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Mozzerella balls

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Pete-zza:
Giotto,

Although I have never been to Naples, I understand that if you want a DOC pizza in a Naples pizzeria--with buffalo mozzarella cheese--you have to specifically ask for a DOC pizza.  Otherwise, you will get cow's milk mozzarella cheese on your pizza.  The Naples pizzaoli claim that the buffalo mozzarella cheese is too watery for pizza but I'm not certain that that is the real reason.  With oven temperatures in excess of 700 degrees F, and with bake times under a few minutes, I would think that the water contributed by the buffalo mozzarella cheese would be burned off by the time the pizza is done.  Cow's milk mozzarella cheese is cheaper than buffalo mozzarella cheese, which may be the real reason that it is used by Neapolitan pizzaoli instead of buffalo mozzarella cheese.  In the U.S., because home ovens don't achieve the temperatures of wood-fired ovens, it will usually be necessary to drain fresh mozzarella cheeses before using to reduce the water content.

Jeffrey Steingarten, a writer for Vogue magazine and an oft-quoted food guru, wrote an article in the September 2003 edition of Vogue magazine in which he thoroughly investigated Italian buffalo mozzarella cheeses.  Two brands of imported buffalo mozzarella cheeses he particularly favors are Caseificio Cooperativa La Garofalo, Capua, Caserta, and Industria Lattiero Casearia Mandara, Mondragone, Caserta.  But, unless you live in or around a major metropolitan area, like New York City, you will have a hard time finding those particular brands.   You will have to be satisfied with whatever brand your local specialty store offers--if it even offers any brand.  Also, whatever brand you find will not be quite as good as what is availalable in Italy, since the buffalo mozzarella cheeses destined for U.S. markets must undergo special processing to ensure that they survive the rigors and delays in the journey across the Atlantic from Italy to the U.S. (by air), and that they arrive in fresh enough condition to be used before the quality starts to degrade, which is usually within a matter of a few days.  

Because of the unavoidable drawbacks inherent in the importation of buffalo mozzarella cheese from Italy, there has been a recent movement on the part of a few entrepreneurial domestic companies to produce fresh buffalo mozzarella cheese for local consumption.  To date, I am aware of only two domestic producers of buffalo mozzarella cheese: Star Hill Dairy, a farmstead dairy in Vermont and Bubalus Bubalis, Co., a cheese producer in California.  They may well be the only domestic producers in the U.S. at this time.  Only time will tell whether their domestic buffalo mozzarella cheeses will match the quality of the imported varieties, but early indications are that the quality is reasonably good but not yet up to the standards of a good buffalo mozzarella cheese imported from Campania, Italy.  For those who may be interested in the domestic versions of buffalo mozzarella cheese, I have provided links below for the two domestic producers mentioned above.  I live outside of Dallas and was able to find the Bubalus Bubalis brand in Central Market, and I was able to find the Star Hill product in a Whole Foods store in Massachusetts while I was there on a visit.  I found both brands quite good, and even did a side-by-side test of the Star Hill cheese and an imported buffalo mozzarella cheese on pizzas, and no one could tell the difference.  

As with any mozzarella cheese product, whether buffalo mozzarella cheese, cow's milk mozzarella cheese, whole-fat, low-moisture, part-skim, sliced, crumbled, shredded, diced or minced, you will have to experiment to get the desired texture, flavor, meltability and coloration on your pizzas.  There are just too many variations among types and brands of mozzarella cheese to lay out specific rules.

Here are the links to the two domestic producers of buffalo mozzarella cheese:

Star Hill Dairy (Vermont): http://www.starhilldairy.com/products.shtml (with online ordering capability)

Bubalus Bubalis, Co. (California): http://www.farmersmarketonline.com/mozzarelladibufala.htm or http://www.mozzarelladibufala.net (with online ordering capability)

Peter  

giotto:
Pete-zza:  

Welcome... The lack of availability of water buffalo in Italy is a good reason for cow's milk mozzarella even in Naples, where DOC status for pizza was initially pushed.  Despite its DOC status, buffalo mozzarella on pizza is not only something that you need to ask for; but as you suggest, it's also something you can expect to pay more for in places like Naples.

I found an opportunity the other day while at Whole Foods to speak to a person who had lived most of his life in Italy.  He echoed the same concerns that Peter Reinhart in his book American Pie noted about the "puddly" substance of buffalo mozzarella and it's propensity to turn rubbery if not eaten right away.  This person gave a real look of distaste when he mentioned di bufala on pizza and felt strongly that it was not appropriate for many people as such.

