Is Fior Di Latte A Specific Type Of Cheese?

If seeing fior di latte cheese on the menu under a Neapolitan pizza has you confused, you are not alone. A less-than-common sight on American menus, fior di latte comes from Italy, and the world of Italian cheese is overwhelmingly large and complex. MasterClass states that Italy produces more varieties of cheese than any other country in the world, totaling over 2,500. The vast majority of these are region-specific cheeses protected by strict rules regarding everything from their production to how long they are aged.

The difficulty of understanding what type of cheese you're buying is only compounded when naming and labeling practices differ from country to country. According to The Spruce Eats, American labeling is not as strict as in many European countries, and the cheese produced in the U.S. is not bound to honor the guidelines set in other countries. A classic example is Parmesan cheese. Parmigiano-Reggiano, for example, must follow strict production guidelines in Italy to use the name. However, no such rules exist on this side of the Atlantic, and even imitation parm can be labeled Parmesan. Fior di latte, meanwhile, has a very generic translation. Bon Appétit notes that it means "flower of milk," which makes it sound like it could be almost anything. So when you order fior di latte, is it a specific type of cheese or a generic term?

Fior di latte is a specific type of mozzarella

Where you see fior di latte in Italian restaurants gives you a good hint as to what type of cheese it is. Often listed as part of a Caprese salad or pizza, fior di latte is a specific type of cheese that most Americans would call mozzarella. According to Cheese Atlas, what makes fior di latte specific is the type of milk that's used. In Italy, mozzarella is traditionally made with buffalo milk, while fior di latte is made with cow's milk. But in the U.S., it's completely the reverse — fresh mozzarella is traditionally fior di latte mozzarella, while the Italian buffalo milk style will be labeled mozzarella di bufala (via Eataly).

Both fior di latte and mozzarella di bufala come from southern Italy around Naples. But despite their similarities in production and origin, the different types of milk make a difference in how the cheeses taste. According to The Cheese Professor, fior di latte has a milder flavor because cow's milk has a lower fat content than buffalo milk. Despite mozzarella di bufala having a more complex flavor, you see fior di latte more often on pizza. That's because the cooking process and toppings can overpower the cheese, rendering the differences moot and making the cheaper cow's milk preferable. So next time you see fior di latte on a menu, you can order with confidence, knowing you're getting a fresh mozzarella that even fastidious Italian pizza makers would approve of.