Bocconcini are Italian cheese balls about the size of cherry tomatoes. They taste similar to mozzarella cheese, since they are actually a fresh variety of it. Consumers can usually find them in delicatessens and some supermarkets in plastic tubs filled with liquid containing whey and/or water.
When these cheese balls are sold today, they often made from cow's milk, but bocconcini were traditionally made from water buffalo's milk in Naples, Italy. Some contains both types of milk in the tub. Since they are a type of fresh cheese, they are much more perishable than large blocks of mozzarella. Bocconcini are best used within a few days of buying them.
Bocconcini means small mouthfuls in Italian, and there is a bite-sized appeal to these balls of cheese. They are great served as appetizers with cherry tomatoes since both foods are about the same size and shape, yet their colors and flavors compliment each other. Cooks can also stuff mushroom caps with them, broil them, and garnish with a small sprig of parsley for easy appetizers. It's best to season the mushroom caps first, since the cheese is mild in flavor.
A variety of Italian dishes can include this cheese. Italians may eat the balls in a salad with sliced tomatoes, olive oil, and basil. They could also be wrapped with a meat such as prosciutto, an Italian ham, and served in a spinach salad dish known as Bocconcini Sorentina. Bocconcini Florentina features the cheese balls in a hot dish with garlic, seasonings, meat and onions. It can also be blended with other cheeses such as Gruyere to make a filling for a vegetable tart.
Bocconcini are very versatile because, not only can you serve them hot or cold as appetizers and make Italian dishes, you can use them in many different quick and simple meals. For example, they can be sliced and used on mini pizzas for a casual lunch or dinner. Cooks can place some leftover tomato sauce onto English muffins or pitas, add slices of cheese and broil in an oven or toaster oven until the cheese just starts to brown.