Mozzarella is one of the most popular Italian cheeses. It’s found on pizza, in calzones, and as part of a caprese salad. The stories regarding the cheese’s origins are as diverse as the numerous ways you can eat it.

The one thing we know for sure about mozzarella’s early history is that the first cheeses were made from buffalo milk. The earliest reference to this cheese may be from the 12th Century and is documented by historian Monsignor Alicandri in “Chiesa Metropolitana di Capua.” Alicandri writes that the Monastery of Saint Lorenzo in Capua would give pilgrims bread with mozza.

Up until the 15th and 16th centuries, the cheese we call “mozzarella” was called “mozza”. Mozzarella is a diminutive form of mozza, which means “cut.” The earliest confirmed reference to the cheese using the name we currently use, is from a 1570 cookbook written by the first celebrity chef, Bartolomo Scappi.

In Italy, most of the mozza cheese sold is still made from Italian buffalo milk. Since 1996, the milk of Italian buffalo raised in designated areas of Campania, Lazio, Apulia, and Molise can be selected as Mozzarella di buffalo campana PDO. The PDO stands for protected designation of origin, which maintains a product’s history and authenticity.

While cheese made from buffalo milk is available in the United States, the mozzarella most Americans are familiar with is made with cow’s milk. Unless the package is marked otherwise, you’re most likely purchasing this type. In Italy, this mozzarella is called fior di latte.

Mozza producers in Italy also make cheese out of sheep’s milk and goat’s milk. Sheep’s milk mozza, which is called mozzarella pecorella, is produced in Sardinia, Abruzzo, and Lazio. Goat’s milk mozza is still new and produced in only a few places, but it is being developed for those who cannot digest cow’s milk.

Regardless of which type of cheese you prefer, I think we can all agree that mozzarella is an essential part of some of our favorite dishes.