Also known as buffalo mozzarella (mozzarella di bufala to Italians), this mild fresh cheese is made by dipping curds into hot whey. Bocconcini originated in Naples and was once made only from the milk of water buffaloes, but is nowadays made from a combination of water buffalo and cow's milk. Factory-produced regular mozzarella has an elastic texture and is best used melted on pizza. Fresh bocconcini packaged in whey or water has a much spongier texture and absorbs the flavours around it. It's sold in 1-inch balls at Pasquale Brothers (217 King East, 416-364-7397), Cheese Magic (182 Baldwin, 416-593-9531) and Centro Trattoria & Formaggio (1224 St. Clair West, 416-656-8111).
Though it's found on high-end Cal-Ital menus all over town, bocconcini salad couldn't be easier to recreate at home. Its success comes down to the quality of the ingredients used: the best olive oil, tomatoes and basil straight from the garden, and the freshest bocconcini. Cut two large, ripe tomatoes and four bocconcini balls into half-inch slices. On a serving dish lined with a bed of baby spinach, alternate tomato and cheese slices with a fresh basil leaf between them to form a fan shape. Drizzle with olive oil, a quick splash of balsamic vinegar, a toss of sea salt and a grinding of black pepper. Serve with grilled crusty bread spread with roasted garlic.