Mozzarella is a cheese from southern Italy that has become a common cheese across the world. The cheese often comes in a small packet containing a lump of cheese soaked in a liquid. Mozzarella curd is the solid and the liquid is either whey, brine or water. This curd is produced by a process of curdling the milk and is used in a variety of Italian and international dishes from Neapolitan pizza to Caesar salads. The word mozzarella comes from the Italian word mozzare meaning ‘to cut.’
Local legend has it that mozzarella curd was first produced by accident. In the legend, some cheese curds fell into a bucket of warm water in a Neapolitan cheese factory. There is no proof of this part being true, but one thing that is true is that mozzarella hails from Naples. Traditional mozzarella is centered on the Battipugli and Caserta areas of southern Naples, but can be found all over the greater region of Campania. To qualify as traditional mozzarella curd, it must also be made from water buffalo milk, which led to the cheese being called mozzarella di bufala Campania in Italian.
Traditional mozzarella curd is made from cold milk. First, the rennet, an enzyme found in the stomachs of mammals, or an edible acid such as citric acid or vinegar is added to the milk. This mixture is stirred and slowly heated in a pan or vat. As the heat spreads through the milk, it slowly coagulates and curdles into lumps of solid cheese. Once solid, the mozzarella is separated from the liquid whey and kneaded into shape like bread dough.
Fresh mozzarella curd is edible as soon as it has been made. When mozzarella was first invented, it would be eaten on the day of making. It could be kept for up to a week if it was preserved in brine, but it was not until the 20th century that it could be kept for longer. The invention of vacuum-sealed plastic bags meant the mozzarella curd could be kept in a water solution. This meant it could be exported across the world.
There are a number of mozzarella curd variants. Bocconccini and treccia are different forms of the traditional mozzarella with the former being small balls and the latter a braided mozzarella. Mozzarella affumicata on the other hand is smoked mozzarella and Manteca is a mozzarella with a lump of butter in the middle. Mozzarella curds can also be stuffed with foods such as olives, tomatoes, prosciutto and ham. The cheese is often served as part of salads, as a pizza topping, in pastas or in simple meals alongside tomatoes or salmon and drenched in olive oil and served with basil.