Recently a friend dear to my heart asked me how I made my own mozzarella. After demonstrating it to a bunch of gals from my local mom’s club, and even getting my mother-in-law hooked and set up with her own starter kit, maybe it’s time I posted a how-to for everyone.

It’s really very simple, you see, and will take only 45 minutes start to finish.

Before you start, buy everything you need in a kit from New England Cheesemaking or buy ingredients a la carte: lipase powder, citric acid, calcium chloridevegetable rennet (it’s not the same as Junket rennet), kosher salt, and butter muslin (if you want to make ricotta from the whey afterwards). Though it should be said that the only thing you really need to buy is the special rennet (unless you have stinging nettles or cows growing in your yard and want to make your own rennet, which is a whole different post). As for the other stuff, well, the lipase powder only adds cheesy flavor, you can substitute lemon juice for citric acid (though I don’t know the amount you’d sub), the CaCl is only really there to help coagulation, and you can fudge the butter muslin with a square of nice cotton about 12 x 12″. Buying the fancy modern stuff just helps you get a consistent result.

You will also need a long knife, a big slotted spoon, kitchen rubber gloves, a shallow bowl, a deep bowl, a microwave, a timer, and a thermometer than can measure from 50 to 110F.

First, fill your deep bowl halfway with cold water and add a whole bunch of ice. You’re going to quick-cool your cheese in this later.

You start with four glasses of water with about a 1/4 cup of water in each. To one add 1/8 tsp lipase powder, to another, 1 1/2 tsp citric acid (mix until it dissolves), to another 1/2 tsp CaCl. The 4th will be for the 1/4 tablet of rennet, but don’t dissolve it yet.

Add your citric acid, lipase, and CaCl to 1 gallon of any kind of cold (50F) milk except ultra-pasteurized (pasteurized is fine; supposedly it can even be done with reconstituted dried milk, but I prefer whole) sloooowly to 90 degrees. (I put mine on about 2.5 heat on a scale of 10). Now add your 1/4 rennet tablet to the remaining cup of water.

Remove the pot from the heat and add the rennet water. Stir gently but very thorougly, up and down, for 1 minute. Cover the pot (still off the heat) and leave for 5 minutes. Check for a “clean break” which means the curds have consolidated and the whey will be quite visible. The curd mass will be thicker than yogurt and will bend rather than mush or break when you geeently push at the corners.

This is almost there. Good enough for me – if you want to wait longer, put some more time on the timer and see what happens.

Otherwise, use your long knife to cut the curd into cubes about 1″ square. Do it left-right, up-down, diagonally. Try to get those curds into uniform bits so they expel whey equally.

Now put the pot back on the stove over low heat again. You’re going to oh-so-gently move the curds around until they reach 105F. I won’t say “stir” because that might be too rough. Just keep them moving slowly so they don’t scorch. You’ll see the curds get smaller and produce more whey (yellow liquid) as they get firmer.

Once the pot reaches 105F, take the pot off the heat and keep stirring for 2-5 minutes. 2 minutes will make a much creamier cheese; 5 minutes will give you a more traditional mozzarella.

Now use your slotted spoon to transfer your curds into your shallow bowl.

Once you’ve got them all, drain the whey from the hot curds back into the pot, pressing on the mass to aid more whey drainage. You’ll want to be wearing your special, food-only kitchen gloves at this point because these curds are hot.

Microwave it on high for 1 minute. Take it out of the microwave, drain it, fold it over on itself a couple more times, and microwave it again for 30 seconds. Drain it.

At this point I like to sprinkle the cheese with about 1 tsp kosher salt (per gallon milk used) and whatever spices (I love this pizza seasoning blend from Penzey’s for all my Italianate cookery, and a little drizzle of honey is also good).

Knead it all in like bread dough til it’s evenly distributed.

Keep kneading. It should be soft and yielding at this point. If it starts to get rubbery and resist you, return it to the microwave for 30-45 seconds.

The dough will go from raggedy and dull, like a mass of ricotta, to suddenly more uniform and a little bit shiny. If it’s hot enough it will begin to streeeeeetch!

At this point, dumb faces of astonished delight are mandatory. You just try not looking silly too.

Now knead/roll/shape it all back into a nice tight shiny ball. It’s fun to play with, but if you overwork it it will get really rubbery and tough.

Eat warm, or dunk it into your ice water for 30 minutes before wrapping and refrigerate it.

To make ricotta from the remaining mozzarella whey (which I think – unlike whey made from cultured cheeses – is not good for much else, since this whey lacks that good bacteria, though I could be wrong) bring your remaining whey to between 185 and 195F. Add 2 tbsp of cider vinegar, stir, cover the pot and remove from heat, and let sit 15 minutes. The vinegar will precipitate out the suspended milk proteins. (You can make ricotta from regular milk this way too, and you will get a lot bigger yield. But the point here is to find a useful purpose for a by-product, so…)

Spread your butter muslin over a colander (I use a double layer) and slowly ladle in your whey. Resist the urge to pour it all in; the pressure from pouring would force the tiny granules out through the butter muslin and then you’d have nothing.

Once it’s all drained out, tie up your bag of ricotta with a string and suspend it over a pot somewhere overnight. You can use the kitchen faucet if it’s high enough to keep the bag at least a few inches above the bottom of the pot; I have also had success with tucking my bag inside a pitcher, suspending it by tying it to the handle, and sticking the whole thing in the fridge overnight.

I hope some of you feel inspired to try this!

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