The French aren’t the only Europeans with a knack for making delicious cheese. Italians have offered the world creamy creations for centuries. Italian cheese is delicious and versatile, at home atop pasta, pizza and salads or eaten on their own. Italian is America’s favorite foreign cuisine, so it’s no surprise Italy’s signature semi-soft cheeses are often featured in kitchens and restaurants.
To learn more about the stringy, gooey cheeses, we tapped Italian cheese expert and chef Alberto Di Meglio. Di Meglio heads the wood-fired kitchen at Brooklyn’s Barano where he offers his own house-made mozzarella. Cheese-making started as a family affair for Di Meglio. “I remember waking up early growing up and going to the Salumeria with my dad and getting the freshly made cheese that was still warm and eating half of it on the car ride home,” he said. “This was something I wanted to share with people that might have never experienced this, so I have been making mozzarella for the last 19 years.”
Here, Di Meglio explains three of our favorites and suggests how to serve them at home.
Di Meglio explained that American mozzarella is usually made with cow’s milk and that in Italy, mozzarella made from cow’s milk in Italy is called fior di latte. “It is usually made with whole milk and has a high moisture content,” he said. The cheese’s texture is firmer than buffalo mozzarella and slightly off-white. Di Meglio said it should never hit a fridge after it is made; the high-fat content makes it tougher when chilled. “The proper flavor should taste like whole milk,” he said.
He added: “The Mozzarella we make in the restaurant is pulled to order and sent out warm but served simply with a house-made giardiniera and house farro sourdough bread. The acid in the pickled vegetables goes great with the higher fat content of the cheese.”
Known in Italian as Mozzarella di Bufula, this cheese proves how seriously Italians take their curds and whey. Di Meglio explained that it’s only made with water buffalo milk from Apulia, Campania, Lazio or Molise and has a DOC [ Denominazione di Origine Controllata – Designation of Origin Control], DOP [ Denominazione di Origine Protetta – Protected Designation of Origin] if it’s made in the traditional method from those regions.Di Meglio said T=his cheese will be creamier and spongier than regular mozzarella. “It will also have a slight tangier or sour taste to it because of the water buffalos’ diet,” he said. “In my opinion, it’s superior to the more neutral flavor and texture of the cow’s milk version.”
He added: “Most people want to go with tomatoes and balsamic vinegar with this cheese but I feel it takes away from the beauty of it. I would go with a wood-roasted eggplant served warm, some amazing extra virgin olive oil and Trapanese [Sicilian] sea salt. This will make the mozzarella di bufala the star of the show—as it should be.”
Burrata’s a mix of two cheeses that can be done with either cow or buffalo milk. The center is called stracciatella or ‘little torn rags’ of cheese. Cream is added to a well-formed piece of mozzarella and sealed so it runs a bit when you cut into it. “This is the ‘Grand Dame’ of the mozzarellas,” Di Meglio said.
Di Meglio’s go-to pairing ingredients for burrata are grilled peaches and Thai basil. “The creaminess of the cheese and the sweetness and char of the peaches go great together,” he said. “The Thai basil adds an anise-like element to the dish and I would finish it with a reduced red wine. This is a dish that both satisfies a sweet and savory tooth in the summer months and will probably make an appearance on our menu very soon.”