What Is Fresh Mozzarella Cheese?

Production, Uses, and Recipes

Buffalo mozzarella

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Fresh mozzarella is a sliceable curd cheese that originated in Italy. Traditionally made from the milk of water buffalo (not North American buffalo or bison, as many mistakenly think), its delicate, milky flavor is highly prized. Fresh mozzarella is considered to be one of the healthier cheeses, due to its low fat and sodium content. Water buffalo's milk mozzarella is more nutritious than cow's milk mozzarella, with higher concentrations of calcium, protein, and iron, as well as being lower in cholesterol.

Fast Facts

• Source: Traditionally water buffalo's or cow's milk
• Origin: Italy
• Texture: Fresh, semisoft
• Color: White

What Is Fresh Mozzarella Cheese?

Fresh mozzarella is quite different from shredded mozzarella cheese. It’s a fresh, semisoft cheese. Unlike many varieties of cheese, it isn’t aged and is instead eaten immediately after being made.

The original source of milk for fresh mozzarella is the Italian Mediterranean buffalo breed, which is believed to have been introduced to Italy in Roman times or later during Barbarian invasions of Italy. Since these animals are herded in only a few countries, primarily Italy and Bulgaria, most mozzarella is now made from cow's milk; in fact, much of the mozzarella cheese we find in our local supermarkets is made from cow's milk. If you are shopping for traditional fresh mozzarella, look for the label "mozzarella di bufala."

Fresh mozzarella is silky, soft, milky, and mild in flavor. It should be eaten at room temperature to fully enjoy its subtle and fresh flavor. Fresh mozzarella is easily found in supermarkets and specialty stores. Prices vary slightly from producer to producer and milk source, with buffalo's milk being more expensive than cow's milk mozzarella. The milk of the Italian Mediterranean buffalo is three times more expensive than cow's milk and is costly to ship, which is reflected in its price.

What is mozzarella cheese?
The Spruce / Tim Liedtke

How Fresh Mozzarella Is Made

No matter which type of milk is used, fresh mozzarella is made in the same manner. Mozzarella cheese is not aged like most cheeses and is best when eaten within hours of its making. The process of making mozzarella is called pasta filata. The milk is incubated with a whey starter containing thermophilic bacteria and then rennet is added to form the curds. The curds are heated in water or whey until they form strings (hence the term "string cheese") and become elastic in texture. The curds are stretched, kneaded until smooth, and then formed into round balls to make fresh mozzarella cheese. 

It is easy to make homemade mozzarella cheese. You need only rennet, citric acid, milk, and water. You can find rennet and citric acid in specialty markets and health food stores that may cater to home cheesemakers, or online. In 30 minutes, you can have fresh mozzarella to enjoy and impress your family or guests.

Types of Mozzarella

Different kinds of animal milk can be used to make fresh mozzarella. Water buffalo's milk is very high in fat and casein, making it hard to digest in its raw form. While it is not consumed as a beverage, it's prized for making mozzarella, burrata, ricotta di bufala, yogurt, and similar products.

In Italy, if you want cow's milk mozzarella, ask for mozzarella fior di latte, which may be made with pasteurized or unpasteurized cow's milk. In the U.S., this would be the same as the common mozzarella seen in the cheese section of the grocery store.

Sheep's milk mozzarella can be found in some areas of Italy, including Sardinia, Abruzzo, and Lazio. Goat's milk mozzarella is made by some small producers.

Substitutes

Fresh mozzarella is unique and difficult to substitute. Burrata is the best alternative, but it will be runnier. When cooking, however, a lower moisture mozzarella or another mild melting cheese, such as provolone or Monterey Jack, are options, but their flavors will not be identical.

Uses

You are probably familiar with shredded mozzarella layered on pizza and baked Italian dishes, and fresh mozzarella can be used in the same manner. It's also used in a variety of fresh and cooked recipes. It can be layered into salads, such as caprese salad, or in sandwiches and panini, or as a topping for bruschetta and crostini. It can be enjoyed quite simply, with a drizzle of olive oil or as an accompaniment to melon or tomato. Fresh mozzarella is also a delightfully creamy and melty component to fillings and stuffings for meat and meatballs, chicken, and vegetarian dishes.

Storage

If you buy or make fresh mozzarella, keep it immersed in liquid until you are ready to use it. Packaged mozzarella usually includes some liquid. Keep mozzarella refrigerated; because of its high moisture content, it does not keep as long as harder cheeses. Low-moisture mozzarella will keep longer. Once opened, the mozzarella should be eaten as soon as possible, preferably within one day. Because of its delicate nature, fresh mozzarella does not benefit from freezing.

Fresh Mozzarella Recipes

Fresh mozzarella is a creamy addition to cheesy baked dishes, fresh salads, and sandwiches.
Easy Mozzarella Lasagna
Roasted Cod With Cherry Tomatoes, Basil, and Mozzarella
Gourmet Lasagna-Stuffed Garlic Bread
Zucchini Grilled Cheese