Fig.1. A proper mozzarella di bufala is blissful. When warmed, the aromas are milky and lay claim to the animal from which it derives. I like to open the cheese into a pocket so it can collect the oil. Great ingredients like this require no fuss--assemble and eat.
Sitting in a tiny restaurant in Ceprano waiting for whatever antipasti the chef deemed appropriate for the night, it came as no surprise that we were served some mozzarella di bufala, what was surprising was the manner in which it was served: warm. In a small terracotta bowl, sat three mozzarellas, warmed slowly in the briny, whey liquid they were preserved in. I asked the chef/owner (who occasionally ventured out of his kitchen to perform some table duties) if this was typical of the region or culture, he answered somewhat hastily that eating the cheese warm brought out the essence of the milk. I like to say that it brings out the essence of the animal.
Mozzarella di Bufala from Italy has become easier to find in Montreal; look for full-fat water buffalo’s milk, usually indicated on the container. Fior di latte, made from the milk of cows, can also be purchased in brine and is a far cry better than the vacuumed packed rubbery, cheese products which in Canada misguidedly bear the name mozzarella. Many Italians (from Italy) believe real mozzarella di bufala to be fleeting and ephemeral, that unless it is eaten within hours of being made, the cheese looses its flavors. This is true, but seeing as how there are no buffaloes being milked anywhere near Montreal, we'll just have to settle for the imports. Mozzarella di bufala is expensive, and in my opinion, is wasted if melted on pizza (a fior di latte is perfect for pizzas and sandwiches) Enjoy mozzarella di bufala on its own and see if you can taste the animal.
Fig.2. I recommend a small oven proof bowl, if you don't have one, a coffee cup would do the trick seeing as how you're only warming up the cheese and not cooking it.
Warm Mozzarella di Bufala with Olive Oil and Bush Basil
Mozzarella di bufala (available at most specialty, Italian food shops)
Olive oil (use your very best, first, pressed olive oil here.)
A few springs of bush basil (you can also use leaf basil)
Preheat your oven to 275 degrees. Place the cheese and its brine in a very small, oven proof bowl and place in the oven for about ten minutes, (you don’t want to melt the cheese you just want to warm it up) After ten minutes, rotate the cheese so that the exposed part can also warm up in the brine, warm for another five minutes. Place the cheese (without the brine) on a plate, tear slightly in half, sprinkle with basil, drizzle with olive oil and salt and enjoy slowly. You won’t need bread for this one, however, if you add some good tomatoes you will find yourself with a very good insalata caprese.
Grilled Tomato with Warm Mozzarella di Bufala and Bush Basil oil
Fig.3. The mozzarella holds a lot of liquid so if you have too much on your plate, pour some off before adding the oil. Some brine is good, especially if you have bread to sop it up with.
Place some basil in a mortar and pound it with a pestal, once your basil is mushed up add some olive oil, stir well and set aside. Cut a large tomato in half and grill until you get some grill marks. Warm the cheese as indicated in the above recipe and arrange on a plate. Drizzle with the basil oil, and season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.