Cheese makes or breaks a pizza. If it’s not juicy, gooey and melty then the results can be disastrous. Although there have been many attempts to improve on the original formula, mozzarella still reigns supreme as the perfect cheese for pizza. In fact, it has even been scientifically proven to out-perform cheddar, Colby, Edam, Emmental, Gruyere, and provolone, which are all fairly common alternatives.
So, as an ode to pizza’s best friend (which you will find on our pizzas and in our cheesy balls), let’s take a look at the story of mozzarella.
Mozzarella originated in southern Italy. A soft white cheese, it is traditionally made from Italian water buffalo milk using a specific cheese-making technique known as the pasta filata method. As with many ancient foods, there are many theories about how mozzarella first came to be. The story actually begins with how the water buffalo was introduced to Italy. Unsurprisingly, the exact details of this story are a little hazy too. However, there are a few theories.
Many believe that the water buffalo was introduced by the Goths towards the end of the Roman Empire rule. By the 16th century, the population of wild buffalo in southern Italy was booming – largely unspoiled by human intervention.
Around this time, domestication and subsequent farming of the buffalo in the Campania region of southern Italy began to thrive as people increasingly recognised its milk as a suitable alternative to ordinary cow’s milk for making dairy products like cheese and butter.
Another popular theory recalls that mozzarella can be traced as far back as the third century when monks from San Lorenzo di Capua handed out bread and self-made cheese called “mozza” to the needy. However, this early variation was made from sheep’s milk and so isn’t considered traditional “mozzarella di bufala”.
Regardless of where it came from, by the 20th century mozzarella was cherished across Europe and beyond, with the Averso, Caserta region being home of the prized cheese. Back then, the production was, and still is, controlled by two major producers making three different types of mozzarella.
Mozzarella received a Traditional Specialities Guaranteed certification from the EU in 1998, which restricts the making of the cheese to a traditional recipe. Interestingly, it doesn’t specify what milk needs to be used, so mozzarella can be made from cow’s milk too. If you want to go authentic, buffalo milk is the way to go. That being said, in the modern culinary world, a wide variety of mozzarella types are used on pizza. What’s most important is how it is made.
Mozzarella gets its soft, fibrous texture from a very specific production technique known as pasta filata – which translated roughly to “spun paste” in Italian. This process creates what is known in English as a stretched-curd cheese.
The pasta filata process goes a little like this: the milk is first warmed, which makes it curdle. Then it is allowed to rest for an hour before the curds are cut into small pieces and the remaining liquid – known as whey – is drained off. The curds are then set aside to rest for a while.
After they have rested, the curds are steeped for hours in a bath of very hot whey or water. When making Mozzarella di Bufala Campana the temperature of the whey is 95 °C. When the curds begin to float the liquid is drained. They are then combined, ready to go through a vigorous kneading process until a soft, elastic texture is attained.
According to the Mozzarella di Bufala trade association, “The cheese-maker kneads it with his hands, like a baker making bread, until he obtains a smooth, shiny paste, a strand of which he pulls out and lops off, forming the individual mozzarella.”
That’s it. Simple and delicious.
Back in 2014, an international team of scientists set out to try and discern what the best cheese for pizza making is. The abstract of the paper said that the aim of the study was to “quantify the pizza baking properties and performance of different types of cheese”.
The study looked at each cheese type’s elasticity, oiliness, moisture, water activity, galactose and baking temperature. A slew of different cheeses were analysed including mozzarella, cheddar, Colby, Edam, Emmental, Gruyere, and provolone.
What they found was that mozzarella was scientifically the best cheese for pizza making – the bubbliest, gooiest, meltiest of the lot. “Mozzarella has a lot of elasticity,” study co-author Dr. Bryony James said. “If you look at it under a microscope, you see it has these channels of fat surrounded by protein.”
Here are Manoosh we use only the freshest, tastiest ingredients on our pizzas, including the best mozzarella we can get ours hands on (plus some delicious Daiya vegan cheese which is just a good).