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Pasta Filata Cheese

Adding Warm Water Early Makes a Better Cheese

Volume 126, No. 47, Friday, May 31,  2002

Pasta Filata, meaning plastic curd, is the name adopted for this family of cheese that latches onto the unique part of the process, which characterizes the production process; similar to the way Cheddar got its name. For those of you who have never handled cheese in this plastic state, it is truly a marvel. This fluid mass with a feeling like expensive silk could be made from the same milk that produces a cheese with a dry crumbly body. The texture of a fresh Mozzarella, Boccincini or Mozzarella di Bufala is delightful, soft but resilient, it holds the flavor while you savor, a flavor resembling sweet concentrated milk.
Next time you eat pizza, pull apart a piece of string cheese and marvel to yourself about the pleasures. Are you going to give it a quick thought and put it down to the creativity of food scientists working out of some corporate laboratory and move right on? No. While String Cheese may be the creative work of marketers, there have been children in some very select parts of the world who knew the joy of a cheese that would pull apart and resemble the structure of chicken breast. While others would have enjoyed Pasta Filata on a pizza, most would not have given a second thought to why it is like this. What we know is that it was the work of a master R & D guy back before electricity, back before we even cared
about R & D.
The process of making cheese by adding hot/warm water over the curd may have been a solution to a problem; convinced of this I will speculate. Convinced that the outcome was not the goal, the end result is even more amazing. My speculation is that the goal was a better tasting and better keeping piece of cheese. 
Two distinct versions have evolved; Mozzarella and Scamorza high moisture variants, and Caciocovallo and Provolone lower moisture, more aged cheese. The speculation is that adding warm water in the early part of the process ensured better acid development in the curd and subsequently better flavor and keeping quality. Even in the text describing traditional manufacture, the period under warm water waiting for the right physical characteristic to develop before the hot water step was taken varied from a few hours to overnight. 
This would not be unexpected 
when the culture system was primarily
yesterday's whey. Typically comprised of thermophillic rods and cocci, it needed a good dose of warmth to keep them active in the curd. 
From reading the literature it is difficult to see if there was a parallel development of the cheese throughout Italy and Sicily. But if we assume the knowledge spread quite quickly, the process was being applied to cheese made from buffalo milk, cows milk, and goat milk individually and mixed. Like the cheese makers struggling with poor quality Cheddar, it was discovered and proven that temperature was critical. The observation that the cheese curd became soft and smooth with time under the warm water is interesting but not perhaps as interesting as the second observation. With further heat the curd would stretch, the stretching produced a cheese with close body free of voids; this represents uniformity in all respects - moisture, density, acidity and texture. 
This second step probably had the effect of removing most of the viable mesophillic organisms and unintentionally selecting the thermophillic bacteria that have become synonymous with the production of Pasta Filata cheese. 
The cheeses are brined and air-dried in the case of most traditional products except those, which are eaten fresh. Cheese by design? Not really, but it must be motivated by the desire to produce the emerging desirable characteristics. Cheese makers have again demonstrated they are talented folk and Italy must truly be "Il Bel Paese."

Neville McNaughton, president of Cheez Sorce, St. Louis, MO, has many years of experience manufacturing dairy products in both New Zealand and US. He has been a judge at several cheese competitions. Neville will be writing a regular column in Cheese Reporter and will take any questions regarding cheese manufacture. You can reach him at CheezSorce@sbcglobal.netjumhoefer@wischeesemakersassn. org


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