The first “mozzarella” cheese made with 100 percent donkey milk has been produced in Italy.
Mozzarella is a traditional southern Italian cheese made from buffalo’s milk using the pasta filata method.
There are several variations, such as mozzarella from cow’s milk, called Fior di latte; mozzarella from sheep milk, which is sometimes called mozzarella pecorella; and more recently a goat’s milk variety.
Now, they have been joined by a donkey milk version, produced at the largest donkey farm in Europe, Azienda Agricola Montebaducco by the food technologist Giuseppe Iannella.
Milk from donkeys and horses has long been considered unsuitable for cheese production because, unlike other milk, no curd is formed with the addition of common rennet. This lack of curdling is because of low levels of k-casein, a milk protein crucial to the cheese-making process.
Donkey milk, under the action of common bovine-based rennet, forms a very weak gel compared to the gel formed from cow’s milk and without curd formation. Mare’s milk shows no gel formation at all.
However, a pioneering technique developed in Italy in 2014 by Iannella changed all that.
He discovered that camel chymosin – the enzyme found in camel rennet – is able to effectively clot equid milk if performed through what he describes as an appropriate technological process. It has been named the Nativity-Equid cheese-making method.
Iannella went on to develop the recipe for the first 100 percent donkey cheese, called Asinino Reggiano.
He says the process for making mozzarella involves moderately heating the raw donkey milk, the addition of a starter culture, the addition of camel chymosin, incubation, whey separation, drainage of the curd, breaking the curd into small pieces, spinning the curd (at 80-90°C and pH 4.8-5), cooling it , salting, and packing the product in slightly acid water.
The average yield of mozzarella from donkey milk is around 3.5 to 4%, which is lower than the 10 to 12% yield from cow’s milk. This, he says, is because of the lower casein and fat content in donkey milk.
He says the process is technically more difficult for donkey milk because of its different coagulation characteristics and its lower total solids content, in particular caseins and fats.
Donkey-derived mozzarella is white. It has a springy texture and is stringy and supple, as would be expected with mozzarella. It is said to have the delicate and fresh taste of donkey milk.
Donkey milk has flavours of barley, coconut, almond and hazelnut, according to Iannella.
Iannella says the method he developed can also be used to produce mozzarella from mare’s milk.
He says it is especially pleasing to have produced a mozzarella from donkey’s milk, given that he is from the Campania region, where the cheese originated in the Middle Ages.
Azienda Agricola Montebaducco spokesman Davide Borghi said finding the right recipe and packaging of both donkey cheese and mozzarella took time.
He says the mozzarella has gone out to restaurant chefs to make them aware of the new cheese, as preparations continue for the official product launch.
Cheese-making, considered an important method for preserving milk, represents one of the earliest biotechnological applications of enzymes.