We decided to do a blind tasting to make the night even better. Our sommelier Michele Conors came up with the idea first.
There was a mix of Italian expats (with their respective significant others, American italophiles all): friends Donata and Mauro, myself and my wife Michele and Jen and her husband Riccardo.
We were all lovers of the white stuff – the freshest round pillows of only the best a cow or buffalo can give.
We didn’t panic when Toni mentioned casually before Christmas that she would bring a mozzarella directly from Italy — Oh no! Our local American mozzarellas had to compete with the real stuff from the old country? Should we put imported mozzarellas available in Boston in the mix? The fact that the trip and stress of import changes the flavor was no small matter to consider.
Toni was loyal to the cheese Gods and came from Italy with a secret stash of illegal fresh mozzarella in her suitcase. She slipped through customs with a wink and a nod that would have made Clinton jealous during the Lewinsky case. In the end she made it – having lived in Italy for many years, she knew how to get by.
Then the big day (or the big evening, really) arrived. We started by establishing the rules of engagement. Each person would judge each mozzarella and also try to guess where it came from.
The referee wrote a number on each plate, and only she had the master list of which number corresponded to which brand. We took our first taste and something was already fishy – we had 6 brands to judge on our tasting sheets but there were only 5 mozzarellas on the table. Since math isn’t an opinion, a few of us thought there were definitely hanging chads somehow involved. We didn’t get distracted though, we just kept voting on a scale of 1 to 5, and asked that an internal investigation take place.
The verdict was around the corner, but one cheese was placed among the candidates that shouldn’t really have been part of the competition: two burratas, one from a cheese factory in Everett, Massachusetts, made from local milk, and the other from another farm in Vermont. We stopped arguing as soon as we felt our taste buds move to the mountains of New England with our first bites. We tried to figure out: which is from Vermont?
In the case of the burrata the two samples were very different. The judgments in this case were different. One was more salty and flavorful, while the other was sweeter and more milky.
Then real competition started. The goal was to understand, without getting distracted by the jokes and camaraderie of the group, whether mozzarella made with local milk or imported is better.
Here are the pictures. Judge for yourself! Plate number 1 (mozzarella brought by our exceptional referee from Italy) got16 votes. It’s judged as simple, not exciting, delicate, a little “hot” (maybe because it made that long trip?).
Under plate number 2 lies a buffalo mozzarella bought by Donata and Mauro at a Italian shop in North End, and it gets 16 votes, with a slightly higher rating compared to the previous average: its consistency is similar to others, but with a more mellow flavor – for some people it seems like the milk is a little old.
Plate number 3 is a mozzarella bought in a well known store in the United States but imported from Campania, Italy: it gets 23 votes, and
almost all agree it gets top honors. Adjectives abound with lots of poetry, everyone’s eyes are closed while they taste it.
On plate 4 there is a trap that Michele and I threw in to give a touch of distinction from the others: a local mozzarella that is not preserved in water. From the picture you can tell it would be fineused on pizza. But tasted as-is, it’s tough, without personality. It’sinsignificant, with only 8 votes, like a ugly duckling.
The last plate has the 2nd place mozzarella with 18 votes: who would have thought that an everyday brand bought in Italy in a common supermarket and smuggled into the US by our friendwould have been such a success. At the end of the evening we were all relaxed, sipping wine like you see in the picture above. We tasted the “mostarde” and the rest of the menu, and thought about the hard working buffalos and cows that had made it all possible, as much as we can hear the cowbells from New England (the water buffalo, instead, is in fact to difficult to raise in the U.S.).
Donata is the one who guessed correctly the most mozzarellas out of this Italian group (Jen has started calling us the “Buona Forchetta –that means Big Eater- Social Club”).
The next question is: what is the prize? Then the winner herself pronounces, “I will decide the theme of the next tasting, and it will be prosciutto”. Our mouths are already watering.
This article was written in collaboration with Italian Sommelier Michele M. Connors