Italian Cheese – Mozzarella di bufala

As I’m presently on a cheese obsession, my attention was drawn to the current scandal about the potential contamination of mozzarella cheese with cancer-causing dioxin.  Italian authorities have recalled mozzarella sales from 25 producers in the Campania region near Naples, where buffalo mozzarella is made. Health officials believe the dioxin is linked to a recent garbage crisis in Naples and the surrounding Campania region. With dumps in the area full, locals have resorted to burning piles of trash in the streets and in open fields. Apparently industrial waste have also been set ablaze, spreading fumes that in some cases contained dioxin, a toxic chemical.  The stench must have been very unpleasant for the locals and equally so for those holidaying in the Naples region. 

The illegal dumping of trash is not a new issue for Naples and the politicians and city’s administrators seems unable to resolve the problem.  Meanwhile, the sales of buffalo milk mozzarella has dropped some 40 percent in the last few months and countries like France and South Korea have started to impose bans on mozzarella imports.  Italian producers and some government authorities are claiming that the contaminated cheese is only confined to a small region and that it’s more than contaminated milk that’s at issue here.  They are claiming that criminal elements are producing fake products from dubious raw produce.

Wow, next time we have our Insalata Caprese – fresh mozzarella with tomato and basil – there will no doubt be some nagging concerns as to how authentic the mozzarella is or whether the milk has been exposed to contamination.

Authentic mozzarella is made from buffalo milk, primarily in the Italian provinces of Caserta and Salerno, and also in the neighbouring communes in the provinces of Benevento, Naples, Latina, Frosinone and Rome.  These regions together form the single geographical area in which mozzarella is produced.  The essence of fresh mozzarella is that it’s prepared by evening and ready for consumption the next morning.  Fresh mozzarella oozes with flavour and can be eaten with a chunk of fresh bread.   The manufacture of authentic mozzarella is centuries old and is now protected by European Commission Law, through the Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) legislation. By EC PDO legislation means that only mozzarella cheese made in a certain manner and in the specified regions of Italy can now be sold as authentic mozzarella di bufala.

Mozzarella di bufala can be very expensive, if you don’t happen to live in buffalo milk producing area.  I found this out accidentially when I was incorrectly served Mozzarella di bufala instead of my normal cow’s milk variety.  When the bill was presented to me, the price floored me.  I was discretely advised that the buffalo mozzarella costs $75 a kilogram.  Cow’s milk mozzarella lacks the brilliant blue-white porcelain finish of genuine mozzarella. Due to commercial pressure for a longer shelf-life, you will find some mozzarella have been compromised in terms of moisture content, freshness and texture. Commercial mass produced mozzarella will never be able to compete, in terms of flavour and texture, due to the inherent differences between cow’s milk and buffalo milk.  Whilst it is always good to be able to access the genuine produce, cow’s milk mozzarella is certainly a more affordable option to its buffalo counterpart.


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