I have a terrific recipe for eggplant parmigiana that’s heart-healthy, low in fat, fresh-tasting, and much improved by the addition of lashings of mozzarella, which it doesn’t call for. (Life’s too short to be stingy with cheese.) When I got a hankering for eggplant parm this week, I picked up a vacuum-packed ball of mozzarella, and it wasn’t until I opened it that I noticed it wasn’t the Italian import I usually grab. In fact, it’s made right here in the Hudson Valley.
You know how you go through life, not paying attention and shopping by rote? Or maybe that’s just me. Anyway, it turns out that Laraia’s Cheese Company has been turning out this hand-made mozzarella for so long I’m embarrassed to admit I only just discovered it. And a nice, milky, satiny mozzarella it is.
The company still makes fresh mozzarella every day, the old-fashioned way, turning out umpteen thousand pounds a week at the wholesale operation in New Windsor, and about 100 pounds at the separately owned Nanuet retail shop. The freshest, sold in its own whey — the milky liquid that’s left after the cheese is strained — should be eaten within a day or two. But the balls that are briefly air-dried and then vacuum packed can last unopened for several weeks in the fridge. (This might be heresy, but if you use only part of a big ball of mozzarella, you can even freeze what’s left over, wrapped tight in plastic. The texture suffers, but it’s OK for cooking.)
In summer, you can’t beat the classic combo of just-made, moist mozzarella with sun-ripened tomatoes and basil. For a wintry treat, I gently warmed some of my leftover vac-packed mozzarella, cut it up and added it to chunks of roasted beets, drizzled with a syrupy reduced balsamic — simple and delicious.
Laraia’s also produces smoked and unsalted mozzarellas, and rolls with prosciutto or pepperoni, sun-dried tomatoes and spinach. You’ll find most varieties at Adams Fairacre Farms and other good markets in the region. The Nanuet shop carries a huge range of other cheeses, too, along with olives, pastas, cured meats and such.
One thing: please don’t pronounce it mootzerelle, even though the Sopranos and maybe your third-generation Sicilian cousin say it that way. Italians in Italy say “motsarella,” give or take a dialectic variance. And if you don’t believe it, check out Howjsay.com, one of my favorite Web sites for resolving such matters.