Probably the most popular and symbolic Italian delicacy is the mozzarella. A mamma friend once explained to me that she was worried she was raising her children to be mozzarellas. A lot of Americans think of mozzarella as that yellowy, gooey glop on the top of a cheese pizza. That doesn’t count. Real Italian mozzarella is a soft, white, oozy, squishy piece of fresh cheese about the size of a baseball. Italians love mozzarella, and often serve it with fresh basil and tomatoes (insalata Caprese). When I first moved to Italy, I thought mozzarella was boring, but now I adore it. My mother, on a visit from Boston, seemed to sum up the American misunderstanding about mozzarella when she declared, “Seems like cottage cheese to me.” It is not like cottage cheese– it is so much better. And even better than the regular mozzarella is the mozzarella di bufala that comes from water buffaloes. Do not ask me why the milk from a water buffalo that has been lolling around in the mud all day makes a mozzarella that is so much more delicious, but it does.
Mozzarella-making is a time-consuming operation in which the maker has to put his hands in the milky liquid and play with the cheese as if it were bread dough, pulling, kneading, twisting and braiding until it reaches the right consistency. Then he can form it into balls, knots or braids. Mozzarella comes from the Campania region of Italy, around Naples. It is a hard food to export because proper mozzarella should not be refrigerated
So if a mamma says she is worried about her child growing up to be a mozzarella, it means a soft, squishy, lazy, weak, wobbly creature. An American equivalent might be a couch potato. I think my mamma friend might also have been drawing a comparison between the intense hands-on nature of making mozzarella –- kneading, squeezing, twisting, pulling — to the Italian mamma style of parenting — coddling, feeding, measuring fevers, and ironing shirts. After years in Italy, I am convinced my mamma buddy’s ‘mozzarella’ concerns are legitimate.