The Surprising Origin Of Mozzarella Sticks

The French are nothing if not food fanatics. They have been fine-dining royalty since at least the 18th century (via The Conversation). Back then, a probably fictional rumor centering around cake garnered the popular support needed to chop off a queen's head. But they were almost certainly culinary experts even 400 years before that when French housewives were frying up the medieval versions of mozzarella sticks (via Thrillist).  

The recipe in question, published in the 1393 cookbook Le Ménagier de Paris, calls for breading cheese in a batter made of egg yolks, flour, salt, and wine, before frying them in an iron skillet. You can trust the French to add wine to anything. As 1393 was right around the time that France's King Charles VI was going insane (throwing violent temper tantrums and trying to convince people that he was the dragon-slaying St. George), you can't blame the French for wanting to (via Fascinate). We digress. 

The long and short of it is that it was the medieval French who came up with the precursors to our favorite late-night cravings. But as food historian Joel Jensen will tell you, the deep-fried mozzarella sticks we love today may have very little in common with their distant medieval French ancestors. More likely, they are a much closer relative of another, more recent phenomenon: Americans' love for everything fried.   

Why mozzarella sticks are uniquely American

Distant cousins of mozzarella sticks may be centuries old. According to Thrillist, however, the modern-day sticks began popping up in the 1970s. That's when new frying technologies allowed sports bars, dives, and bowling allies to whip up food fast. There's no arguing that you wouldn't have a true mozzarella stick without a deep fryer. And the 1970s and the 1980s were a heyday for anything deep-fried, from buffalo wings to pizza to deep-fried fair foods (via ThrillistOur Everyday Life).

Mozzarella sticks would not have come into existence if it were not for the increasing availability of mass-produced mozzarella cheese beginning in the 1960s (Via The Atlantic). If what food historian Joel Jensen believes is true, mozzarella sticks are probably the result of a love affair between mass-produced mozzarella and recently developed frying technology. They may have been the invention of an enterprising bowling alley or sports bar cook trying to come up with a finger food "besides French fries, chicken, and onion rings."  Perhaps they invented them right around the time that Wisconsin cheesemaker Frank Baker used mozzarella to make the first versions of string cheese in the mid-'70s (via Undeniably Dairy). 

But while the exact origin of the fried and cheesy sticks that TGI Fridays is famous for today is uncertain, two things are not. First, mozzarella remains among America's most popular cheeses (via The Manual). Second, nothing quite beats the taste of the fresh Italian cheese when breaded and cooked in oil.