I have been hearing for some time how easy it is to make your own mozzarella cheese, but have felt a bit overwhelmed by the prospect, not knowing what exactly, a ‘clean break’ is or how to ‘cut’ and ‘work’ the curds… So, when the opportunity arose to take a two and a half hour class on the subject of making both mozzarella and ricotta cheese, I jumped at it.
For those of you who read this and would like to attempt to make your own mozzarella, but are a bit overwhelmed, I really do understand. However, it really is easy, so I will do my best to break the process down for you.
As a fresh cheese, mozzarella does not need to be worked on by bacteria or aged. Our instructor, Lindsay Harris from Family Cow Farmstand, explained, all there is to mozzarella cheese, ‘is fresh milk made slightly acidic, then worked on by enzymes (rennet). The enzymes change the shape of the protein, causing solids (curds) to separate out from most of the liquid (whey).’ The whole process only takes about 30 minutes, and it is ready to eat immediately, but can be kept for about 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator in an airtight container slightly moistened by brine, or frozen for 2 to 3 months.
The milk used in this process is important. We used fresh unpasteurized whole milk from Family Cow Farmstand. Lindsay did tell us that it is possible to use pasteurized milk, and reduced fat milks, though she had never tried it. However, she did mention that you cannot use most organic milk. Due to the demand for organic milk, it tends to be heated at an even higher temperature than standard pasteurized milk so that it will last longer for transport and therefore does not lend itself to being reheated and turned into cheese.
As for sourcing the rest of the supplies needed to make mozzarella, she said that citric acid crystals can be purchased at many health food stores in their bulk section. But the place she recommended to buy rennet and any other cheese making supplies is New England Cheesemaking Supply Company. You can use either vegetable or animal rennet for this process, and it was recommended that if rennet (it doesn’t freeze) is kept in the freezer it can stay good indefinitely.
Cheese making is a finicky process. Lindsay said, sometimes, she will go to make a batch of mozzarella, and it just won’t turn out well, she doesn’t always know why. She said that if this happens, either your citric acid or your regnant may be bad, or it could be neither. She says, just keep trying, you may have a batch here or there that doesn’t turn out perfectly, but ‘a little salt, olive oil, and herbs can save any cheese mistake.’
For more information on making cheese, Lindsay recommended, Home Cheese Making by Ricki Carroll.
- Rinse a large (must comfortably hold 1 gallon) sauce pot with cold water, this prevents the fat from sticking to the pot.
- Pour cold milk into the pot.
- In a small measuring cup, dissolve citric acid crystals in 1/2 cup cool water.
- Using a slotted spatula, pour the dissolved crystals over the spatula and into the cold milk, immediately beginning to stir gently and thoroughly into the cold milk.
- Over medium-high heat, slowly heat the milk to 90 degrees, stirring frequently.
- Once milk has reached 90 degrees, remove it from heat.
- In a small measuring cup, dissolve rennet in 1/2 cup cool water (measurements must be exact).
- Using the slotted spatula, pour the dissolved rennet over the spatula and into the hot milk, immediately beginning to stir gently and thoroughly into the milk.
- Let milk sit, undisturbed, for 10 minutes, or until you get a mass of curds that breaks cleanly. This means that when you insert a knife it separates cleanly, without excess moisture, the way tofu or jello does. If the curds are not setting up well, you may have to add some very low heat.
- While you wait, make the brine by mixing the salt into the bowl of ice water.
- Once the curds have set up, using a long knife with a rounded tip, cut the curds into a grid of one inch columns by one inch rows.
- Using the slotted spatula, over medium heat, gently stir the curds, being sure to scoop the curds from the bottom of the pot and bring them to the top, since these will be ready faster. The curds will slowly become gooey and stretchy, sticking together when the whey reaches 120 to 130 degrees.
- Remove the pot from the heat and using rubber gloves to protect your hands from the heat, pull the mass of curds out of the whey, trying to capture any stragglers that may fall behind. Carefully, stretch and work the curds, trying to roll the edges under as you kneed, exposing the shinny surface of the cheese and creating a ball, for 5 to 10 seconds – NO LONGER or the cheese will become rubbery. As you work the whey will pour off. (If you want to use the cheese for pizza, kneed it on the longer side, this will allow a little more of the moisture to escape)
- Transfer the ball of cheese to the brine so that it is submerged, and allow to cool for about 15 minutes. Serve immediately, or keep in the refrigerator in an airtight container slightly moistened by brine for up to 3 to 4 days, or freeze for 2 to 3 months.
Makes about 1 pound.