I really don’t understand why fresh mozzarella tastes so good.It’s just milk plus salt, acid, and rennet, and yet the simple, creamy flavor complex plus the dense, slightly squeaky texture will always satisy and impress any cheese lover. Mozzarella is probably the most common cheese attempted by cheese making amateurs for good reason. A basic but delicious mozzarella is is easy and doesn’t require much in the way of specialized equipment.
Because I have yet to find a method for taking photos of my own hands in action and because cheesemaking is more fun with a buddy, I invited my lovely friend Amanda (you can see some gorgeous photos of her and her family taken by locally renowned photographer Chris Becerra here) over for a mozzarella-making afternoon. Many of the following photos were taken by Amanda with the rest taken by myself. It was a super gray day, making the lighting less than ideal, so sorry about that. Also, trying to photograph cooking events like this makes me yearn for a slightly more photogenic (and better lit) kitchen, but alas, you’ll get a nice view of the weird coils on the back of our propane refrigerator.
We generally followed Rikki Carroll’s “30-minute mozzarella” recipe. I will provide most of the details here, but you really REALLY should buy her book Home Cheese Making. It’s full of tons of recipes, tidbits of lore, and lots of recommendations and science. Her business New England Cheesemaking Supply Company also sells various kits for mozzarella and other cheeses, so check those out if you want to do things the super easy way.
We started with about seven quarts of pasteurized whole goat milk (five days of milkings minus the milk we drank/used in those five days). For those of you without a goat or cow in the backyard, you can use any milk that isn’t “ultrapasteurized.” The higher the fat content, the greater the yield because cheesemaking’s essential function is separating the fat and protein (curd) from the water (whey), so more fat equals more cheese.
You’ll also need some citric acid (granular stuff the consistency of table salt). I bought this container in the canning section of a household/hardware store. I’ve also found it at my local home brewing supply store.
Heat the milk on medium to 55°. That won’t take very long, so have your supplies ready ahead of time.
Stir up 1 1/2 teaspoon of citric acid per gallon of milk in 1/4 cup cool water. In our case, we used about 2 1/2 teaspoons. A true cheese guru (which I am not) would calculate the ratio of citric acid to milk by factoring in the season and lactation stage of his or her dairy animal. Early-lactation milk (for an animal that’s recently calved or kidded) needs less added citric acid, and late-lactation (for an animal that calved or kidded quite a while ago) needs more citric acid to produce a curd that stretches nicely.
Add the citric acid solution to the milk while stirring continuously.
Stir 1/4 teaspoon liquid rennet (I use animal rennet, but make sure any rennet you use is relatively fresh) per gallon of milk into 1/4 cup cool unchlorinated water.
Heat the milk up to 88°, and then stir in the rennet solution with an up and down motion. My flatish slotted ladle works great for this because it forces the milk through the holes, mixing everything thoroughly. Continue to heat the milk up to 100-105°, while stirring gently. At some point in here, you will see the milk begin to curdle. It wil go from completely liquid, normal-looking milk to slightly granular, to clumpy white curd in greenish-yellow whey in only a matter of seconds or maybe a minute. This transformation still seems like cheese magic to me. It’s pretty cool to wach.
Scoop the lumpy curds into a bowl. They will still be oozing some whey. That’s fine.
The super easy “30-minute” part of Rikki Carroll’s recipe tells you to put your curds in the microwave at this point. I don’t have a microwave, and I’m kind of an old-fashioned girl, so we did the traditional dip-in-hot-whey method. This is really the fun part, so unless you’re in a big hurry, I recommend you try this sometime.
Put the pot of whey on high heat, and get it hot, like 175° or more. Add a lot of salt.
Once the whey is hot, section off a blob of curd, and use a slotted spoon to dunk it in the whey. Your goal is to get the curd melty and pliable. After a few seconds, pull the curd out and squeeze it some to test for melty-ness and to distribute the heat throughout the lump. When it’s feeling gooey, it’s time to stretch it.
I have done this without rubber gloves, and it is not pleasant. Here I’m just using dishwashing gloves, and it makes a world of difference when handling hot curd.
I’m not mozzarella expert, but the stretching part is kind of intuitive. If your curd is not fully melted, the first couple stretches might tear it. That’s fine. Just dunk it back in the hot whey again.
Pull it. Fold it over. Pull it again. Repeat. When the texture seems uniformly smooth, it’s done.
Roll it into a ball…
and put it in a bowl. Repeat in sections until all your curd is processed.
Salt your fresh mozzarella balls a little more.
This is the best time to eat your cheese. The balls are still kind of gooey and warm, and they will taste delicious on their own or with a slice of tomato, basil, or whatever. Fresh mozzarella will keep for a while in the fridge, but the more likely scenario is that you’ll wish you had more to eat right on the spot.
After your mozzarella is done (and maybe all consumed), your stovetop will be a mess. Be prepared to clean.
The leftover whey will still contain little bits of curd. This is what was traditionally used to make ricotta. If you have a lot of fresh whey (and perhaps a little added milk to increase yield), you can heat it up to 200° add a small amount of cider vinegar, and then scoop out the curds and drain them.
For me, I never have enough whey to make ricotta making worth my time and energy, so this bit of curd goes into the compost.