Tuesday, September 11

making mozzarella

For the last few years we have paid the rent for our apartment in our landladys limoncello factory. The pain of handing over such large wads of hard earned cash has been eased slightly by being shown how to make a variety of alcoholic drinks, depending on what is in season.

So it came as no surprise to me yesterday when in the Caserta region of Naples, I handed over an even bigger wad of cash to a man called Peppino in exchange for a car (yes! I got a new car, but we'll come back to that later) and was invited to watch how mozzarella was made in his mozzarella factory.

Many many years ago buffalos settled in the area of Campania, drawn to the swampy plains. Authentic buffalo milk mozzarella can only be made in specific regions of Italy, using traditional methods. The finished product looks and tastes quite different from the massed produced cows milk mozzarella.

Inside the factory it was warm and humid. Steam rose from vast vats, there was a thick milky smell in the air and the floor was soaking wet due to the humidity and amounts of liquids that are splashed around.

Earlier on he had explained to us how the fresh buffalo milk is heated in big tubs to 35 degrees, and how a 'special' ingredient is added (called Rennet in English) and then the milk is left for a while. In fact when we first arrived, at about 11 am nothing was happening in the factory. During this time the curds and whey seperate and the cheesemakers stand outside smoking cigarettes in their funky white wellies.

While the curds and whey did their thing, we went off to sort out the documents for my car, and when we got back to the factory an hour later Peppino called, "quick! They're making the mozzarella now, go and see...walk carefully!"The cheesemaker was kneading a large wobbly lump of mozzarella in a wooden vat. Every now and then he would break a bit off, twist it to check the consistency, throw it back into the pot and knead some more. I had a strange urge to plunge my hands into the big gooey mass, but managed to resist. Apparantly there is an exact moment when the cheese is ready, too soon and the cheese will be soggy, too late and the cheese will be dry and stringy. Two other men stood by waiting...

"E Pronto!" It's ready, the cheesemaker shouted. The other two men leapt into action, breaking off blobs of the cheese and turning around to a large sink filled with brine. Working very quickly one of them held the blob, plunging it repeatedly into the brine, while the other man squeezed bits of cheese off the main blob, forming the traditional mozzarella shapes.
The cheesemaker arrived with another big blob of cheese and the three of them worked fast together,plunging, squeezing, moulding until there was a vat full of mozzarellas, bobbing about in the cold brine which helps keep their shape.

We were then invited back to Peppinos house for lunch, where, of course we tried the freshest mozzarella that we had ever eaten. It was very good, different from the mozzarella that we buy in Pos. I asked Peppino how long he had been making the cheese for. Over 30 years, he told me.
"Don't you get sick of the sight of mozzarella? Do you even eat it still?" I asked, cutting into a fist sized piece, watching the milk run out onto my plate.
"Oh yes!" He exclaimed, sighing passionatly, "I love eating mozzarella, even after all this time...can't you finish that bit? Here, pass it over I'll have it!"

And later on that day I drove off into the sunset in my new car, Peppinos old car, with a parting gift, a couple of kilos of mozzarella packed in a bulging bag of brine, rolling around in the otherwise empty trunk.


  1. A mozzarella/car salesman. How original!

  2. Niki, I have a question. Has it been difficult to drive in Italy considering that in the UK you keep on the left? I am askins 'cause quite the same has happended to me.... I was used to drive in Italy and once in London I have not been able to drive

  3. Yummy Mozzarella and a car!!!!
    My sister Nel was wondering if you can send Oregano from Italy via post? BTW, how is the post?

    Lucy from Toronto

  4. Oh, I am SO hungry reading this... LOL :)

  5. What do you mostly use in Positano, fiore di latte from Sorrento or buffalo from Cilento, and do you think that the Caserta buffalo product tastes different from the Cilento buffalo product?

  6. I can feel myself getting fatter just from reading this! I am going to go home to American in a couple of years weighing a good 8 kilos heavier! Can I come over?

  7. That sure beats anonymous internet transactions, which is how we pay for everything. What a fascinating process, and what an unique opportunity for you to watch the age old ritual!

  8. Oh yum! Is there anything in the world more delicious than fresh mozzarella?

  9. cool.... mmmm would like some now but it's a bit hard to source in Brisbane.... and hideously expensive! Congrats on the new car... although by the time I see it, it won't be so new anymore. M xx

  10. Yum, buffalo mozzarella freshly made.
    Pat, there is a slight difference between the two buffalo mozzarellas (Cielnto and Caserta) in my personal opinion.
    New car...what is it? And what was wrong with the other one? I LOVED the colour...

  11. Congrats! and I can see that where you live even car transactions are interesting! :)

  12. Congrats in the new car! Can we see it?
    Hmmm..fresh mozarella di bufala was one of the many many endless things that I fell in love with a year ago when I first visited Italy. Enjoy it!!


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