According to Pizza Today magazine, people in the United States consume 350 slices of pizza every second. That’s a lot of pizza, but it’s also a lot of cheese! Thanks in part to pizza, mozzarella cheese is the most-consumed cheese in the United States, year after year, with cheddar cheese the only near competitor (macaroni and cheese, anyone?).
Mozzarella’s fine qualities are many, but ranking high on the list is its superbly smooth texture and ability to melt. The mild, creamy flavor of mozzarella makes it versatile enough to pair with flavors as varied as pineapple, anchovies, jalapeños, and Kalamata olives. Nutritionally, it is high in protein and calcium, and contains a decent dose of iron and vitamin A. Depending on the variety of mozzarella you choose, whole milk or part-skim, the calorie and fat content of mozzarella varies considerably.
Mozzarella, any type, is a fresh cheese, which means it is un-aged. What is commonly called “fresh mozzarella” might more aptly be called “freshest mozzarella,” as it is a soft, very delicately flavored variety made from cow (or traditionally, water buffalo) milk that is best consumed as soon as possible after production. Store this type of mozzarella in brine and use within a week. The more commonly-available variety of mozzarella in the United States is “low-moisture mozzarella,” a firmer variety sturdy enough to shred on a cheese grater. Low-moisture mozzarella will keep for up to six weeks in refrigeration, if wrapped tightly in plastic or waxed paper. The quality of most fresh cheeses deteriorates over time, so it is always advisable to use mozzarella cheese in any form as quickly as possible after purchase.
Although many would say it is at its best when featured as the main event on pizza or lasagna, using mozzarella as a garnish can really set off the other flavors in a dish. This recipe for Skillet Gnocchi with Chard & White Beans makes great use of a sprinkling of mozzarella to complement the sweet and savory flavors in the dish, and just a handful of shredded, part-skim mozzarella combines with crumbled tofu to produce an awesome, ricotta-like filling for this protein-rich Spinach & Sun-Dried Tomato Stuffed Pizza.
For those who want to put together an easy, satisfying meal for a crowd, mozzarella is your main cheese! This incredibly simple Pepperoni Pizza Bake comes together fast and any (unlikely) leftovers will probably be fought over the next day. Likewise, this Slow-Cooker Vegetarian Lasagna is good enough to serve to company, but simple and delicious enough to put on the regular weeknight rotation.
Mozzarella is also a great choice for your favorite salads, sandwiches, and quesadillas. A handful of the shredded cheese can make a simple salad of crispy romaine lettuce and ripe red tomatoes seem substantial, especially when topped with a splash of tangy Italian vinaigrette.
Mozzarella cheese can be found in the cheese or dairy department of your local co-op. Ask your co-op staff to recommend or point out any varieties that might be produced locally, as there are many dairies producing excellent versions of this cheese across the country. Even if you are unable to find a local option, you are bound to find a mozzarella to suit your needs. After all, this is the most popular cheese in the country!