When I studied abroad in Copenhagen this past fall, I was lucky enough to travel to Rome for a few days with my good friend Rachel. Being a history major back at school, Rachel wanted to soak up every ounce of historical glory that Rome had to offer in the few days that we were there. I had no objections to this, as I have wanted to go to Italy all my life. Over the course of the next 72 hours, we accomplished more than I had in the past two years in college. We stood in the Colosseum, ate cannoli in front of the Pantheon, and waded through a sea of selfie-stick vendors at the Vatican Museum. As our time in Italy came to a close, we decided it’d be nice to go out to dinner for our last night in beautiful Roma. We walked out of our AirBnB to an unassuming little restaurant on the corner, and ordered a few bowls of Pasta Carbonara and a bottle of wine. Little did we know that the chef’s complimentary antipasto would be the most astounding thing we had experienced throughout our entire trip.
Right as we sat down, the owner of the osteria brought out a plate of mozzarella di bufala, lightly topped with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of red pepper flakes. Now, if I could, I would go back in time, kidnap the chef, lock him away in a tower Rapunzel-style, and force him to make me this antipasto for me every day for the rest of my life. The cheese was fresh yet milky, smooth in texture with a bit of a bounce, and had the perfect level of salt to it. In other words, this cheese was utter perfection. Fast forward a few months and here I am doing a taste test of plastic-wrapped mozzarella that I bought from Stop & Shop, wanting more than anything to be taken back to bellissima Roma. Now that I’ve given myself a crippling sense of nostalgia, lets get on with the taste test!
First up in this week’s showdown was your friendly neighborhood Stop & Shop mozzarella. As I’m sure all of you could have predicted, Stop & Shop scored the lowest of the bunch on pretty much all accounts. In all honesty this made me sad, because as I’ve stated before I love rooting for the underdog. Nonetheless, this thing was awful. First off, this ball of mozzarella smelled entirely too much like glue for me to feel comfortable eating it. For a second I thought that I was eating a piece of Bertucci’s rejected pizza dough that they give to the kids to play with. Instead of revealing a fresh, milky texture, cutting into this cheese revealed a stiff core with no inkling of stratification that would have been caused from the characteristic pulling of the cheese. When I asked Lassa Skinner (culture co-founder) for her opinion, she said a good ball of mozzarella should pull apart to look like a chicken breast. This ball of mozzarella looked like a a cross-section of a lacrosse ball that had been spray-painted white, and to be honest it sort of tasted like one too. In fact, that’s probably why Stop & Shop wrapped this thing in two layers of plastic: to delay the consumer’s inevitable vomiting for as long as possible.
Next up was BelGioioso, an award-winning cheese company that specializes in bringing Italian-style cheese to the greater American public. Right from looking at this cheese, I knew that my day was going to improve. The packaging wasn’t too tight and held a little bit of whey in it to keep the mozzarella as moist and preserved as possible. When pulled, the cheese passed the chicken breast test with flying colors, and sported a layered, springy texture that was not overpowered by creaminess. Taste-wise, Belgioso clearly knows what they’re doing—this cheese had a delicate balance of milkiness and salt, hinted with a finish resembling fresh dew. While the Stop & Shop brand might be put to better use melted or as a bocce ball, BelGioioso is good enough to eat fresh with little to no seasoning. Bravo BelGioioso, bravo.
For the next cheese of the tasting, I took a trip to the specialty section of the supermarket to find our higher-end mozzarella. Based out of Vermont, Maplebrook Farm prides itself on “using old world cheesemaking methods to create fresh, quality products, with remarkable flavor and texture.” As always, the higher price-point gave me higher expectations for this cheese over the others. Now, I’m not sure whether it was because a fresh cheese like mozzarella, especially a quality mozzarella, should only be packaged for a few hours, but I was fairly underwhelmed by Maplebrook. First, the flavor of the cheese was too sweet and had a strange lingering flavor of vanilla that was hard to shake once it was picked up. Second, what started off as an herbaceous smell evolved into a not-so-pleasant funk that overwhelmed whatever hint of dairy was left in the cheese. Having tasted Maplebrook cheeses before, I’m fairly confident that the mozzarella I tasted was a mishap and shouldn’t be taken to be a representative of the whole product line. However, rules are rules, and I can’t base the tasting off of pre-conceived opinions.
Last up in the tasting was Galbani, a returning competitor from last week’s String Cheese taste test. First, I must say I was pretty disappointed that Galbani didn’t have a mascot for their mozzarella, as the surfer dude cartoon for their “Stringsters” string cheese is award-worthy. While there wasn’t a mascot, the cheese itself was pretty good. Just like the BelGioioso, the Galbani mozzarella passed the chicken breast test with ease, revealing a slightly elastic texture with a good level of moisture. The flavor was a bit meek and didn’t taste too strongly of milk, but it was far from being offensive. If you’re looking for a good cooking mozzarella, Galbani is the one.
There you have it ladies and gents: another week, another taste test down. As always, I hope this blog will in some way help you the next time you’re wandering the aisles of a supermarket in search for some yummy cheese. As for me, I’ll be clicking through a slideshow of my pictures from Rome with a bottle of wine and a big bowl of carbonara.