The French Origins Of Mozzarella Sticks

Breaded and fried mozzarella sticks served with a side of marinara sauce are an appetizer staple for restaurants. Some restaurants seek to set themselves apart by wrapping the cheese in wonton wrappers and then deep frying the sticks, or making them jumbo-sized so that eating only one practically constitutes a meal.

Taste Atlas includes mozzarella sticks on its list of "10 Most Popular American Appetizers," saying the dish wasn't well-known before the late 1970s or early 1980s. The fried sticks of cheese as we know them today were likely first made in sports bars and bowling alleys. TGI Fridays, one of America's most recognizable chain restaurants and a famous seller of fried mozzarella sticks, found great success in the 1980s with its large selection of appetizers, according to Undeniably Dairy. The restaurant continues to sell the cheese sticks in its dining locations and frozen in the grocery store, although some people prefer to make them at home with a quick-and-easy mozzarella stick recipe.

While Americans may not have started to dine on mozzarella sticks until the second half of the 20th century, the idea to batter and deep fry cheese goes back hundreds of years to mainland Europe.

French fried cheese

Although mozzarella sticks may be most often associated with Italy, the popular appetizer actually originated in Italy's neighbor — France. The first mention of what evolved to be the mozzarella stick was in a 14th-century French publication called the "Le Ménagier de Paris," per Undeniable Dairy. This guide for women included a variety of tips, from how to look youthful to delicious appetizers, including the mozzarella stick's predecessor, the pipefarce (via Thrillist). The recipe for pipefarce described using egg yolks, flour, salt, and wine to coat the cheese. After the slices of cheese were coated in the batter, they were fried in an iron skillet.

But the sticks we eat today in 21st century America are more associated with Italian food thanks to the choice of mozzarella cheese, Thrillist explains. While it's not exactly known how mozzarella sticks became a staple at American restaurants and bars, one of the earliest references found dates to the 1970s. The popularity of mozzarella sticks likely grew in the 1970s due to the availability of mozzarella cheese and easier frying methods. It was in the '70s that Wisconsin cheesemaker Frank Baker began to make and sell mozzarella cheese that was cut into slices or sticks, according to Baker Cheese.

It's a scattered history, but an interesting one nonetheless. And while we may never know the exact origin of the mozzarella stick, what we do know is there are never enough sticks on the appetizer platter to satisfy our craving for the ooey-gooey goodness.