For example: the gloriously gooey, fabulously orange Meadow Creek Grayson, a beefy, buttery masterpiece that smells enticingly like a boys' high school locker room, is coincidentally crafted by the Feete (!) family in Virginia. I love that.
Tasting and tidbits aside, I had been craving some truer intimacy, that along the lines of the magic I experienced as Cynthia revealed to me the power of rennet and cutting curds. With no cow (or sheep, or goat, or water buffalo) of my own, I've turned to Murray's, which doesn't have cows either, but is very well connected to those who do. Enter: Mozzarella making.
The scene is Murray's classroom, a room perched above the store on Bleecker Street. The setting is multiple plate bordered with mozzarella-type cheeses - pasta filata; several New Yorkers gingerly eyeing the presentation. Bowls of mozzarella curd dot the background.
Before making mozzarella, we must taste mozzarella. And tasting includes learning. Mozzarella is a fresh, young cheese, best consumed within days of its making. We know that it's Italian in origin, that it melts well, and partners well with tomato, basil, prosciutto; we like it fried, fresh, and atop pizza. As with many cheeses, mozzarella begins with a curd, a rubbery, tofu-like concentration of milk proteins. The mozzarella curd is heated, and then pulled, literally pulled - stretched into one long, rubbery strand - before it is rolled into the springy ball we know and love.
"Pasta filata," the Italian name for this family of cheese, means "spun paste," (paste referring to the body of the cheese) a term I find oh-so appropriate for conjuring the image of rolling yarn into a ball. That's pretty much what you do with that rubbery strand of curd.
It's a simple process, really. One that can be done entirely at home,* and will yield delectable results, even with the most novice of skill. Several of my mozzarella balls were a bit more dense than what we're accustomed to. My knife got a little stuck at the center, instead of gliding effortlessly, as I sliced through. They were nevertheless delightful - milky, rich, sweet.
- Feature your mozzarella in a baked Italian dish - ziti, lasagna, eggplant, manicotti
- Or just toss it with pasta and tomato sauce, basil, or sundried tomatoes...
- Marinate bocconcini (small mozz balls) or just diced mozzarella in olive oil and Italian spices, with a dash of red pepper flakes. It makes a fine lunch.
- Mozzarella sticks, anyone?