Mozzarella sticks have a moment
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Scroll through TikTok even for a few minutes, and you might come across a video of gooey cheese pulled into shiny, stretchy strands. It’s a fascinating moment – scientifically proven to release chemicals in the brain similar to those involved in addiction.
The mozzarella stick is one of the most recognizable formats for what’s called pull cheese. Soft and elastic in the center, crisp and golden on the outside, it recalls the bowling alleys and school canteens of yesteryear.
Recently, the dish has experienced a cultural resurgence. It makes appearances on high-end restaurant menus and viral cooking videos – motivated, perhaps, by Americans’ longing for nostalgic comfort food during a pandemic, or just the pleasing aesthetic.
Last year, Tim Szuta introduced a stick-sized stick of mozzarella to boost sales at his pizzeria, Alphonso’s the Original, in West Allis, Wisconsin. In November 2020, a Facebook video of D’Naya Rae’s mozzarella sticks went viral, receiving 24 million views and bringing in an influx of customers.
“People love fried food, people love cheese, and when you take a big stick of fried cheese that comes from Wisconsin, it attracts people,” said Szuta, 41.
“If it weren’t for the mozzarella stick, I would be bankrupt,” he added.
According to a report by food delivery company DoorDash, mozzarella sticks were the most ordered food on game day during the 2020-21 NFL season, even surpassing chicken wings. Big Stick Willy’s, a mozzarella stick wholesaler in New York City, currently has back orders worth 18 million pounds of mozzarella sticks. And in January, award-winning chef James Beard, Dan Kluger, opened his long-awaited Long Island City restaurant, Penny Bridge, serving mozzarella sticks with smoked tomato sauce.
Breading and frying cheese is an age-old practice, as evidenced by dishes like mozzarella in carrozza and suppli al telefono. The American mozzarella stick – with its characteristic cylindrical shape – probably appeared in the 1970s, when mass-produced mozzarella and commercial deep fryers became available. In the 1980s, the dish was a staple of many restaurant chains.
But what is old is new. Logan Cox calls his restaurant, Milk Drunk, which opened in Seattle in July 2020, an “upscale Dairy Queen,” and the best-selling item is the mozzarella sticks. At Milk Drunk, they’re coated in ranch dressing powder and served with a harissa marinara.
“I never thought they would be as popular as they are,” said Mr. Cox, 41. “The allure of melted mozzarella is omnipresent in all humans. “
Jori Mezuda, 28, creator of TikTok, added that mozzarella sticks are prevalent on social media because they are both widely familiar and a good medium for creative experimentation. His Flamin ‘Hot Cheetos Coated Mozzarella Sticks video has garnered over a million views.
Guan Wang, who opened Japanese restaurant Ichiban in Ames, Iowa in June, riffs on a mozzarella-filled stick like the Chinese-American appetizer Rangoon crab.
Rangoon crab mozzarella sticks attract local diners, who are often unfamiliar with East Asian cuisines, said Wang, 29. “They’re like, ‘They serve mozzarella sticks, maybe I’ll try the bento box.'”
The mozzarella stick has also gone vegan. At Baia, a plant-based restaurant in San Francisco, the dish is made with cashew cheese, tapioca starch and agar. It’s so in demand that even diners in person had to pre-order them online in the first few months of opening last year.
Mike Aurigemma, 49, education director for Matthew Kenney Cuisine, owner of Baia, said unlike other snack foods, mozzarella sticks can be just as appealing in their fast and high-end forms of food.
Even top chefs have a soft spot for mainstream mozzarella sticks. They remind Andrew Carmellini of being a teenage cook at an “80s-style” Italian restaurant outside of Cleveland. The mozzarella sticks Mr. Carmellini, 50, serves today at Carne Mare, the Manhattan steakhouse he opened last summer, consist of low-moisture mozzarella and panko breadcrumbs – a makeup similar to the one he did as a teenager.
The dish comes in the form of a pair of golden brown rods, just like what you might see in a fast food chain. Except they are topped with caviar and cost $ 28.
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