South of the crowds of Rome and Amalfi lies Cilento, the quiet birthplace of the Mediterranean Diet. There, in Vallo della Lucania, you can find cheesemaker Renato di Lascio of Caseificio di Lascio, first started by his grandfather. The cheesemaker specializes in mozzarella di bufala campana, as well as ricotta, all from single batches of buffalo milk.
He also makes mozzarella nella mortella, a delicacy not just of regional Campania, but in Cilento specifically. This cow’s milk cheese shines in its own right alongside the region’s better-known mozzarella di bufala and burrata.
A byproduct of prolific caciocavallo production on the Cilento mountain tops, mozzarella nella mortella is similar to traditional mozzarella, but with a twist. The flavor is a little sharper with a harder texture, making for a cheese that lasts a little longer than its softer sibling.
This is because of the cheese’s traditional myrtle leaf wrap. This practice began when the fresh mozzarella—produced from the milk of Podolica cows and quicker to perish than the caciocavallo— needed to be transported to nearby villages. Myrtle grew abundantly and became the natural mode of transport. That the mozzarella inherited the grass and citrus flavors of the myrtle was coincidence—or maybe fate.
With its particular deep crevice and dryer texture, mozzarella nella mortella is not suitable for cooking. Instead, it’s best on its own to savor the taste of Cilento. While there is speculation about whether the Mediterranean Diet is, in fact, a smoke-and-mirror show, research does indicate that the villagers of Pioppi lived to be 100. Perhaps this resulted more from what they could not afford to eat than from a specific formula.
But one need only look at the lifestyle of regional cheese production, from the division of whey to make ricotta to the fitness of mountain walks to the ingenuity of wrapping the mozzarella to keep cool in myrtle—to see that there is a balance that is easily referenced, enviable, and arduously obtained in our age of modern distraction.
If you’re fortunate enough to find yourself in the region, you’ll do well to find some mozzarella nella mortella. The quickest, and arguably best, place to get your cheese fix is Suscettibile, where Francesco Valiante serves burrata the size of grapefruit, as well as mozzarella nella mortella.