Cheese notes

Cheese notes

by: Beth Hoven Rotto

Recently, it has been my pleasure to learn some new skills as a part of my job as Cheese Buyer at the Co-op. The one that has brought me the most attention is making fresh mozzarella. We even have a cheese-making station next to the cheese case where you see these big bowls and giant kettle.

Carmine Chirico, who has visited our store twice in 2009, introduced me to his tradition of Italian American mozzarella makers in New York City. Carmine doesn’t brag, but I’ve heard that he was voted best mozzarella maker there four years in a row by the New York Times. That’s the kind of person you want to learn from!

I’ve been practicing the art of cooking, stretching, and shaping morsels of full-cream mozzarella cheese curd into special shapes called bocconcini and ovalini. Bocconcini are soft, milky, delicate little knots of cheese marinated in olive oil with herbs that are delicious for an appetizer or hors d’oeuvres, or can be added to salads, pasta or gratin. Ovalini are larger balls of fresh mozzarella cheese that can be sliced for the classic Caprese Salad (recipe below), arranged on bread or toast with olive paste and fresh garden tomatoes to make an Italian-style smørbrød (you know, those lovely open-faced sandwiches you eat at Nordic Fest) or melted on pizza or in lasagna. Ovalini melt beautifully.

Like fresh baked bread, fresh mozzarella is best if eaten right away. The day we make mozzarella, you will find the finished product sitting on the cheese table near the case. If you don’t eat the cheese the same day it’s made, it must be refrigerated. We label the cheese with a sell-by date of four days, but usually it’s not around the Co-op for more than a day. Mozzarella might even keep for a few days past the “sell by” date, but don’t use it if it’s been more than a week or if it smells or looks slimy and bad. You might consider freezing it by wrapping it twice tightly in food wrap.

But here is our process at the Co-op: we start with a commercial full-cream curd, as the mozzarella shops in New York do. Although, to make curd we do carry rennet now in the dairy case, and there are people giving it a try. If you’d like, we can sell you bags of the mozzarella curd and you can give it a try making it at home. (At times we might be able to sell you some with a day’s notice, and at other times you might need to wait for our next shipment.)

So far we have not been able to keep up with the demand for these delicious “little mouthfuls,” but that doesn’t mean we won’t keep trying. Both Mary and Kristin have been helping with production.  We are trying to make mozzarella on Tuesdays and Fridays, but If you come by on a day when there isn’t any made-in-house mozzarella, don’t go home empty handed. We keep a commercial fresh mozzarella in the cheese case to supplement our handmade mozzarella.

Tomato/basil season is a great time to bring home the fresh mozzarella for a delicious and easy supper. Look for fresh mozzarella in the deli case by the sign that says “Dough-to-Go.” While you’re there, grab some Waving Grains Sourdough Pizza Dough and make a simple and fabulous pizza. (Did you try Troy’s grilled pizza using our “Dough-to-Go” at our Meat & Greet event? It was mouthwatering!)