There is a reverence to the way my friend Kate breaks Mozzarella di Bufala. The same gentleness of hand, sense of purpose you see in a priest breaking bread. For fresh buffalo milk mozzarella is indeed a special cheese and in this post I want to understand why.
First of all though you have to banish all memories of those rubbery gourds of commercial mozzarella, vacuum packed and available in the supermarket. The only similarity is that both are stretchy when heated. One is pizza cheese, mild and factory produced, the other is an Italian icon, a national treasure, made with an ancient breed, hand spun and needing to be consumed quickly.
Real buffalo mozzarella arrives in a bath of whey. It has a short use-by date, to be consumed within days or weeks of making. Eating it this fresh was a treat we could only read about in New Zealand until recently, until some folks took a punt and imported a herd of buffaloes.
Enter the Clevedon Valley Buffalo Company, owned and operated by Richard and Helen Dorresteyn. They farm 200 head of buffalo for their porcelain white milk and make a range of products. I love their plain Buffalo yoghurt, it is like eating purity. Just on its own. Angels in a punnet.
Clevedon Valley Buffalo Company
The Dorresteyn’s buffaloes aren’t the kind you’d find stampeding across the plains in cowboy movies. They are instead water buffaloes, originating in India, farmed in Italy around Naples for centuries. They are big horned, jet black uber-cows, producing a pure white milk.
And oh Lordie do they produce a delicate cheese. Like all great cheese it’s a little more costly, I happily stumped up the $10 for a punnet of their Mozzarella from Moore WIlsons.
Like Kate I carefully removed it from the punnet and gently broke open the delicate ball, its outer layer so smooth it threatened to slide off the firmer interior. Inside it’s the texture of cooked chicken breast, moist and glistening with the final vestiges of trapped whey. It’s a little floppy, and the taste is delicate, milky yet delightfully light in the mouth.
Mozzarella is a pasta filata, a stretched curd cheese. The curds are heated after separation which changes them from a set custard consistency into a stretchy mass. Pieces are tested by holding them up so that they stretch like a thin dough until they are spun into balls and put into cold water or brine to set.
I made an Insalata Caprese, the classic mozzarella, basil, tomato and olive oil salad and it was a revelation. I’ve had versions of this on a few occasions, and to be frank, always thought it a bit over-rated. But this was the first time I’d eaten it with fresh buffalo mozzarella. Now I get it.
This wasn’t little rubbery white discs of cow’s mozzarella balancing on a tomato, dressed in oil. This was a heady fragrant joy.
I can only assume there is something in this mozzarella, something that captures the fragrance of the tomatoes, basil’s spicy notes and olive oil’s herbaceous tones. A milky angel that drinks up droplets of fine olive oil and blends these essences in its striated surface. This is a smell of Italy and I urge you to try it.
A note about the oil
I used Moon Over Martinborough’s beautiful oil. It was a gift from Jared Gulian at the New Zealand Food Bloggers conference and it is delicious. Thankyou!
We drunk this with a Chardonnay. And while it was fine, it didn’t sing. I think next time I’ll try a Rose, a Pinot Gris or better yet a Pinot Griggio. Something with a little more sweet to join with the salad’s beautiful sweet fragrance.