When I saw that my visit in Puglia coincided with the Sagra della Bruschetta e Nodino – Festival of the Bruschetta and (mozzarella) Knot, I was ecstatic. I consider these little “knots” to be one of my top ten favorite foods in Italy. Something that must be sampled and savoured here, because the freshness and quality of ingredients just doesn’t export well.
(Note: My boss’ boss calls me on Sunday night to ask me to come into the office at 8 on Monday. I have officially returned from vacation.)
On the mountain behind Manfredonia, in a frazione, or fraction/fragment of Manfredonia called Montagna, the biggest business in this hilltop town is San Salvatore Societa Cooperazione – Lattini Freschi – fresh cheeses. There is so little information about this company because their products are quite local, but oh so good. They were the hosts of this sagra.
A sagra is a local Italian festival that usually focuses on a gastronomical ingredient that is their specialty, is seasonal, or perhaps is just plentiful in that area. The food is usually made by the local community members and is usually great and cheap! One of the best steaks I ever had was at a tiny, 100-person sagra for cherries in Tuscany. Rowena from Rubber Slippers in Italy has made it her goal to go to as many of sagras as she can and Tania from Eurobimbo has gone to quite a few, too. And you have to love a festival that charges you 1 euro for a beer!
With a little of help from my father-in-law, I was immediately behind the scenes and snapping away as I drooled over the kilos of fresh mozzarella being made before my eyes.
They start with fresh whole milk curd.
They add hot water to break down the curd and start to form the elasticity. It isn’t completely clear here because I believe they re-use the water after draining it in the next step.
Then the water is drained from the mozzarella. This water could be reboiled and after adding rennet, it would become ricotta!
Then a mozzarella expert stretches the cheese, looking for uniformity and shine to tell him when to stop.
You can tell these guys have worked together for years doing this. They chatted casually as they tied off knot after knot of little mozzarella nodini and threw them into a vat of salted cold water. In front of them, there was a crowd constantly trying to get their attention. Every so often they would throw one into the crowd and the recipients scrambled to grab it. Once in a while there would be a mozzarella casualty and I shed a salty tear for its loss.
Here’s a look at the sagra plate of the evening – freshly toasted Pugliese bread topped with local colorful tomatoes, and paired with several mozzarella nodini! If you are lucky, several of your companions “sacrificed” a mozzarella knot in your favor.
This is an excellent video demonstration of making mozzeralla with an authentic NY accent from an event by the Gothamist and SliceNY. Nicki in Positano recently talked about making mozzarella on her blog!
How do you eat your mozzarella? Sliced, braided, knotted, as a ball? What’s your favorite thing to pair it with?