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By Any Other Name

March 18, 1998|RUSS PARSONS

Mozzarella is the third most popular cheese in America. Well, something called mozzarella is.

Look carefully at the label and you'll see that the cheese is labeled "low-moisture mozzarella." True mozzarella is anything but lowmoisture. In fact, it's one of the moistest cheeses you'll find. It's usually sold floating in a vat of salted water. Cut into it and it gushes.

Low-moisture mozzarella is an invention of the Midwestern dairy factories. Originally called "pizza cheese," it is not as perishable as real mozzarella (which ideally is eaten within a couple of days of being made). Being firmer, it also grates more easily and browns and melts better when cooked.

It bears a family resemblance to real mozzarella in that both are pasta filata cheeses. This means that the curd from which the cheese is made can be heated and pulled into a string.

But why mozzarella was chosen as a name is unclear because there are many low-moisture pasta filata cheeses: provolone, scamorza, provatura, cacciocavallo and a host of others, including Middle Eastern kashkaval and string cheese. Maybe it's just that the word mozzarella is so great-sounding. No matter, now that fresh mozzarella is becoming more available, the cheese is finally beginning to recover its good name.

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