Bare hands in 170-degree water continues to be the way old-world fresh mozzarella is made. At Plantone’s Italian Market (8680 W. Warm Springs Rd., plantonesitalian.com), owner Glenn Plantone’s team uses both a stainless steel paddle and hands to roll the cheese into the soft, white delicacy capable of producing a state of perfect culinary bliss.
Situated near the corner of Warm Springs Road and Durango Drive, Plantone’s is fast becoming the place for affordable and delicious Italian subs, pizzas and pastas, where the demand is so high that fresh mozzarella can be made up to three times daily.
The process of making these balls of gastronomical nirvana is not terribly complicated, says Plantone’s consultant Tony Figurelli, as long as you have the two basic ingredients: quality curds and passion. He has been devoted to the success of Plantone’s since its conception and has worked hand in hand with Glenn to procure the best ingredients. And the staff at Plantone’s has mastered the technique of making artisanal mozzarella—a few of them even earned their stripes in their home country of Italy.
Curd arrives at Plantone’s in blocks the size of shoe boxes. After crumbling the curd into small, uniform pieces, they are placed into a large bowl, where hot, briny water is slowly added.
Using a paddle, the curds are submerged into the heated water and begin to cook and change their consistency from crumbled pieces to a melded lumpy mass. As the water begins to cool, additional hot water is added to temper the cheese.
“See how it’s starting to come together? But it’s not there yet,” says Figurelli, as Raffaele Tommasini, originally from Naples, demonstrates the process, lifting the paddle to stretch the curds and examining the texture until it reaches perfection. “The saltwater goes into the cheese, giving it the flavor.”
Raffaele then continues to immerse the curds in the hot water, eventually resulting in a softened, almost taffylike, silky mozzarella, a sign that it’s ready for the next step.
Then, placing his bare hands into the hot water, he lifts and stretches the cheese, submerging it repeatedly to keep it supple, warm and malleable. Using his palms in a cupping motion, he creates the most perfect ball, the 4-ounce egg-size ovolini.
Mozzarella’s name derives from the Italian verb “mozzare,” meaning “to cut off,” from the pinching action used to separate the curds into smaller pieces. After the mozzarella balls are prepared, they are kept in water to retain freshness.
Plantone’s produces approximately 20 pounds of fresh mozzarella each day. Naturally, it’s best to eat it as soon as it is made. Delicious just as it is or with a bit of salt and pepper and good-quality extra virgin olive oil, it’s a heavenly indulgence, especially while still warm. The delicate, milky and salty flavor is the classic accompaniment to many of the dishes at Plantone’s.
Insalata caprese is one of the most beloved ways of eating fresh mozzarella, which is served with sliced tomatoes and basil. The Angry Sicilian, Plantone’s best-selling sandwich, also includes the mozzarella, along with prosciutto di Parma, capicola, soppressata, mortadella, roasted red pepper, tomato, red wine vinegar, EVOO and oregano. Most of Plantone’s pizzas are topped with house-made mozzarella, such as Mama’s Margherita, Paulie’s Pesto Chicken and Pizza Verdure al Rosti, which is layered with roasted eggplant, zucchini, squash, onion, tomato and basil pesto.
Turns out one of the most important steps to good mozzarella happens to be the easiest. Buon appetito!