I did a little research on the 'buttered popcorn' smell/taste I've been looking for in mozzarella. Simply put, I'm looking for diacetyl. Diacetyl is a major flavor compound in butter and is basically artificial buttered popcorn flavoring. My best descriptor would be 'butter extract.'Cheese Starter Cultures
For cultured milk products: The bacteria marked with the * breaks the lactose down to diacetyl and acetaldehyde which produces the fresh taste known from buttermilk. The acetaldehyde taste would be best known from yogurt, while the diacetyl taste is dominant in cultured butter such as the Lurpak brand ( Danish export product ).
From the research I've done, the 'natural flavoring' in almost every major brand of American butter is diacetyl-producing (and other butter flavor compounds) culture, added to boost the somewhat bland flavor of unsalted butter.
I bring all this up because I'm certain that there are ways to boost diacetyl when manufacturing mozzarella. I'd also wager to say that diacetyl, like other fermentation byproducts, takes time- time that you won't find in either short aged (or almost non aged) supermarket low moisture mozzarella or any of the commercial manufacturers who might be cutting corners on aging (*cough* grande *cough*).
Zoe, I haven't tried every provolone available, but I've tried a few, and I sincerely believe that provolone isn't the answer to my diacetyl quest. There's a quality to provolone that I've spent quite a few hours trying to find a descriptor for, but, so far, I have yet to nail down.
As an aside, while looking for descriptors, I found this:http://krex.k-state.edu/dspace/bitstream/handle/2097/2225/Flavor_Descri_Class_natural_cheese.pdf?sequence=1
The description of Havarti caught my eye.
Danish Cream Havarti branched by itself at the same time that Provolone, Asiago, and Manchego branched. It was significantly higher than any other cheeses for buttery flavor. Also, the other dairy notes generally were higher than in most cheeses, giving Danish Cream Havarti some similarities to the Cheddar types. However, it had lower sharpness and astringency than the cheddars and was slightly nuttier than was typical of many cheeses in this study.
Buttery, but not sharp. While I'm not necessarily recommending Havarti for pizza use (I think Reinhart might have mentioned it in his Craftsy video), I find it interesting that the butteriest cheese sampled happened to be typically yellow, which seems to match up with my quest for yellow mozzarella.
But, anyway, back to provolone. Butyric acid is found in milk, especially goat, sheep and buffalo's milk, butter, Parmesan cheese, and as a product of anaerobic fermentation (including in the colon and as body odor)
. I bring up butyric because, even though it's associated more with Parm, provolone, to me, seems to have a pretty heavy locker room note, while parm can be, for lack of a better word, a bit vomit-y. The flavor study above references provolone as being butyric, (although it tends to throw around butyric quite a lot), which seems to support my B.O assessment, but I don't get B.O. from parm.
One of the bigger differences between mozz and provolone- and one of the methods for knowing when restaurants are using them, is that provolone tends to stay with you pretty aggressively after you've eaten it. You can smell it on your fingers, even after washing your hands. Because of the strong character of the provolone, I've been able to track it's use during my many years of consuming NY pizza, and, I have to tell you, it's not that prominent. I would really be shocked if more than 1 in 100 pizzerias were using it. And, honestly, it's not that good. I guess if you take a short aged, relatively tasteless mozzarella and combine it with provolone, the provolone gives you more flavor, but, compared to an old school buttery motz, there's no comparison. Provolone gives you more flavor, but it's the wrong flavor for the style, imo.
As I've been testing cheeses, I've noticed that, beyond the mozz/provolone blends, there are mozzarellas that can get a bit provolone-y. I have issues with these brands as well.
I can understand cheddar's role in Trenton and Boardwalk style pizza, but, as everyone is aware, I have strong feelings about it's use in NY pies. NY style pizza cheese shouldn't be sharp- and even the mildest cheddar is still going to be sharp compared to mozzarella. Pizza cheese, imo, should be highly buttery, a little milky (not fior di latte milky, but a little milky) and a bit nutty, not sharp. Also, cheddar is notoriously unstable at high heats. I think this can be worked around with the sauce on top, like they do in Trenton, but, for NY, it produces a high propensity for curdling, which, for pizza, is the kiss of death.
It feels like, as mozzarella has dropped in flavor/quality over the years (most likely by manufacturers cutting corners with aging), people/businesses have found a multitude of workarounds to try to get some kind of flavor back- cheddar blending, provolone blending, a sprinkle of parm, etc. I get it. One has to work with the product that's available to them. But old school mozzarella doesn't require any doctoring- and is far superior to any possible blend. It's just a matter of finding it.
Calabro is, as I've said before, close. For NY, I think Calabro can go head to head with any provolone, cheddar or blend and emerge victorious. I'm still looking for better, though.
I made a few calls the other day and got a lead on another potential candidate. F&A. I'm still sourcing it, but I'll let you know when I get a chance to try it. If anyone else has access to it, let us know what you think. Pennmac has it, but I'm not a fan of shipping cheese.