I have not experienced this problem with buffalo mozzarella.  When making it at home, I take a couple of steps to dry off some of the water.  I have no choice but to cut it into slices, and then I run my oven at 530 F as usual.  It turns out great.  I've enjoyed each buffalo mozzarella so far.  Little Italy in San Francisco carries it in the Delis, and plenty of places like Whole Foods carry it throughout the bay area.  I rarely see the same label.  

Bubalus is the company in S. California that I was referring to before.  They apparently have the lions share of water buffalo in the U.S.  The cheese maker is from Italy and it's amazing the amount of effort he goes through to reach certain goals.  They want to get it into Costco some day to make it more cost effective.  I'll have to ask our Whole Foods why they are not carrying this local variety.

Even if you order direct from Bubalus though, you still pay close to a buck per ounce for each pound ordered.  At stores, I've yet to see it under $1 per ounce.  I really like the taste of Buffalo mozzarella cheese.  But many of my friends prefer Grande's whole milk cheese when I make pizza. And at $3.99 lb, Grande cheese is hard to pass up since I'm a real fan of it as well.  
 ::)

Pete-zza:
Giotto,

Welcome to you too.

I have read that the Naples/Campania region of southern Italy is home to over 80 percent of Italy's river water buffaloes.  That accounts for why most of the buffalo mozzarella cheese comes from that region.  And not all of that cheese is destined to use on pizzas, either in Italy or the U.S.  It is often eaten alone as a delicacy or in dishes such as caprese.  

The advantage of the domestic varieties is that they are fresher, even though they may not yet measure up to the overall quality of the imported buffalo mozzarella cheeses. For a while, it was even questionable whether a domestic version would ever be created.  I recall speaking with an artisanal cheese maker in New York City's Green Market who ventured to say that she didn't think that the water buffalo herd that Star Dairy in Vermont had acquired would survive the harsh Vermont winter.  Even the owner of Star Dairy had his own reservations.  Every morning during the first winter the first thing he would do was to check to see if the water buffalo were still alive.  Fortunately, they did survive and even appear to be flourishing.  

Here in the Dallas area, Paula Lambert, a nationally known cheese expert and founder and owner of The Mozzarella Cheese Company, took a stab at making buffalo mozzarella cheese.  She succeeded for a while but eventually threw in the towel over an apparent dispute with her supplier of water buffalo milk.   She and her company are well known for the quality of their fresh cow's milk mozzarella cheese.   And, it ain't cheap.  I bought some today for a pizza I plan to make later today, and it sells for around $15 a pound, which is close to the price for buffalo mozzarella cheese.

I doubt that you will see low prices for the domestic buffalo mozzarella cheeses.   With only two domestic producers and an arguably freshness advantage over imported varieties, there is no need to try to capitalize on that advantage by lowering prices.  Maybe someday someone will open up a company by the name of "Discount Buffalo Mozzarella Cheese" and that will be the impetus for price competition.

In the Dallas area, I have a choice of both imported and domestic buffalo mozzarella cheeses, at about the same price per pound.  I am also able to buy a fresh cow's milk mozzarella cheese produced by a local artisanal cheese producer who, you will be happy to know, Giotto, uses organic production techniques.  I usually buy several balls of the stuff and freeze whatever I don't plan to use in the near term.  I do not recommend freezing buffalo mozzarella cheese because it turns such cheese tough and otherwise degrades its quality.

I have also discovered that the pizza establishments that tout their DOC pizzas don't necessarily use imported buffalo mozzarella cheese either.  The Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (VPN) doesn't require it, and I believe only one (or possibly two) of the three pizza styles certified by the Italian Ministry of Agricultural Politics in its much more stringent regulations promulgated in May call for buffalo mozzarella cheese.  In a long conversation I had with the chief pizza maker at Naples 45 in New York City, one of the two restaurants cerrtified by the VPN in New York City (the other is La Pizza Fresca Ristorante), I was told that he uses a fresh cow's milk mozzarella cheese for his "DOC" pizzas because he deems the imported buffalo mozzarella cheese to be too "sour".  As an aside, he also said that he didn't always use San Marzano tomatoes since the supply was limited and he joked that his restaurant alone could use up the entire supply because of the restaurant's volume (several hundred pizzas a day during the lunch period alone, I was told.)  Pizza production rules can be great, and I applaud efforts to try to preserve historical tradition, but when push comes to shove, the economic rules and local tastes almost always prevail.  Otherwise, every pizza establishment in the country would be making classic Neapolitan style pizzas.

