07 April 2010
Posted in FOOD AND WINE
The origins of mozzarella have been lost in the shadows of time, and it is presumed that the making of this famous cheese is linked to the appearance of the water buffalo on the plains of Campania in the 6th century AC. Its name is derived from “mozzatura”, the part of the process in which the cheesemaker “cuts” the lengths of cheese with his fingers.
From the 14th century onwards, the buffalo became more and more common in Campania where they were generally bred as wild animals but sometimes used to plough fields, due to their size and strength, or as beasts of burden in swampy areas thanks to the ease with which they walk on soft ground with their large, flat hooves. The Sele Plain in Campania, which at the time was dominated by swamps, was the perfect habitat for buffalo, was useless for growing crops and is still famous for buffalo mozzarella now.
Today, buffalo milk is well-known for its high quality and, of course, for its role in the production of mozzarella.
At the beginning, the milk was processed in the same place in which it was milked and collected, and there is archaeological proof of the existence of walled, circular constructions with a central hearth known as “bufalare”, where buffalo were raised, from the 7th century onwards. Here was where the master cheesemakers worked their magic on the milk, transforming it into butter and cheeses such as ricotta, caciocavallo and provola as well as, of course, mozzarella.
The skill and experience of the Master Cheesemaker determines the quality of the mozzarella now as it did then.
Despite being a delicious example of produce from the Campania region, it was not until the advent of refrigeration processes that buffalo mozzarella began to find its way out of Campania and into the rest of Italy and Europe due to its extremely short shelf life. It was seen as a by-product of the making of provola, and its gastronomic value was known to only a very restricted circle, as it had to be consumed locally.
The modern history of buffalo mozzarella however is demonstrative of its importance to the economy of the area. In the post-war era it became ingrained as a truly traditional Italian product thanks to the high quality produce of certain “caseifici” , or mozzarella producers of the Sele Plain. From the 1970’s onwards it began to pop up in supermarkets across Italy and in specialist food stores in Europe, and in 1996 Mozzarella di Bufala Campana received DOP protection, guaranteeing origin and processing as well as quality. It is now one of the best known and most frequently imitated of the Italian cheeses, and many top chefs have mozzarella delivered from the Campania region to their tables in London, Paris and other cities.
So, why not bring a flavour of Southern Italy to your wedding by serving fresh mozzarella as a starter on its own, in a simple but delicious Caprese salad with fresh tomatoes, fragrant basil and a drizzle of olive oil, or in a classic pasta dish such as Neapolitan Lasagne? Alternatively, you could experience the creamy, slightly briny freshness of this product on your honeymoon in the Campania area, by going on a gastro-tour of the caseifici where you can try mozzarella, super-creamy burrata, and even yoghurt and ice cream made from buffalo milk.