That’s Amore: The Art of Making Mozzarella

Chef Paul Angeles expertly prepares delicious mozzarella for diners at Mozza Mia.

At the bustling intersection of 50th and France sits Mozza Mia, a warm and inviting beacon of scent and taste, surrounded by charming alleyways of twinkling lights and shop doors that beckon to treasures within.

Well known for its intensely flavored pizza, Mozza Mia draws you in with the pungent aroma of wood smoke from its blistering hot pizza oven. Sit tableside at the bar for a drink and an appetizer, or at the mozzarella bar for a dazzling display of their fresh mozzarella made daily on-site by hand in the Old World tradition.

Chef Paul Angeles displays his Italian roots proudly within the walls of Mozza Mia, where a tiny statue of St. Lawrence of Rome, the patron saint of food and dining, watches over the space like a patriarch. On a quiet morning, Angeles welcomes me into the restaurant for a ringside seat at the making of the fior di latte—the 7-ounce fresh mozzarella balls that are a staple on the menu. With the assistance of an employee, Angeles breaks open a 25-pound package of fresh cheese curd while his assistant sets up equipment to process the curd into the silky strands that will form the restaurant’s signature product.

This is a daily ritual at Mozza Mia. The large block is broken apart and the pieces are pressed through a traditional chittara, an instrument that resembles a small guitar. Angeles says the term loosely translates to “guitar strings” and it creates uniformity in the curds for a smoother end result. Once all the curd is pressed through the chittara, they are heavily salted for flavor and then several pitchers of boiling water are poured gently around the edges of the bowl. With a large paddle, the curd, salt and water are stirred together gently.

As it cools, the water quickly takes on a milky-white appearance from the curds. After a few minutes of stirring, the cooled water is drained off while Angeles brings more, again carefully pouring the water around the edges of the bowl to fully incorporate it into the curds. Once the curds absorb the heat of the water through continual stirring, they begin to break down and take on the stringy, silky texture Angeles is looking for. Lifting and turning the mass with the paddle begins to stretch the curds and activate the proteins within, allowing the cheese to stretch further. The mass is drawn up with the paddle to a height of approximately 18 inches, dropped back into the water and repeated, over and over again.

(Like bread dough, long strands of mozzarella are drawn together to form tight and uniform balls.)

“As the protein strands begin to develop, they can form air bubbles within the cheese, and these need to be eliminated before it can be shaped. Too much stretching, however, can result in a cheese that’s too fibrous and becomes tough when finished,” Angeles explains as I watch in fascination. In just a matter of minutes, the alchemy of hot water, salt and agitation has transformed the thick chunk of curd into endless strands of mozzarella.

At Angeles’ urging, I don a double layer of gloves and reach into the steaming water and try my hand at shaping the cheese into balls. Like bread dough, the long strands are drawn together, tucking the edges underneath to form a tight and uniform ball, which is then pinched off and placed in cold water to cool. It seems I’m a natural. I ignore the heat of the water and reach in to shape the cheese over and over again. Remaining strands are rolled into long ropes and tied in knots to form the smallest size of fresh mozzarella balls, or trecchia, that Mozza Mia offers. This process is quick—in less than 20 minutes, the large block of curd magically altered before my eyes.

More than just a delicious caprese or a topping for their amazing pizza, Mozza Mia offers a wide array of appetizers that make a spectacular showcase for the fresh mozzarella. Try the rollatini, a hand-rolled pinwheel of cheese wrapped around a variety of house-made fillings, or a sample platter of all fresh mozzarella offerings, to serve at least four people. Mozza Mia also brings in fresh imported, hand-dipped ricotta, smoked fresh mozzarella and burrata—a heavenly version of fresh mozzarella where the ball itself is filled with mozzarella and fresh cream. Pull up a stool at the mozzarella bar, raise a glass to St. Lawrence, and taste for yourself.

Contact Mozza Mia
To schedule a mozzarella making demonstration for your group or organization visit the website here.