Impossibly creamy and flavorful, no trip to Campania is complete without tasting its famed buffalo mozzarella cheese.
If you’ve been to central or southern Italy, chances are that you’ve seen mozzarella di bufala (“buffalo mozzarella”) listed on the menu. You may have wondered what makes it different from the mozzarella we’re used to seeing here in the U.S., and if there really are buffalo involved in its production! We’re here to set the record straight with answers to all your questions about this creamy, delectable cheese.
What It Is
A cheese with roots dating back to the 12th century CE, mozzarella derives its name from the Italian word mozzare (“to cut by hand”). It’s created by twisting off smaller portions of cheese from a large mass of cheese curd and shaping them, usually into balls or twists. In Italy, fresh mozzarella made from cow’s milk is known as fior di latte, and mozzarella di bufala is, in fact, made from the milk of the Mediterranean water buffalo. This animal is native to the wetlands of central and southern Italy and is related to water buffalo in Asia and other parts of Europe. (It has no relation to the bison of North America, which European settlers mistakenly called buffalo but are actually a completely different species.) Today, buffalo farms are abundant in Campania, and you can even visit some farms to taste the mozzarella fresh from the source! You’ll also find DOP-certified buffalo mozzarella made across Molise, Puglia, and Lazio, making Rome a great place to try it if you’re not traveling further south.
While all types of mozzarella are created the same way, the difference in milk affects its texture and flavor. Buffalo milk has double the fat content of cow’s milk, giving its mozzarella a much creamier texture. Buffalo mozzarella is delicate, soft, and elastic, and can be easily pulled apart into strands. It should retain some liquid in the center, almost like a cross between the mozzarella we see here in the U.S. and burrata. The result is a pillowy, melt-in-your-mouth consistency that is truly one of a kind.
The unique flavor of buffalo mozzarella sets it apart from other cheeses. While fior di latte tends to be quite mild in taste, buffalo mozzarella is much saltier, with a slight tang. It is rich and mildly pungent, but not overpowering, making it the perfect pairing for the sweet acidity of tomatoes.
Buffalo mozzarella has a shorter shelf life than traditional mozzarella and is meant to be eaten as soon as possible. In fact, it is quite common in Campania to keep it out of the fridge to protect its delicate texture! Buffalo mozzarella can last on the countertop for 24 hours or for up to 3 days in the refrigerator. Just be sure to keep it in its original liquid so that it remains as fresh as possible.
Recipes to Try
Buffalo mozzarella plays a key role in many of the dishes native to Campania, such as insalate caprese and pizza margherita. We love using it in place of cow’s milk mozzarella in a variety of recipes when we can get our hands on it. While it is still a rare find in the United States, the Colombian brand Buf has become more widely available in grocery stores. If you are lucky enough to see it in the States (or, even better, in Italy!), we recommend trying it in Mozzarella and Strawberry Bruschetta, Grilled Tomatoes with Olives and Mozzarella, or Pasta Alla Caprese.