As Indians we have grown up on paneer and a few processed cheeses that are available in the market. Artisanal cheeses were until recently out of the reach of the common man and only available at five star delicatessens and gourmet stores.
However the food scene has undergone a dramatic change and nowadays there are plenty of local manufacturers as well as large MNC’s producing these so-called exotic cheeses for mass consumption. One such cheese is mozzarella that we love to eat in a variety of forms.
ORIGIN AND HISTORY
Mozzarella cheese is a soft and easily sliceable curd cheese from Italy. Traditionally it is made in Italy from the milk of water buffalos that are bred in a few countries such as Italy and Bulgaria. Due to the lack of water buffalos in other countries, local mozzarella cheese outside Italy is made from cow’s milk.
An Italian Traditional Specialty Guaranteed (TSG) food product, mozzarella cheese is essentially a fresh cheese and not aged like the others. Hence shelf-life is short as it is consumed almost immediately and within few hours after it is made.
Fresh mozzarella cheese is easy-to-make-at-home and is versatile in making a variety of recipes, including salads, meats, seafood, and vegetables. It’s a firm but creamy cheese that tastes like fresh milk with a slightly sour edge to it. It melts well and has a unique stretchiness, making it the classic pizza topping cheese.
STORAGE AND SELECTION
You can spot this cheese as it is sold in rounds like block of paneer although in smaller size about the size of a small fist. Because it has no rind it is immersed in water and sold in clear bags to retain freshness. Another variant are the small mozzarella balls called ‘bocconcini’ which are sold in tubs. As a consumer, one should always be mindful as mozzarella is a fresh cheese and has a relatively smaller shelf life than an aged cheese. It should to be consumed within seven to 10 days of manufacturing as it has a higher moisture content, thus mozzarella should never be kept/stored in a freezer.
COOKING WITH MOZZARELLA
“For me personally, mozzarella has a very comforting and rich taste, I always pair the cheese with something more acidic or ingredients which have a bolder taste profile, thus tomatoes/olive oil/basil work very well with mozzarella and chefs try out different cooking techniques and textures with the same ingredients.” says Aabhas Mehrotra, Executive Chef Sorrentina by Foodhall, Mumbai.
Mozzarella isn’t easy to grate as it will crumble due to its softness but cut thin slices and layer them in pasta bakes or slices on top of pieces of meat or chicken before grilling them. Of course its perennial favourite on pizzas and breads. Italy’s classic salad — Insalata Caprese — is made with slices of mozzarella and ripe tomatoes drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and scattered with torn basil leaves and a little salt.
“Cooking with mozzarella might get a little tricky, and as chefs we have to be very thoughtful while incorporating it in a dish. Mozzarella itself has a very stringy texture when cooked, one should always be careful while garnishing a pasta with mozzarella as it might be difficult for a guest to eat, until and unless it achieves the desired texture.
“Fresh mozzarella has a relative low burning point hence when cooking at high temperature it may lose moisture and get burnt easily, thus a lot of pizzerias and Italian restaurants prefer shredded processed mozzarella over the fresh produce as it requires skills to manoeuvre the pizzas and cheese in the oven.” Mehrotra avers.
HEALTH BENEFITS OF MOZZARELLA
A great source of calcium and vitamin B 12, this cheese is favourite amongst weight-watchers. Mozzarella’s calcium content is higher than other soft/fresh types of cheese. While mozzarella provides 51 per cent of the daily value per 100 grams, other varieties of soft cheese like brie and camembert contain 18 per cent and 39 per cent respectively.
If you cannot resist cheese and are on diet go for a low calorie cheese. For a high calorie cheese try cheddar — a hard cheese which contains 400 calories. In other words, cheddar contains around 33 per cent more energy per 100 grams. Furthermore, there is also a part-skim milk Mozzarella available that only provides about 254 calories per 100 grams.
HERBED MOZZARELLA RAVIOLI STUFFING & PASTA DOUGH
(serves two people)
150 gm fresh mozzarella cheese
3 gm thyme
7 gm basil
3 gm rosemary
3 gm lemon zest
10 gm oregano
5 gm garlic
Salt and pepper to season
1. Take all herbs and chop really finely
2. Blend the mozzarella in a blender and season with salt and pepper until creamy
3. Mix garlic, mozzarella mix and chopped herbs in a bowl
4. Season with lime and olive oil
5. Keep this filling for cannoli or any pasta doughs
To make Pasta Dough
1 kg refined flour
700 gm semolina
600 ml water
10 gm salt
1. Mix the flour and semola together on a table, and make a well in the centre
2. Break all eggs in the center and mix them with your hands
3. Add water bit by bit as required to keep the dough moist. Knead it to a stiff dough consistency
4. Knead it into a ball and wrap with cellophane
5. Keep in the fridge for an hour
Note: The dough can be kept in the refrigerator for up to two weeks
To Make ravioli
1. Roll out the pasta as thin as possible, ideally the surface below should be visible
2. Put the mixture in a piping bag, can be spooned as well, (the mixture should be chilled before being stuffed in the pasta)
3. Layer the pasta between two sheets of pasta which is rolled out and close it with a cutter. Water can be used to sticking the layers of the pasta. Make sure there are no air bubbles in the stuffed pasta
6. This can be stored then in the freezer, or can be blanched strait away in boiling water for one-and-a-half minutes and consumed
(serves two people)
80 gm fresh mozzarella cheese (roughly one full round piece)
1 portion tomato pestato
5 gm fresh basil
15 gm fresh arugula, washed
5 gm balsamic glaze
5 ml extra virgin olive
5 gm pine nuts
15 ml freshly pressed lemon juice
10 gm tomato comfit
Salt and pepper to season
Fresh basil leaves to garnish
1. Slice one whole mozzarella and marinate in the olive oil, with basil, salt and pepper
2. Take a flat plate and arrange some of the chilled tomato pestato as the base
3. Place the sliced mozzarella on top of the pestato, slightly spread out, towards one
4. Take a bowl and add the arugula in it, dress it with lemon juice, salt and pepper as
5. Place the arugula next to the mozzarella on the plate
6. Drizzle some balsamic glaze lightly over the mozzarella cheese
To make tomato Peseta
2 fresh tomatoes
Chilli flakes or freshly chopped red chilli
1. Blanch tomatoes, deseed them and blend them to a fine paste
2. Season with salt, pepper, oregano, chilli and some lime juice as per liking. Keep in a bowl, refrigerated till needed.
Recipes courtesy — Sorrentina Foodhall, Mumbai