Today I will learn how mozarella and ricotta cheese are produced in Italy. Our destination is Naclerio, home of Fior di Latte. This is a three-generation family-run business located in Agerola, Italy. It is 9:30 am. The front of the business is a retail area where residents come daily to buy their fresh cheese.
Our group enters a separate room where milk is transformed into compact mozarella balls or braided in long cheese skeins. The floor is wet. A trim Italian man dressed in a white apron and wearing blue gloves is stirring a cauldron of bubbling hot water where glistening strings of white cheese float.
Suddenly a loud whish is heard. A stream of milk gushes into a separate cauldron. The herd of cows owned by the family means the locally-sourced milk will be fresh, guaranteeing a high quality cows milk end product. “Bufala mozarella” is produced from white buffalo milk. The process of turning milk into cheese is simple. It requires the milk to be “curdled.” The whey must be removed. The cheese maker will immerse the curd in the hot water. He sprinkles the cheese with Sicilian salt. This is the alchemy part of cheesemaking. As the curd bubbles away, he stirs his stick in the pot. The bubbling white mass slowly is turned into a silky white substance. Reminiscent of the baker who kneads the dough to a plump consistency, the cheese maker kneads the curds. Then he begins to break off skeins to mold into plump mozarella balls.
But we are most amazed when he takes ropes of mozarella into gloved hands and tenderly braids them. This is called a treccia. He is as skilled as a hair dresser!
The final stage is to immerse the cheese balls and braids into cold water and soaked in brine. They will be seasoned with the Sicilian-produced salt which is added to the water. The end product is rows of cheese balls that are hung.
(A separate pan holds the fresh ricotta that will be sold as cakes of creamy soft cheese that is the star of such Italian specialities as lasagna and manicotti.)
Our visit ends within 30 minutes. On the table outside the shop, the cheese maker has laid out separate plates of shiny mozzarella balls and round cakes of ricotta. We also have hard cracker balls that are seasoned with fennel which is native to the Mediterranean.
The first bite of the fresh cows milk mozarella cheese explodes on my tongue like cream squirted in my mouth. I fantasize about the counter sensation of a bite of round tomatoes grown in Sorrento—tomato caprese. Ahhh Italy. Mi amor.
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