Glossary: mozzarella

In any group of professionals or obsessives a body of jargon eventually develops. No different with pizza. So if you're just joining the Slice community, the Slice Glossary will help bring you up to speed on some of the terms we throw around here.


[Photograph: Robyn Lee]

We talk a lot about mozzarella on Slice. And why not? It's the pizza cheese. But just what do we mean when we talk about fresh mozzarella, low-moisture mozzarella, buffalo mozzarella, and fior di latte?

fresh mozzarella vs. low-moisture (or "aged") mozzarella


Common methods of packaging fresh mozzarella you might see in the grocery store fancy-cheese case. [Photograph: Adam Kuban]

If you shop at an Italian market or a grocery store with a fancy-cheese section, you may have seen fresh mozzarella. It's the snow-white stuff sold in tennis-ball- to softball-size globes.

Fresh mozzarella has a higher moisture content than the "low-moisture" mozzarellas you'll find in the regular dairy case along with the milk and butter, which are made from whole milk or part-skim milk.


"Low-moisture" mozzarellas like the whole-milk and part-skim Polly-o varieties above are often referred to on Slice as "regular" mozzarella or "aged" mozzarella. [Photograph: Adam Kuban]

On Slice, we've been known to refer to the "low-moisture" mozzarellas as "aged" (because they have a longer shelf life than fresh) or "regular" (because for most people in the U.S. who are not pizza nerds and who have not discovered fresh mozzarella, this is indeed "regular" mozzarella).


Fresh mozzarella from an Italian deli. [Photograph: Robyn Lee]

In an Italian market, fresh mozzarella will likely have been made that day and may be resting in a brine (as pictured just above) or in plastic wrap. In grocery stores, you'll often find it in little plastic tubs of brine (which have a shelf life of about a week) or vacuum-wrapped in plastic (which can last longer).

Commercially produced fresh mozzarella at the grocery store may come in a variety of sizes and shapes; Bel Gioioso, for instance, makes ovolini (egg-size and -shaped) and bocconcini ("tidbits") sold in brine, in addition to vacuum-sealed orbs and loaves.

As is often the case in pizzamaking, what you use is largely a matter of preference, though in our experience, the tastiest fresh mozzarellas are unsurprisingly those made daily at the Italian markets. And even if you're buying the stuff from the grocery store, it's better to buy the larger shapes, as you can then control the size of the cheese hunks you eventually place on your pizza.

buffalo mozzarella (mozzarella di bufala)


[Photograph: Shellie Raney on]

What is buffalo mozzarella? Known as mozzarella di bufala in Italian, it's a type of fresh mozzarella made from the milk of water buffaloes. It's the original mozzarella and is highly prized as a pizza topping because of its creaminess and delicate flavor. It has become increasingly common in the U.S. in the last decade, thanks to the rise of Neapolitan-inspired pizzerias across the country, which often feature it in a slightly more expensive "Margherita DOC" pizza. (The DOC here means denominazione di orgine controllata — a label that basically tells you that the pizza is made according to some strict-ass Neapolitan standards, including the use of mozzarella di bufala — we'll talk more about DOC in another Slice Glossary post.) When imported from Italy, buffalo mozzarella is sometimes flash-frozen to preserve its flavor and sometimes shipped fresh.

Buffalo mozzarella vs. fior di latte: You'll often see the term fior di latte ("milk's flower") used to in reference to cow's milk mozzarella to distinguish it from buffalo milk mozzarella. Is there a difference? And does the difference make a difference? Yes, and maybe. You'll definitely be able to distinguish between the two, but many folks will say that you really have to eat buffalo mozzarella soon after it's made and that the processing and/or shipping to the States damages its quality.

At one point, there were a couple domestic U.S. producers making buffalo mozzarella:

  • Star Hill Dairy, which changed its name to Bufala di Vermont and then moved to Quebec, Canada(!) and which is no longer producing cheese — only milk
  • Bubalus Bubalis, which, according to its website, is not accepting orders at this time

And of course, you may have seen our recent post about Wisconsin-based Cedar Grove Cheese, which recently started offering buffalo mozzarella via mail-order.

preshredded mozzarella

A note on preshredded regular mozzarella: We're not going to dictate what you should and shouldn't use, but be aware that preshredded regular mozzarella cheeses have a light coating of cornstarch to prevent the bits from sticking. This can interfere with the melting process. If you want the most beautiful ooey-gooey meltage possible, grate your mozzarella fresh!

mozz, mutz, mootsa-RELL

Sometimes you'll see mozz or mutz written on Slice. As you can guess, they're weird abbreviations for mozzarella.

Mootsa-RELL: You probably won't see this written on Slice but may hear it pronounced in pizzerias — especially along the East Coast. It's an American Italian pronunciation of the word. You remember Tony Soprano and "gabagool" for capicola? It's like that.