This Is the Best Mozzarella Cheese for Cooking

This Is the Best Mozzarella Cheese for Cooking

Mozzarella cheese is a personal favourite, and I don’t think I’m alone in this regard. It’s salty, rich, and can offer a nice bit of stretch when cooked—but should we really be cooking it? This stretchy cheese is available in a few different varieties, one of which is perfect for cooking at high temps. The others, however, not so much.

Cooking cheeses is never going to stop, and it shouldn’t. Where would we be without grilled cheese, lasagna, cheddar omelets, or pizza? Lost in a sad, cheeseless oblivion. I don’t want that for anyone, especially not myself. When it comes to widely available types of mozzarella, I’m referring to low-moisture, fresh, and burrata. (Burrata is a shell of fresh mozzarella encapsulating a creamy center, and I feel like it’s worth mentioning here.) The best mozzarella for cooking at high temperatures is low-moisture.

Mozzarella is strong stuff

Cheese is composed of protein, fat, water, and acid (read more about cheese components here) in different percentages. These different puzzle pieces work together to contribute to a cheese’s melt, stretch, and chew. Mozzarella has a strong protein network, which makes it good at stretching.

Fresh mozzarella and burrata are strong and stretchy, but unlike low-moisture mozzarella, they’re packed with a good deal of water. You could even think of them as high-moisture mozzarella. There are other high-moisture cheeses out there, and the water content contributes to its meltability. However when heat is applied, the strong protein networks (also called micelles) in mozzarella tighten up and start to squeeze out the moisture and fat they were holding onto at lower temperatures.

There is so much moisture available in these types of mozzarella that the first thing you’ll see as the temperature rises is the water release. It releases and floods that casserole or homemade margherita pizza you worked so hard on, and it’s now soggy. What’s more, when it cools, the once-melty cheese is now a slab of rubber that all slides off in one bite. What gives?

Fresh mozzarella trials and results

At about 150°F (if you look carefully) you can see the water and fat globules separating.
Credit: Allie Chanthorn Reinmann

I heated up some fresh mozzarella to a few different temperatures to see the difference. The water puddle sucks, but the texture problems don’t arise when the cheese is on the heat—hot cheese is melty and, sure, there’s water, but that can’t kill my vibe!—it’s when the cheese comes off the heat that the texture suffers. Let’s be honest: You’re not eating the pizza or lasagna while it’s bubbling. You know what’ll happen to the roof of your mouth. You’re waiting for it to cool.

Left: the cooled cheese was heated to about 140°F. Right: the cooled cheese was heated to about 190°F.
Credit: Allie Chanthorn Reinmann

When fresh mozzarella is heated to 130°F to 144°F, the mozzarella puddles in water but holds onto its fat. Once it cools, the cheese retains a slightly chewy texture and creamy taste. From 150°F to 160°F the mozzarella puddles in water and begins pushing out some of its fats. After cooling, the cheese is firm and chewy, almost like string cheese. Heated to about 190°F and over, the cheese loses moisture and the fat globules break away. The cooled cheese is greasy and the texture is hard, almost like chewing coconut.

Burrata acts the same way, but it’s even more tragic when the structure breaks down. Since it’s basically a balloon with cream inside, the protein will push out the water and the once creamy ball will become a watery, dairy puddle with shreds of rubbery mozzarella floating around. If you must warm your burrata, keep it under 130°F.

Low-moisture mozzarella rules them all

Low-moisture mozzarella comes in big bricks for slicing, or shredded in bags. It, obviously, has a lower water content than its mozz cousins, and this makes for a more balanced composition. It’s drier and firmer, with a texture closer to cheddar or provolone.

When heated to higher and higher temperatures, there isn’t a ton of water available for the micelle networks to push out, and the available fat is busy working on breaking up the protein network—the melt factor. Low-moisture mozzarella doesn’t overheat to spew out a puddle of water, nor does it become greasy. You can heat this type of cheese to well over 350°F, which is great for our pizza needs, and the worst thing that happens is also the best thing: It crisps. Low-moisture mozzarella caught on the edges of your pizzas and pressed against casserole dish walls turns into the crispy, chewy frico prize that everyone’s after.

Treat fresh mozzarella kindly

While fresh mozzarella doesn’t have a place cooking on your brick oven pizza (unless you want it watery and rubbery), it still has a place in your fridge. Use this creamy cheese for topping sandwiches or accenting cold salads; caprese is famous for highlighting the wonders of fresh mozzarella. Serve it warm as a finishing component over hot foods. You have all of those degrees up until about 130°F to have warm, creamy cheese (albeit a tad watery). For reference, you can touch or pinch cheese under 130°F. Once the cheese nears that temperature, pinching up a pile of melty mozzarella starts to hurt. Not that I want to be in the habit of pinching hot cheese, but here we are.

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