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Food Explainer: Buffalo Mozzarella

What exactly is buffalo mozzarella? Mozzarella cheese made in Buffalo, New York– much like the city’s alleged “buffalo” wings perhaps?

This time, buffalo literally means buffalo. Buffalo mozzarella, or mozzarella di bufala, is a rich cheese that is made from domestic water buffalo milk. Water buffalo milk provides higher levels of protein, fat and minerals than cow’s milk, which contributes to the cheese’s high quality, fresh deliciousness. Buffalo mozzarella is produced in many locations around the world, but originated in Italy, where buffalo mozzarella production is still a key industry and cultural tradition. The majority of buffalo mozzarella produced in Italy comes from southern Italy– namely Salerno, Napoli, Basso Lazio, Caserta

and Foggia. It is served in salads, melted on pizzas, on top of bread, or on its own. Fresh buffalo mozzarella is very dense, but soft and can be cut easily with a knife. It still retains a lot of moisture so some liquids may come out when you cut it. Therefore, making pizzas with buffalo mozzarella often requires using types that have lower moisture content.

There are many theories on how water buffalos first arrived in Italy. It is widely believed that they were introduced to mainland Italy by Norman Kings around the year 1000, after Arabs brought them to Sicily. The presence of buffalos and their by-products have since been traced back to the 12th and 13th centuries.

Domestic water buffalo. Image from http://www.mlive.com

The name mozzarella originates from the Italian word, “mozzare”, or “to cut off”, which represents the stage in the production process where cheese makers hand-cut the freshly made cheese paste.

How it’s Made

These are the main steps for buffalo mozzarella production. For more details and photos, visit the Mozzarella di Bufala Campana DOP page.

1. Milk processing and curdling- Raw buffalo milk is stored, heated and then allowed to curdle by adding natural whey.  The curds are then stirred and broken up manually. The solid matter is then separated from the liquid milk.

2. Curd maturation- Curds are left in the why to ferment for 4-5 hours. When the paste is ready, as determined after a few manual tests, it is placed on a table to drain off the excess whey, cut into strips and placed into special vats.

3. Spinning- Boiling water is added to the cheese mixture and manually spun using a bowl and wooden stick. It is continuously kneaded and stretched until a homogenous paste is obtained.

4. Shaping- Shaping the cheese can be done using traditional or industrial methods. Traditional methods entail one cheese maker holding up the spun paste while another cuts it manually. Industrial cheese makers have mechanical molds. Buffalo mozzarella is usually shaped into bite-size pieces, knots, braids, or its well-known spherical shape.

5. Packaging- The cheese is packaged on-site in liquids for preservation.

How to Identify Authentic Buffalo Mozzarella from Italy

In Italy, certified buffalo mozzarella producers belong to a consortium and follow strict guidelines that ensure authenticity and freshness. In 2008, it was discovered that some uncertified buffalo mozzarella contained a high level of carcinogens, most likely from contamination caused by the illegal trash problem in Naples. Buffalo mozzarella can only be sold if it is pre-packaged at the source. By Italian law, if the cheese is packaged in a knotted bag, the manufacturer must place a seal of guarantee above the knot to prevent possible contamination.


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