In the midst of the current food scandals, it is getting more and more difficult to trust what ends up on our plates. Horsemeat used instead of the advertised beef? Fish incorrectly labelled? Eggs produced by battery hens but sold as organic? We have all read these various articles in the newspapers, with a sinking feeling in our stomachs and our hearts.
It is however still possible to find people for whom food is a real passion. Tasty, wholesome, fresh food. Take Samuele Frascarelli for example. Samuele lives and works in a refuge in the Sibillini Mountains, close to Ascoli Piceno in the heart of the Marches. A stunning region located in the middle of Italy, Le Marche has been nicknamed the new Tuscany and is renowned for its many succulent dishes. The cook not only prepares his share of delicious recipes in the welcoming Capanna di Bolognola, he also makes his own cheese, bread and cured meat. On request Samuele will prepare mozzarella or ricotta in front of guests, a riveting experience. Let’s concentrate on the process of producing mozzarella.
Both pasteurized and non-pasteurized buffalo or cow’s milk can be used to make this soft, versatile cheese. When made out of unpasteurized milk the mozzarella has to be eaten on the same day, whereas the pasteurized version will keep for a few days. A good three hours of fermentation turns the milk into the unrefined version of the cheese. This paste is then chopped into small chunks that are then plunged into boiling water. The temperature shock turns the paste into a stringy lump that needs to be worked on, the water being removed little by little, until the mass acquires the right texture. The mozzarella can then be shaped into whatever form, although it is normally sold as a big ball or a bag of little ones. To watch Samuele shape the cheese he has created from scratch is quite fascinating. The last step is a short immersion into salted water, which will give the mozzarella its taste. Try a bite before and after and you will easily spot the difference this final part of the process makes.
It is then time to savour the fresh cheese. The obvious way to do so would be of course in the company of ripe, dark red tomatoes, a bunch of fresh basil leaves, good quality olive oil and aceto di Balsamico and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. But a slice of mozzarella arranged on top of crusty bread and dipped into olive oil works just as well.