Mozzarella is easily one of the best-known Italian cheeses and readily found outside Italy, but fresh mozzarella is something special that many people have never had the pleasure of tasting.
Mozzarella is a semi-soft cheese. The best mozzarella comes from the Cilento region near Salerno, made with the milk of Italian water buffaloes (mozzarella di bufala), and it tastes best when it's not only made by hand, but served when it's extremely fresh. At a certain point in the cheese-making process, after the separation of curds and whey, mozzarella can be pulled and kneaded like taffy or bread dough. It's massaged until it's smooth and somewhat shiny, and then formed into a fist-sized ball and stored in liquid until it's eaten.
There are other types of mozzarella, too, including the smaller balls of cheese known as "bocconcini" and the even-softer "burrata." The latter is essentially a mozzarella exterior surrounding a creamy center of shreds of stracciatella cheese and cream. A dried version of mozzarella, called "caciocavallo," is excellent for sandwiches, since it's easily sliced.
There are seven places in the Bronx's Little Italy that make fresh mozzarella every day. While they're all extraordinary, there is one that we think is the very best.
2314 Arthur Ave
Known as "the ricotta shop" by the locals, Calandra's is best known for house made mozzarella and ricotta. Diego and his team are extremely knowledgeable about cheese and provide generous samples. This shop may rival Casa della Mozzarella in terms of its fame. One of Calandra's specialties is their caciocavallo, encased in wax and secured with red netting. It is an ideal melting cheese. They also very well known for their house made burrata.
604 E 187th Street
When the Italian Consulate was showing chef Massimo Bottura around Arthur Avenue, I met him in front of Casa della Mozzarella. Many shops in Belmont sell mozzarella, but this is the one that truly specializes in it and has the Zagat seal of approval. It's the most famous shop and has the most variety, but that fame means it often has the longest lines. Another house favorite of mine are their olives laced with hot Calabrian red pepper. Everything you need for a good antipasto can be purchased at the Casa.
2338 Arthur Ave
The Calabria Pork Store is, as the name suggests, the place to go for cured meat. It's a relic of a time when Southern Italians mostly ate pork. In addition to all the sausage options, however, they also make their own fresh mozzarella, which is perfect on their delicious sandwiches. Admire the "sausage chandelier" while you wait for your order.
685 E 187th Street
Joe's Deli is a bit more out-of-the-way, but it is - in my opinion - the place to go for the very best fresh mozzarella. Our tour guests always agree, Joe's adds just the perfect amount of salt in their mozzarella. If you don't want to commit to an entire ball, they sell little knots as well which are perfect for snacking. Casa della Mozzarella may get the fame, but Joe's Deli makes our favorite mozzarella.
2342 Arthur Ave
For a sit-down meal of classic Italian-American food that includes fresh mozzarella made in-house daily, stop at Mario's. Opened in 1919, Mario's is now operated by the fifth generation of the Migliucci family - Joe Migliucci is the resident pizza master and mozzarella-maker.
2344 Arthur Avenue
In the corner of the Arthur Avenue Retail Market, David Greco, owner of Mike's Deli has a video loop playing of his appearances on Food Network including his eggplant parmesan throwdown with Bobby Flay. As a result, the lines are long here, but Greco is always happy to give a sample of his housemade mozz.
2410 Arthur Ave
A nice place to both shop and stop for lunch. They have great Salerno-style pizza and a nice selection of wines by the glass. The owner, Giancarlo Paciullo (brother of Roberto Paciullo, of Zero Otto Nove fame) purchased Tino's 11 years ago after returning from Salerno. Their fresh mozzarella is the creamiest and richest, and their arancini (rice balls) are the best I've had outside Sicily.