Pasta Filata, meaning plastic curd, is the name adopted for this family
of cheese that latches onto the unique part of the process, which characterizes
the production process; similar to the way Cheddar got its name. For
those of you who have never handled cheese in this plastic state, it
is truly a marvel. This fluid mass with a feeling like expensive silk
could be made from the same milk that produces a cheese with a dry
crumbly body. The texture of a fresh Mozzarella, Boccincini or Mozzarella
di Bufala is delightful, soft but resilient, it holds the flavor while
you savor, a flavor resembling sweet concentrated milk.
Next time you eat pizza, pull apart a piece of string cheese and marvel
to yourself about the pleasures. Are you going to give it a quick thought
and put it down to the creativity of food scientists working out of
some corporate laboratory and move right on? No. While String Cheese
may be the creative work of marketers, there have been children in
some very select parts of the world who knew the joy of a cheese that
would pull apart and resemble the structure of chicken breast. While
others would have enjoyed Pasta Filata on a pizza, most would not have
given a second thought to why it is like this. What we know is that
it was the work of a master R & D guy back before electricity,
back before we even cared
about R & D.
The process of making cheese by adding hot/warm water over the curd
may have been a solution to a problem; convinced of this I will speculate.
Convinced that the outcome was not the goal, the end result is even
more amazing. My speculation is that the goal was a better tasting
and better keeping piece of cheese.
Two distinct versions have evolved; Mozzarella and Scamorza high moisture
variants, and Caciocovallo and Provolone lower moisture, more aged
cheese. The speculation is that adding warm water in the early part
of the process ensured better acid development in the curd and subsequently
better flavor and keeping quality. Even in the text describing traditional
manufacture, the period under warm water waiting for the right physical
characteristic to develop before the hot water step was taken varied
from a few hours to overnight.
This would not be unexpected
when the culture system was primarily
yesterday's whey. Typically comprised of thermophillic rods and cocci,
it needed a good dose of warmth to keep them active in the curd.
From reading the literature it is difficult to see if there was a parallel
development of the cheese throughout Italy and Sicily. But if we assume
the knowledge spread quite quickly, the process was being applied to
cheese made from buffalo milk, cows milk, and goat milk individually
and mixed. Like the cheese makers struggling with poor quality Cheddar,
it was discovered and proven that temperature was critical. The observation
that the cheese curd became soft and smooth with time under the warm
water is interesting but not perhaps as interesting as the second observation.
With further heat the curd would stretch, the stretching produced a
cheese with close body free of voids; this represents uniformity in
all respects - moisture, density, acidity and texture.
This second step probably had the effect of removing most of the viable
mesophillic organisms and unintentionally selecting the thermophillic
bacteria that have become synonymous with the production of Pasta Filata
The cheeses are brined and air-dried in the case of most traditional
products except those, which are eaten fresh. Cheese by design? Not
really, but it must be motivated by the desire to produce the emerging
desirable characteristics. Cheese makers have again demonstrated they
are talented folk and Italy must truly be "Il Bel Paese."
Neville McNaughton, president of Cheez Sorce, St. Louis, MO, has
many years of experience manufacturing dairy products in both New
Zealand and US. He has been a judge at several cheese competitions.
Neville will be writing a regular column in Cheese Reporter and will
take any questions regarding cheese manufacture. You can reach him
at CheezSorce@sbcglobal.net. jumhoefer@wischeesemakersassn.