Mozzarella is the Great White Whale of American cheesemaking: a goal so exotic and powerful that it drives otherwise sensible people into harmful monomaniacal quests.
Despite all the recent successes of our country’s foodie movement no one in the United States has, as of yet, figured out how to recreate exactly this comparatively simple Old World delicacy — a food with approximately one ingredient (buffalo milk, type of milk ) that is made every day in Italy.
Over the last 15 years, in particular, the attempt to make real buffalo mozzarella — to nail both its flavor and texture — has stopped businesses from Vermont to Los Angeles. It seems truly unfortunate.
“A Polar wind blows completed it,” Melville might have written about it if he had been a food writer, “and birds of prey hover over it.”
At the risk of straining the analogy, you could call me the Ishmael of this quest.
I do not, normally, have foodie tendencies. I grew up loving tuna casserole covered in potato chips, and roughly two-thirds of my body weight is ketchup. I have never tasted caviar or foie gras.
Ever since I discovered the cheese reality, sometime in my 20s, I’ve thought about it and eaten it, probably more than is good for me. It’s one of the only foods that I’ll order, automatically, whenever I see it on a menu.
Once, years before, apropos of nothing, I got my family takes a road trip to visit a buffalo cooperative in Vermont — a dairy whose insanely expensive buffalo-milk yogurt I was using a large part of my tiny income on.
That dairy, inevitably, went out of business several years later, which saved me plenty of money but caused me an equal amount of emotional pain.
If this seems like a lot of hubbub over an obscure variant of a readily prepared cheese, it is not. Fresh mozzarella di buffalo is one of the miracles of Italian cuisine.
It’s specifically like proper mozzarella without that it’s made with milk compressed out of a buffalo — which is little like saying that the Hope lot is exactly like a plastic replica of the Hope diamond except that it’s made out of priceless crystallized carbon.
Buffalo milk has roughly twice the fat of cow milk, which effects it decadently creamy and delicious. The good stuff is about unrealistically soft — it seems like the reason the word “mouthfeel” was invented — with a depth of flavor that makes even the freshest hand-pulled artisanal cow-milk mozzarella taste like glorified string cheese.
Buffalo mozzarella is the apotheosis of the farm: the golden mean between yogurt and custard and cottage cheese and heavy cream cheese and ricotta. It lives (along with clouds and mercury and lava and photons and quicksand) on the mystical outpost between solid and liquid. Information about it tends toward poetry.