italian buffalo milk using a method called pasta friata, which involves stretching cheese curds, steeping them in very hot liquid, and extracting a product that’s soft, elastic, and stringy. Because mozzarella has a high-moisture content, it’s best when served the day after it’s made (but can be stored in brine for a week or, when vacuum-sealed, even longer). Low-moisture mozzarella can be kept refrigerated for up to a month, though some shredded low-moisture mozzarella is sold with a shelf life of up to six months.
Fresh mozzarella is obviously the purist’s choice for pizza. Even though it’s stored in liquid, it’s able to lose a lot of its moisture in the fast, hot ovens used to bake traditional pizza, but without burning—making it the perfect cheese in many ways (If you want to make your pizza at home though, beware: chances are your oven isn’t as hot as ours, and remaining moisture might create a certain sogginess in your pizza crust).
What are the options?
There are different kinds of mozzarella available on the market and they’re all good. We’re not disparaging any mozzarella here. In fact, what cheese ends up on a pizza depends on what kind of pizza it is, not on the comparative qualities of various kinds of mozzarella.
- Fresh mozzarella: also known as Fior di latte (literally, “milk cream”), this is what’s commonly used on Neapolitan pizza. It’s made from cow’s milk rather than buffalo milk, and we’ll be honest: any mozzarella made with hormone-free milk is delicious.
- Buffalo mozzarella: also known as Mozzarella di bufala, this cheese is the most traditional mozzarella from Campania, in southern Italy. It’s got a higher-fat content and is creamier and more flavorful than the cow-milk version—but it’s also significantly more expensive and is often difficult to find.
- Fresh low-moisture mozzarella: this cheese’s major attribute is in the name—it’s very close to traditional mozzarella, but the moisture content has been lowered significantly, meaning that it’s quite a bit easier to use. This cheese process originated in the United States, and it’s what we use at Pizzeria Locale for our Neighborhood Neapolitan pizza; it’s also the variety used most often on New York-style pizzas.
- Pre-shredded mozzarella: this may be the most convenient of all mozzarella options, as it can be used immediately: just open the bag and you’re done. It contains starch and can burn more easily than other mozzarellas, but many people consider that an asset.
And the winner is…
There isn’t one! Different mozzarellas complement different styles of pizza in unique ways. Every kind of mozzarella has its own taste and consistency, and each brings wonderful texture and flavors to pizza.
Should you visit central and south Italy, we highly recommend checking out the local mozzarella di bufala. Many of the farmers there (and especially at the Vannulo farm, where they sell 700 pounds of mozzarella a day) believe in pampering their buffalo, offering massages, classical music, and organic diets. It gives a new appreciation for this humble cheese that takes pride of place on anyone’s pizza!