Tuesday, September 11
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.
at 10:24 AM