Creamy smooth, buttery rich and as fresh as a chilled glass of milk, the varying forms of fresh mozzarella are one of life’s greatest joys. I’m not referring to the factory-made, plastic-wrapped blocks of mozzarella found in the dairy case. I’m talking about the soft, delicate mozzarella usually sold in liquid and housed with the specialty cheeses.
In a side-by-side comparison, I find that fresh mozzarella offers a much more satisfying flavor and texture than the regular stuff, which makes it perfect for recipes that allow the cheese to be the star, from traditional caprese salads — made with only the cheese, tomatoes and basil — to vegetarian sandwiches where a creamy slice can easily stand in for meat.
How is fresh mozzarella different?
Unlike the mass-produced cheese, fresh mozzarella is hand-made in smaller batches and it boasts a softer texture and mild, buttery flavor. Called pasta filata, the process of making fresh mozzarella involves incubating milk with a whey starter (the liquid obtained from the previous day’s cheese-making). Rennet – an enzyme that curdles milk – is then added to form the curds, which are subsequently stretched, kneaded until smooth and formed into round balls. Once formed, fresh mozzarella is stored in brine, whey or a water solution to help the cheese retain its moisture and shape.
Since fresh mozzarella is gently formed by hand, there is a distinct difference in texture. Fresh mozzarella is creamy and soft; so soft in fact, that some varieties are difficult to slice (buying presliced fresh mozzarella solves this problem).
Processed mozzarella has a lower moisture content and is firmer in texture, making it easy to slice, cube and shred. Factory mozzarella also has a longer shelf-life. However, when it comes to flavor, fresh mozzarella is milky, smooth and subtle, but not so subtle that you can’t detect the distinct notes of fresh milk.
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What are the different kinds of fresh mozzarella?
Fresh mozzarella is sold in several different sizes. Whole, fresh mozzarella balls are about the size of a small orange. Ovolini (Italian for egg) is slightly smaller, more like the size of an extra-large egg. One size down, you’ll find Bocconcini (Italian for mouth or bite-size), which are about the size of a golf ball. Ciliegine are even smaller than Bocconcini, about the size of a cherry. And pearls (or perlini) are the smallest, about the size of a raspberry.
Beyond the different sizes, fresh mozzarella also comes in several different varieties.
Buffalo mozzarella is a type of mozzarella that's made from water buffalo milk. The result is a cheese that's richer than mozzarella made with cow's milk. The flavor of mozzarella di bufala is stronger, a little sweeter and slightly grassy.
Although it looks like a ball of mozzarella, burrata is its own, very special type of Italian cheese. Burrata has a solid outer curd made from fresh mozzarella, made either from cow or water buffalo milk, that's formed into a hollow pouch, and filled with soft curd and fresh cream.
The exterior is chewy, like fresh mozzarella, and the filling is milky, buttery, and rich.
Smoked mozzarella is made by suspending the fresh cheese over wood chips or placing it in a container or smoker that allows flavorful smoke to waft through. Commonly used woods are hickory, chestnut, alder, pecan, cherry and apple. The cheese is often cold smoked, whereby the temperature doesn’t exceed 100 degrees. Smoked mozzarella has a brown, edible rind and delicious creamy, smoky flavor.
What's the nutritional value of regular mozzarella versus fresh mozzarella?
Like other fresh cheeses, fresh mozzarella has a higher water content, which makes it lower in calories, fat and sodium.
Here’s a comparison for 1 ounce of regular versus fresh mozzarella cheese:
6.3 grams fat
6 grams protein
1 gram carbs
178 mg sodium
5.1 grams fat
5 grams protein
0.5 gram carbs
144 mg sodium
What recipes can you use fresh mozzarella for?
Although often pricier than mass-produced mozzarella, fresh mozzarella is well worth it. The cheese is smooth, rich and creamy. Every variety delivers an unrivaled taste and texture experience.
Though you can swap it in for regular mozzarella in any recipe, from lasagna to pizza, to make the most of this premium cheese, it's best used in recipes that allow the subtle flavors to shine.
Here are three to get you started.
Recipe: Burrata with Roasted Mini Peppers and Basil
Whenever you use burrata, be sure to remove it from the refrigerator 30 to 45 minutes before serving to ensure that the middle is soft enough to ooze out when the outside is sliced. For this recipe, mini peppers are a unique and fun alternative to traditional bell peppers, but you can certainly roast regular bell peppers instead.
8 mini peppers, halved lengthwise and seeded, or 2 regular bell peppers, quartered and seeded
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon dried oregano
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 ball burrata, room temperature
Fresh basil leaves for serving
toasted bread or crackers, for serving (optional)
Preheat the oven to 400 F.
Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or foil. Place the bell peppers on the prepared baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil and toss to coat. Arrange the peppers flesh-side up and sprinkle with salt, pepper, garlic powder, oregano and red pepper flakes. Roast until tender and charred in spots, about 15 to 20 minutes.
Place the burrata on a serving plate and arrange the roasted peppers around it. Top with fresh basil leaves. If desired, serve with toasted bread or crackers.
Recipe: 15-minute Spaghetti ala Vodka with Mozzarella Pearls
Using the smaller balls of fresh mozzarella makes for a fun presentation and lends flavorful bursts of cheese to the final pasta dish. Add just before serving so they don't melt entirely.
12 ounces spaghetti, or pasta of choice
2 cups tomato sauce (or one 15 ounce can) or pureed or crushed tomatoes
½ cup vodka of choice
½ teaspoon dried basil
½ teaspoon onion powder
½ teaspoon garlic powder
¼ cup heavy cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup fresh mozzarella pearls or fresh mozzarella of choice
Grated parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese, for serving
Fresh basil leaves, for serving
Cook the pasta to al dente according to the package directions. Drain and set aside.
Meanwhile, in a large skillet or saucepan, combine the tomato sauce, vodka, dried basil, onion powder and garlic powder over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the cream and simmer for 1 minute.
Fold in the pasta and toss to combine and heat through. Season to taste with salt and black pepper.
Transfer the spaghetti to individual plates and top with the mozzarella cheese. Garnish with basil leaves and serve with grated parmesan cheese on the side.
Recipe: Fresh Mozzarella Caprese Sandwiches
This recipe is a twist on the classic Italian salad. Putting it on a roll makes it a great lunchtime or picnic option.
4 small ciabatta or sandwich rolls of choice (I love take-and-bake options)
4-8 slices fresh mozzarella cheese
4-8 slices fresh, ripe tomato
Fresh basil leaves
Balsamic glaze (sold next to the balsamic vinegar)
Arrange the mozzarella on the bottom half of each roll. Top with the tomato slices and fresh basil leaves and drizzle with the balsamic glaze. They're ready to serve!
Questions or comments? Email the culinary team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Fresh mozzarella: nutrition, taste and 3 recipes that let it shine