I am a fan of cheese, especially a nice creamy-and-stringy mozzarella. So I was saddened to read of the current buffalo mozzarella contamination crisis.
However, I don’t believe I’ve ever had real Mozzarella di Bufala Campana, which has been made in southern Italy from the milk of Asian water buffaloes since the twelfth century. And I’m positive that I’ve never had the version made from unpasteurized buffalo milk, which must be consumed within twenty-four hours of its creation. That cheese is widely regarded as the best mozzarella in the world, a true delicacy, and you pretty much have to be in southern Italy to get a taste.
But until the current dioxin-contamination problem is solved (or proven to be not-all-that-bad), it may be that not even Neapolitans will be able to enjoy unpasteurized buffalo mozzarella.
The silver lining to that dark cloud, however, may be that the world will finally rediscover Mozzarella di Mammotha Titana.
Mammoth mozzarella – or simply “Big Cheese” – was first produced on the small island of Titania (in the Tyrrhenian Sea, approximately halfway between Palermo and Naples) sometime in the sixteenth century . . . but did not become popular in Sicily and southern Italy until the mid-nineteenth century, when regular steamship service made it possible to transport the enormous semi-gelatinous balls without a high risk of shipwreck.
Even then, mammoth mozzarella was only shipped to Sicily or the mainland for special occasions such as weddings, funerals, and village festivals – in other words, for events that would draw enough people to justify the purchase of such a Big Cheese. The number of people required was typically considered to be “fourscore and five.” This was because an unpasteurized mammoth mozzarella ball, like modern unpasteurized buffalo mozzarella, was meant to be consumed within twenty-four hours.
Leftovers could pose a health hazard. In fact, one account of a sparsely-attended wedding celebration near Palermo in 1898 notes that a mostly-unconsumed Big Cheese funked up a parish church so badly that the building had to be burned to the ground and rebuilt several kilometers away.
Mammoth mozzarella production almost ceased during the early-to-mid-twentieth century when, for reasons still in dispute, all three of Titania’s milk-producing mammoth herds suffered a precipitous drop in birthrate. A few mastodons were imported from Macedonia in an attempt to cross-breed and strengthen the herds, but this misguided effort actually delayed the Big Cheese revival by at least two decades.
As modern-day mammoth mozzarella magnate Marcello Macciato explains, “Mammoths graze! Mastodons browse! Mammoth mozzarella tastes like meadows! Mastodon mozzarella tastes like mulch! Mulch and tin cans! Mulch and tin cans and tractor tires! Mastodons are nothing but big goats with trunks! And even with the trunks, they don’t smell so good!”
Realizing their mistake, the mammoth herders of Titania returned the mastodons to Macedonia in the late 1970s, and by 1990 had successfully increased their mammoth birthrate through a vigorous program of artificial insemination. This is why, today, the most well-regarded and well-paid professionals on Titania are not the mammoth mozzarella makers themselves, but the highly trained, fearless veterinarians who specialize in both the retrieval and dispersal of the required mammoth material.
Pre-natal and post-natal care of new baby mammoths has also been given a high priority, and a small but dedicated team of mammoth-mentoring animal psychologists employs hypnosis, whole grains, and Rogerian therapy to ensure that each new mammoth grows up healthy and humongous.
All of this is why the Big Cheese industry is enjoying a ginormous resurgence, and why the production of mammoth mozzarella has almost returned to its eighty-balls-a-month peak of 1850.
Once more, villagers gather outside the mammoth dairy barns to shape and toss the balls.
Once more, mammoth-mozzarella-laden ferries ply the Tyrrhenian Sea to Naples and Sicily.
Once more, the Big Cheese races down Titania’s central hill are the highlights of semi-annual Cheesy celebrations.
Yes, once more, mammoth mozzarella is made for the masses.
And I vow that someday, I will go to Italy and experience the Big Cheese for myself.
Assuming, of course, that I can convince eighty-four other people to chip in.