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Made in UAE mozzarella, anyone? Filed on May 7, 2011

Hotel chefs now have the option to choose Italian cheeses made using everything from the UAE except the knowledge

If you are heading to Millennium hotel for a meal, make sure to order a mozzarella dish. There is, indeed, something special about the cow milk mozzarella cheese served here: it is locally produced in a newly opened Italian factory in Sharjah! Millennium is among the very first clients to save both money and carbon emissions from transportation by switching from imported to “home” made mozzarella.

Financial and environmental reasons aside, this is a really good cheese made by traditional Italian cheese makers and to prove it a demonstration was held at the hotel.

“My name is Massimiliano Novi and I come from a family with a long tradition of mozzarella making,” said the cheese artisan in Italian, the only language he so far knows.

He was “imported” from Tuscany, the home of the famed Italian cheese to lead the team of mozzarella makers at the Italian Dairy Products factory (IDP), just opened by another Italian, Leo Condemi, in Sharjah.

“We are using everything from here except the knowledge,” joked Massimiliano.

The main ingredient, milk, comes from the dairies in Al Ain and Ras Al Khaimah and after several tries, it proved to be ideal for this very popular cheese.

“The acidity, the fat, the proteins are all in the right quantities,” explained Massimiliano.

“Of course, we tested the milk with precise instruments, but after all these years, I can just tell if the milk is the right quality or not just by drinking it.”

To make just one kilogramme of mozzarella, he needs eight and a half litres of milk.

In a large metal pot, Massimiliano mixes the milk with a little bit of rennet and leave it to set for one hour, making sure it is kept at 37 degrees temperature.

“You see now that the fat, or albumina, as we call it, is splitting from the water, or whey,” he clarified.

Lifting some of the albumin coagulated into dough-like pile, Massimiliano takes a piece and place it into 52 degrees temperature water. The “dough” almost instantly becomes shinier and very elastic. Using a large wooden stick he lifts the now mozzarella looking dough until it becomes as thin as lace.

“It is a very healthy cheese because it is almost boiled by putting in the hot water,” he pointing out. “In fact it is 72 degrees pasteurised.”

Once the bulk of cheese is done, the artistic part comes. With hands moving as fast as a typist and as creative as pastry chef, Massimiliano cuts the mozzarella into small pieces and then “moulds” it into pretty shapes like little balls or plaits, placed into cold water.

“I can do any shape you like,” he laughed.

“Even an elephant!”

The story of mozzarella fades between legend and history, but it is generally believed that it all happened accidently sometime in the Middle Ages, between the years 1200 and 1300. I group of Italian pilgrims discovered during their journey that the milk had curd the hot summer day travelling, which then came in contact with cold water, thus creating this rather good tasting paste. Yet, it took several hundred years more for the cheese to be given a name mozzarella in Italian means to cut off, referring to the process of cutting the large paste into small balls or other shapes. This was done by a Vatican chef for the pope and finally, in the year 1700 the cheese became commercially produced.

Since it is a fresh cheese, it only lasts for about a week and Massimiliano points out that if it has a longer guarantee period it is made with preservatives.

“In the factory we made it completely natural, without any additives, preservatives or other chemicals,” he claimed.

“Of course, this way of making it that I just showed you is how mozzarella used to be made in the 50s, but now we have machines. Hand made is always best, but in factories we have to use machines.”

It took Leo Condemi several years to set up his factory, with the help of his Italian friends in the UAE.

“I chose Sharjah simply because my friends live there and they helped me a lot,” he said.

“For the time being, we only make mozzarella and ricotta, but if all goes well, we will make more cheeses in the future.”

Also for the time being, Leo only sells to hotel chefs, but he hopes to see it in supermarkets as well, especially if the distribution companies do not tie him down to an exclusive contract.

Silvia Radan

I'm a senior journalist with 22 years experience in all forms of mass media. Originally from Romania, I lived and work in Bosnia, Uzbekistan, England and, for the past 10 years, in UAE. I specialize in art, culture, traditions, heritage, but also environment and the hospitality industry. I'm passionate about jazz and world music, cinema, mythology and offroading - I'm a marshal with one of UAE's offroading clubs!

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