Buffalo mozzarella is an Italian treasure - or is it? I had intended to start off writing that these gems might no longer grace the deli's at Italian grocery stores, or fortunate recipients in North America. However, it seems that there could be some dioxin contaminants, which are potentially cancer causing, and which were found in several samples of buffalo mozzarella from Campania. A recent NYTimes article, would lead you to believe that the odds are perhaps unlikely you would come in contact with these dioxins if you were to buy buffalo mozzarella. But who knows.
This potentially doesn't look good for Obika, initially a Roman mozzarella bar, which has also recently opened in Milan, London, and is soon to be open in NYC, Kuwait City, and Torino. This bad press is like mad cow disease for a steak house. The website for Obika is also not it's normal self - is this because of the buffalo mozzarella problems? I am not sure, but hopefully the situation gets better before it becomes any worse.
The fascinating thing about Obika is that at first glance you think mozzarella is the only thing of importance, when in fact many Italian specialties are highlighted. Culatello from Zibello, and prosciutto di parma are already a good start. I was really excited to check out Obika this past summer, and I think the concept is great especially...for curious time-crunched tourists. Lucky for us, Roma was on the tail-end of the trip, and we had already been to many of the regions with specialties highlighted at Obika. We had already sampled some of the best products that these areas have to offer. That being said, Obika is still a great place to check out many unique items without going to the grocery store, or traveling all over Italy....
I had a spritz and Jeff had a Peroni. We ordered burrata which came with a spicy sausage (right), and three balls of mozzarella (left). These mozzarella's were described to us as one which was a little sweet, one which was pretty standard, and a smoked mozzarella. The "sweet" one was my favourite, but I have to say that the smoked mozzarella was incredibly unique, unlike anything I had tasted before. Jeff describes it as a "dry-wet cheese with no hickory flavour or anything, but just like campfire smoke."
Burrata (below) is like the creamiest goo, you ever wish mozzarella could be. There were also accompanying breads, oils, and vinegars which were great - especially for the leftover greens. Really yummy cherry tomatoes too!
As you can see, the interior design is quite modern, and in a very different style than most of the other restaurants we enjoyed on this trip.
I really sincerely hope that the fears created by this media monster are mostly just that - some isolated pieces of cheese somewhere which have probably already been destroyed. The article seems to be quite vague, and not entirely specific. ie. "While the exact cause of the contamination has not yet been established, they said the producers with elevated levels of dioxin in their milk were few and that none belonged to the consortium that receives the Protected Designation of Origin quality seal from the European Union. The protected region, they noted, is big, and much of it is far from illegal trash." This actually sounds quite promising.
I have never regretted eating a single morsel of calorific-cheese, or any food, made by real people with real ingredients....or what I perceived to be real food by real people. Now should everything be "certified organic" for me to eat it? Perhaps, but what is really organic anyways? You can't change the air of the world, or have perfect water either. (although I do buy many "organic" and local products because they just simply taste better) This makes me think that now even ingredient listings are not doing anyone justice. Sad as it is, perceived threats or not, we all need to keep examining the sources of our foods, as well as the media-hype regarding these issues, which may or may not be exaggerated. I'm still confident that there are "worse" foods to eat, with far dire consequences....we're not talking about excessive consumption of generic burgers from cardboard boxes, but artisanal cheese. I think I'll fore go the media hype until there are more facts. This cheese is really good stuff! In the meantime, I'll just drink more green tea, and hope that there are not excessive dioxins in that!
And I'll hope that places like Obika, can make it through this media onslaught, and the ensuing multiple bans many countries have created against the import of the cheese. Not everything can be contaminated, or we're all pretty much screwed anyways.