Pronunciation: [maht-suh-REHL-lah; moht-suh-REHL-lah]
Hailing from southern Italy, mozzarella is a mild, white fresh cheese that's made by the special pasta filata process, whereby the curd is dipped into hot whey, then stretched and kneaded to the desired consistency. At one time, mozzarella was made only from the milk of water buffaloes. Today, however, it's typically made with cow's milk. Mozzarella comes in two basic styles. Most regular mozzarella, which can be found in lowfat and nonfat forms in supermarkets, is factory produced. It has a semisoft, elastic texture and is drier and not as delicately flavored as its fresher counterpart. This style of mozzarella is best used for cooking and is popular for pizza because of its excellent melting qualities. Fresh mozzarella, which is usually packaged in whey or water, is often labeled "Italian style." It's generally made from whole milk and has a much softer texture and a sweet, delicate flavor. Mozzarella di bufala (also called buffalo mozzarella) is the most prized of the fresh mozzarellas. Most buffalo mozzarella available in the United States is made from a combination of water buffalo milk and cow's milk. Two popular forms of mozzarella are boconccini, which are little (about 1 inch in diameter) balls that are commonly marinated in olive oil and sometimes herbs, and the even smaller cherry-sized ciliegini. There's also a smoked version called mozzarella affumicata and the unique manteca, in which the mozzarella is molded around a lump of butter. Fresh mozzarella can be found in Italian markets, cheese shops and some supermarkets. It's excellent simply spread on bread with salt, pepper and a little olive oil.