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The Mozzarella Bar

Jack Bettridge
From the Print Edition:
Kevin Costner, July/August 2008

Mozzarella bar? From Rome comes a food fad that you might never have conceived, but the more you think about it, the more sense it makes. The mozzarella bar showcases soft, light cheeses of southern Italy paired with appetizers and choice wines. One reason it works is that the cheese showcases the drink as well as an array of flavors that can include almost anything from raw vegetables to spices and cured meats. The other reason, points out food-pairing specialist and the coauthor of Wine Bar Food (Potter, $27.50) Cathy Mantuano, is "you don't need to be a great cook, you just need to be a great shopper."

The trend for a proper mozzarella bar grew out of Rome's Òbikà, which, having migrated through Europe, will soon open in New York City. Some American establishments have offered the amenity as an adjunct as Mantuano's coauthor and husband Tony (owner of Chicago's Spiaggia) plans to do when he opens a restaurant in Miami. But the two also confess in their book that with the availability of great imported mozzarellas—both in high-end cheese shops such as Manhattan's Murray's Cheese (murrayscheese.com) and by FedEx—it is a snap to create your own mozzarella bar at home when you're entertaining with wine.

They suggest starting with a choice of mozzarellas—both from cow's milk (mozzarella fior di latte) and the prized water buffalo milk type (mozzarella di bufala), which Tony describes as tangier with not as much moisture as you might be used to. Using different shapes and sizes (rounds and ovals, small balls as well as the spreadable Burrata) adds interest. From there you can pretty much let your imagination run wild with munchable delicacies because, as Cathy points out, mozzarella presents a creamy blank palate against which almost anything can be showcased. The two suggest cured meats, marinated vegetables, peppers and olives as well as fresh and roasted tomatoes.

When wine pairing, mozzarella offers a wide choice as well, from white wines to sparkling rosés and Pinot Noirs. If you want to get really serious, Cathy points to the region from which this delicate, highly perishable cheese hails—Campania—and choose one of its signature wines, some of which have a smoky character. Or you might just match a cigar to that blank palate.

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