It\u2019s the most popular cheese in the U.S., and without it, pizza as we know it wouldn\u2019t exist. We\u2019re practically weaned on mozzarella. But what connects the string-cheese snacks we pack in school lunches to the sensuously creamy burrata served in the finest restaurants?\r\n\r\nThe simple melty mozzarella that we\u2019re familiar with is the \u201clow-moisture\u201d variety, usually mass-produced in machines from cow\u2019s milk and briefly dried. It keeps longer and melts beautifully, but is vastly different from fresh, handmade mozzarella that oozes whey and can make a pizza soupy.\r\n\r\nTwo mozzarella derivatives are particularly hot in restaurants for their lush texture: stracciatella and burrata. Stracciatella is mozzarella that\u2019s been pulled and torn into very thin strands during the stretching process, giving it a distinct, soft texture (stracciare means \u201cto shred,\u201d not \u201cto stretch,\u201d which is allungare). It\u2019s often soaked in heavy cream to accentuate the fresh texture. Burrata is simply cream-soaked stracciatella encased in a mozzarella \u201cshell\u201d to make a ball that oozes when cut.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nCourtesy Obic\u00e0 Mozzarella Bar and Fabrizio Ferri\r\nThe king of mozzarella is Italy\u2019s Mozzarella di Bufala Campana DOP (Protected Designation of Origin), which is handmade using water buffalo milk from certified dairies in certain parts of the Campania and Lazio regions.\r\n\r\nWhile other mozzarella di bufala is available throughout Italy and imported to the U.S., Mozzarella di Bufala Campana is the only type of mozzarella\u00a0to have protected status, like Prosciutto di Parma and Parmigiano Reggiano. It was granted Italian denominazione di origine controllata (DOC) status in 1993, and was given broader DOP status by the European Union in\u00a02008.\r\n\r\nTip:\u00a0If you\u2019re using fresh mozzarella on pizza, slice it thinly a few hours ahead to let the whey leak out. Pat the slices dry before using.\r\n\r\nIt enjoys exalted status for a reason. Mozzarella di Bufala Campana is subtle, milky and fresh, but its distinct flavor and texture places it among the world\u2019s great cheeses. The milk is the key. Water buffalo milk is much higher in fat and protein than cow\u2019s milk. You wouldn\u2019t want to drink water buffalo milk, but it\u2019s ideal for cheese.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\u201cMozzarella di Bufala Campana DOP is savory, sapid and full of nuances of minerality,\u201d says Raimondo Boggia of Obic\u00e0, an Italy-based \u201cmozzarella bar\u201d with locations in Los Angeles, New York City, Britain and Japan. \u201cIf you want to buy the real one at the supermarket, be sure that the whole statement, \u2018Mozzarella di Bufala Campana DOP,\u2019 is written on the package.\u201d\r\n\r\n\u201cCompared to other cheeses called mozzarella, it\u2019s much more complex, more gamy, and when made by skilled cheese makers, it has a very unique texture as well.\u201d\r\n\r\nWhile the production is relatively simple, several factors distinguish authentic Mozzarella di Bufala Campana from mass-produced versions of the cheese.\r\n\r\n\u201cThe milk, of course, has to be 100% water buffalo, but also the grass and hay [that] the animals eat is very important, as are the enzymes and salts the cheese maker puts in the milk to make it a curd,\u201d says Boggia. \u201cThese details are as secret as the blend of salt and herbs used for prosciutto or salame, or the dosage added to a Champagne."\r\n\r\nIf you\u2019re lucky enough to find someone who regularly brings in freshly made Mozzarella di Bufala Campana, it\u2019s important to inquire about the production dates and storage methods. A reliable vendor, for example, ensures proper storage and quick turnover. (Much of the Mozzarella di Bufala Campana sold in large markets is usually weeks past production and may have been frozen.) In many cases, you may be better off finding a local producer of fresh cow-milk mozzarella; buy a range of fresh mozzarellas and have a taste test.\r\n\r\nMozzarella Glossary\r\nMozzarella affumicata is smoked mozzarella\r\nBocconcini is small balls of fresh mozzarella\r\nOvolini is a smaller version of bocconcini\r\nTreccia is braided mozzarella\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nJustin Bazdarich, chef at New York City\u2019s Speedy Romeo, makes mozzarella daily for the restaurant.