Walk down the aisles of your local supermarket and you will likely find something claiming to be mozzarella in the refrigerated section. Even in Italy, you can find little plastic bags filled with water and a ball of white cheese sitting in the fridge. But the truth is that most Italians would never dream of putting fresh mozzarella di bufala in the cold fridge.
Fresh mozzarella is best eaten the same day it is made. The cheese is heated until it forms a stretchy curd which is then twisted off. The most common shape is a ball about baseball-sized (approximately 150-250 grams), though there are also smaller balls (ciliegine/bocconcini/mozzarelline), twisted braids known as treccia, and little knots or nodini.
In Italy, mozzarella usually refers to mozzarella di bufala. The cow’s milk equivalent is technically fior di latte. If you buy this kind out of the refrigerated section, then go ahead and keep it in the fridge at home. It’s different from the heavenly fresh mozzarella di bufala.
Because mozzarella is a fresh cheese, it does not keep very long. Prized for its soft center and milky taste, high-quality mozzarella is usually never refrigerated. The fridge is too cold and causes the cheese to reabsorb its extra milky water. The cold also causes the exterior of the cheese to become much chewier. The result is a much firmer cheese overall. Refrigeration also covers up some of the mozzarella’s desirable mild flavor.
Fresh mozzarella tends to come from the regions of Campania or Puglia, though some mozzarella is also made in regions like Calabria and Lazio. The cheese is made in the early mornings and then quickly shipped out around the country. The mozzarella is packed in clear plastic bags, sitting in some of its own brine. The saltier brine helps to preserve the mozzarella but the salt content is not high enough for the cheese to stay safe out of the fridge for long, hence why it is best eaten the same day.
To keep the mozzarella cool but not too cold, you can submerge the bag in cold water on your kitchen counter before serving. In most cases, the cheese should safely keep this way overnight.
If you must refrigerate fresh mozzarella, be sure to take it out of the fridge at least an hour before serving to allow it to come back closer to room temperature.
To serve, simply cut open the bag and drain the brine. Mozzarella is often served cut into round slices. This is the case in insalata caprese, which is a simple salad of fresh cheese and sliced tomatoes garnished with fresh basil.
Cutting the mozzarella into wedges like an orange will give a better ratio of the pleasingly elastic exterior to contrast the softer interior.