Pasta filata refers to a unique class of cheeses that are characterized by their ability to be stretched or “processed” after coagulation to create a fibrous texture. These cheeses originated in Southern Italy and derive their name from the Italian words “pasta”, meaning dough, and “filata”, which translates to spun or stretched. This article delves deeper into the origins, production process and popular varieties of pasta filata cheeses.
Origins and History
Pasta filata cheese making can be traced back to medieval times in the regions of Apulia, Basilicata and Campania in Southern Italy. Sheep and goat herding were common practices in these hilly areas, and farmers began experimenting with stretching freshly curdled sheep or goat’s milk curds. Two of the earliest known stretched curd cheeses were caciocavallo from Basilicata and provoletta from Apulia.
Over time, buffalo milk became more widely used for pasta filata cheeses due to its high butterfat content which lends itself well to stretching. Modern varieties like mozzarella and burrata rose to popularity in the 18th and 19th centuries especially after the establishment of the Dairy Science Institute at the University of Naples.
The key defining step in pasta filata cheese making is the stretching or filatura process. Freshly curdled milk is salted and heated to temperatures between 130-150°F, causing it to form soft pliable curds. They are then kneaded and stretched by hand or machine to develop their characteristic elasticity and fibers.
During stretching, the curds align to form long intertwining strands resembling dough or pasta, hence the name. They are often stretched till nearly transparent which creates air pockets. The finished balls, strings or shapes are then submerged in cold water or brine to “shock” and preserve them before packaging or further processing.
Mozzarella: Soft, milky white cheese with a stringy texture. Commonly used for pizza and pasta dishes. Two varieties are buffalo milk mozzarella (mozzarella di bufala) and fior di latte made from cow’s milk.
Burrata: Creamy heart of mozzarella cheese encased in a thin shell with stracciatella pieces throughout. Originated in Puglia.
Provolone: Aged pasta filata cheese that is pressed into ropes or spheres after stretching. Varieties are aged for different lengths – dolce (mild), semistanto (semi-aged) and stagionato (fully aged).
Scamorza: Similar to provolone but typically smoked before aging for a mellow smoked flavor. Also comes in two varieties – affumicata (smoked) and non-affumicata (non-smoked).
Caciocavallo: Characteristic shape of a teardrop suspended on ropes during aging. Dense yet tender texture and mild to sharp flavors depending on age.
Halloumi: Originally from Cyprus but adopted as a pasta filata cheese. Grilled or fried without melting due to high salt content. Squeaky texture.
Nutrition and Uses
Pasta Filata Cheeses are generally low in moisture but high in calcium, proteins, vitamins and minerals. The fibers that develop during stretching also aid digestibility and release of nutrients slowly.
Their elastic texture lends itself to numerous uses from topping pizzas and pastas to grilling halloumi. Some varieties like provolone and caciocavallo can also stand alone as a snack or in salads. Burrata is especially rich in creamy stracciatella filling.
Pasta filata cheese making has endured as an artisanal production method requiring skill and craftsmanship at each step. The long stretching process depends on the hands and expertise of cheese makers. Italian traditions like family-owned dairies, seasonal varieties and aging cheeses in natural caves all add to their appeal as specialty cheeses. Many modern chefs also find new innovative ways to showcase these classic ingredients on menus.
Pasta filata cheeses are a unique family defined by their characteristic stretched texture and versatile culinary uses. Originating in Southern Italy, they showcase regional traditions with globally popular varieties like mozzarella gaining widespread popularity for their meltability and flavor. With artisanal production centered around craft, pasta filata cheeses will likely continue to enchant cheese lovers worldwide.
1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
2. We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it