\r\n\r\n\u201cI love great domestic mozzarella!\u201d he says, adding, \u201cI find that I prefer the light, creamy, velvety flavor of domestic mozz. Sometimes the imported styles are a bit tangy and can be a little aggressive with other ingredients in a dish.\u00a0I press our curd through a coarse wire rack\u00a0that gives it more texture and allows the salt to penetrate. We also do all the kneading under hot water to add more moisture and a softer\u00a0feel.\u00a0Wherever it's from, I prefer to buy mozz in a liquid\u2014I find it has a softer texture than\u00a0the ones in a Cryovac package.\u201d\r\n\r\nTip: When buying low-moisture mozzarella to melt, skip the low-fat or \u201cpart-skim\u201d versions. They don\u2019t melt as well as whole-milk mozzarella, and they also tend to pull away in sheets rather than ooze into stringy goodness.\r\n\r\nIf possible, it\u2019s best to eat fresh mozzarella on the day it was made without refrigerating it. If you need to keep it for a while, refrigerate it in the liquid it came in. You can also submerge it in salted milk (1 teaspoon per cup). Place the mozzarella in as small a container as possible, and keep it for no more than three days after production, no matter what the sell by date on the package says. Before you serve it, allow for three hours to let the cheese come to room temperature.\r\n\r\n\r\nHow to Pair\u00a0Wine With Mozzarella\r\nWhen pairing wine with mozzarella, consider whether you are eating it unadorned or as part of a\u00a0dish with other components to take into account.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\u201cI suggest trying it alone with an Italian Brut Nature metodo classico sparkling wine\u2014Franciacorta, Trento, or Aversa Asprinio, which comes from Campania, mozzarella\u2019s region of origin," Boggia says.\u00a0\u201cI also love it with Furore Bianco from Marisa Cuomo, a blend of Falanghina and Biancolella, two indigenous grapes from Campania. When it\u2019s served with tomato or pizza, try a crisp, medium-bodied red like Chianti Classico Riserva or Morellino di Scansano.\r\n\r\n\u201cStracciatella and burrata, more creamy and rich than Mozzarella di Bufala, pair very well with Chardonnay, especially when served with caviar, bottarga or white truffle. Among the indigenous Italian grapes, try it with Erbaluce di Caluso or a Rosa del Golfo from Puglia.\u201d\r\n\r\nSpeedy Romeo\u2019s Bazdarich says, \u201cI love mozzarella with this rare Italian grape called Mata\u00f2ssu. It ferments naturally to be buttery, but without being fatty like some oaked Chardonnays. It enhances the flavor of the cheese without cutting it like an overly acidic wine.\u201d\r\n\r\n\r\nRecipe:\u00a0Winter Squash, Radicchio, and Fresh Mozzarella Salad\r\n(Insalata di Zucca, Radicchio, e Mozzarella)\r\n\r\nThis salad, equally suitable as an appetizer or entr\u00e9e, is a great alternative to Caprese salad in winter, when tomatoes are sad.\r\n\r\nIngredients\r\n\r\n \t1 pound radicchio\r\n \t2 pounds winter squash (delicata, kabocha, acorn or red kuri)\r\n \t\u00bd cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided\r\n \tSalt, to taste\r\n \t1 pound fresh mozzarella, torn into small chunks\r\n \tTraditional balsamic vinegar of Modena (Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena), for sprinkling\r\n\r\nDirections\r\n\r\nCut radicchio lengthwise in quarters or halves. Set aside. Preheat oven to 425\u00b0F. Cut squash into half-moons. Slice off ends of squash, halve lengthwise, remove seeds and stringy bits, and slice into \u00bd-inch crescents. Brush or toss squash and radicchio with just enough olive oil to coat (about \u00bc cup total). Salt lightly.\r\n\r\nSpread in single layer on baking sheet. Cook for 30 minutes, turning halfway through (should be tender, with radicchio lightly charred at edges).\r\n\r\nCut and discard radicchio cores, and separate leaves. Divide squash and radicchio among plates and top with mozzarella (tucking the cheese in, so the heat softens it). Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 teaspoon traditional balsamic vinegar per plate. Serves 4 as main dish, 8 as appetizer\r\nPair It\r\nCascina delle Rose 2013 Barbera d'Alba; $25, 90 points. Fresh and refined, this delightful, easy-drinking wine opens with scents of rose, woodland berry and a whiff of dark cooking spice. The vibrant, savory palate offers juicy red cherry, raspberry and white pepper alongside bright acidity and polished tannins. Drink through 2018.