The first mentions of mozzarella are in a few cookbooks from hundreds of years ago. It sort of fizzled out in usage until the twentieth century, as mass production of the cheese started in the 1950s and popularity really began in the '70s. Before that, though, it was a little-known delicacy relegated to the Naples area of Italy. The term isn't quite from Italian, but from the Neopolitan dialect, where it was a diminutive of mozza, a word for soft cheeses in general. Here, we can trace it to the verb form, mozzare, which meant "cut" or "cut off" (as in "soft cheeses" can be "cut" easily). Surprisingly, this is most likely from Latin mutilare, which meant "to cut off" as well, but is recognizable to us as the etymon of mutilate. However, going beyond that, there's not much evidence to go on, let alone reconstruct something. It might be from an earlier word meaning "blunt, but nobody knows for sure. Usage of the word mozzarella in literature peaked in 1998.
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a junior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.