Giotto, you mentioned that you have access to the Grande cheese, which I understand to be the king of all mozzarella cheeses used by professional pizza makers.   Is it available at the retail level anywhere?

Peter

giotto:
Pete-zza:  

Thanks for the info.  Organic is goood... I have no problem getting great tasting vegetables 9 out of 10 times, EXCEPT for tomatoes, which is more like 1 out of 10 times from even farmers.

I get Grande from Whole Foods.  They have it in large slabs; BUT I was ecstatic when the cheese cutter told me that if I compare the upc code on their no-label wrapped mozzarella to the $27 slab, I would find that it too was Grande.  He loves the way it cuts.  And it is all priced at $3.99 per lb.

Tony G. at Pyzanos (5 x world champion pizza tosser with plenty of awards for great tasting pizza) recommended Grande Wisconsin cheese to me, and I've been happy ever since-- you can see an article on him and other ingredients he uses at the PMQ web site. Other pros have told me that they like it because it does not burn at their high temps.  Today, I was out of the Grande and made a basic pepperoni pizza with a CA mozz.  The cheese came out too dark, even at 525 temp.  So much for being lazy.

I noticed that at Whole Foods, they also carry the 00 flour used in Italy. Have you tried it yet?  It's super fine and you'll likely be rolling up the crust from bottom to top like the locals.  I can understand why in Italy they combine it with American All Purpose some times.

As far as the price of Buffalo Mozz, I have no idea how the price will ever get down.  But the cheese maker at Bubalus is on a mission-- kind of like Gates wanting a PC on everyone's desktop.  Very few people at Costco will pay $8 per 8 oz when they can get very good mozz at other stores for $4 lb.  If they sell it direct at $15 lb, their mission is a ways off.   The buffalo in S. Cal is doing very well though, and I'm happy to hear that they survived the weather back east-- this is great news.

Pete-zza:
Giotto,

Whole Foods in Dallas is where I buy the organic cow's milk mozzarella cheese.  I generally look over their cheeses quite well, but I never noticed any block mozzarella cheese or anything carrying a Grande nametag.   I will have to look more carefully or ask questions the next time I am there.  The Grande cheese holds appeal to me since I read that it is full-fat (at least one form of it) and has no preservatives or additives.  After reading labels on the packaging of mozzarella cheeses of different types, I came to the conclusion that additives and preservatives are added mostly to the finely shredded or finely diced versions, to prevent caking or inhibit mold.  I avoid these because they cook too quickly and brown too fast.  Most other processed forms of mozzarella cheeses I have seen in the supermarkets seem to be free of those additives and preservatives.  If you go back and look at prior postings on this forum you will note that many of the members buy shredded forms of mozzarella cheese in large quantity (several-pound packages) and at very low relative cost from places like Costco or Sam's and divide the packages into smaller portions and freeze them until ready for use.  And that seems to work out quite well and without requiring a second mortgage on the house or consigning the kids to slave labor.  

I was not aware of the availability of 00 flour at Whole Foods.  I have looked for it at Whole Foods and Central Market (a really upscale specialty food store) in Dallas on several occasions in the past and have not seen it.  Do you recall which brand it was?  I have done a lot of research on 00 flour, as you will note if you go back a week or two when I posted a piece on 00 flour.  I have often wondered why the Italians combine other flours with the 00 flour, which works well alone without the other flours.  I believe the Italians combine 0 flour with the 00 flour, and quite often they import flour from the U.S. or Canada ("Manitoba" flour) to combine with the 00 flour.  That didn't strike me as a cost effective thing to do, so I wondered whether it is done as an accommodation to tourists' taste (including a lot of Americans) for pizzas using higher-gluten, higher-protein flour.  Or maybe it is because higher-gluten flours produce a better handling dough and one that can be refrigerated, just as is done by most commercial pizza places in the U.S. that make up all their dough balls the night before the day they plan to use them.   A dough made from 00 flour alone tends to run out of steam (the natural sugars get used up fast) after about 6-8 hours at room temperature, and can become weak and limp, hard to shape, and refuse to brown no matter how long you bake the pizza (because all the sugar is gone).

Peter

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