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Mozzarella

2011 December 19
by Alice

I am stoked (that’s right, stoked) to take part in Rachel’s Cheesemaking Challenge. Look for more posts in the months to come as I make more types of cheeeese.

Last month, fresh off the success of making whole milk ricotta that tastes like ricotta, except better, I wanted to try a more difficult cheese. I initially had visions of nutty cheddar, or creamy brie. Maybe a pepper jack. Probably something grape-leaf wrapped. Fortunately, my “ooh fun flavor!” impulse was in direct competition with my less adventurous, yet highly vocal “that sounds complicated, and easily fail-able” inner voice. Not wanting to give up on cheese-making before I’d really gotten rolling, I settled on trying my hand at mozzarella.

drained curds

I didn’t tell my hand first, or it may have taken a vacation that week rather than repeatedly manhandle cheese pulled from almost-boiling water. I wouldn’t have blamed it.

After getting the necessary supplies at the local beer/wine/cheese supply store, I did what all respectable crafters do: stalled for weeks. Something about the new ingredients and the long list of steps made me repeat, “maybe tomorrow”, in a tone even I didn’t believe.

rennet and other ingredients

I had upped our weekly milk order to a whole gallon, in the first flush of excitement at the ricotta success. I needed to stop guzzling the last of the old milk on pickup day, especially since that was often a pint. Or two. That’s right, I made this cheese for the sake of my thighs. Um. Just go with it.

My burned hands might disagree, but my stomach says that overcoming my trepidation was worth it.

Before reading about cheese-making, I wouldn’t have pegged mozzarella as a simple cheese. Mozz always seemed so bougie to me, at least the fresh sort in tubs near the camembert and salami. Harder mozzarella for grating was a tad less exciting, but still seemed distinctive and mysterious, swaddled in vacuum sealed plastic and red & green Italian slogans. Surely that couldn’t be something I could make at home?

Well, home is just a wee factory, after all, and mozzarella turns out to be just milk curdled, firmed up, cut, drained, heated, and stretched. Nothing more than a series of steps. Do one, then the next, then on to the last, and at the end, you get cheese, no magic involved.

curds in strainer

What mozz has going for it, is that while it requires rennet (which ricotta doesn’t), it doesn’t need to be cultured, or aged (it can be – it just doesn’t have to). This makes it one level up from farmer cheese, and firmly below parmesan, gouda, and cheddar. I’m not saying it rides the short bus – maybe just that it’s junior varsity. It may not read Sartre, but it knows have to have a good time. In my belly.

2.5 Hour Mozzarella

I used the New England Cheesemaking Supply Company’s recipe for quick mozzarella sans microwave. Though I do own a microwave, my luddite inclinations won out that day and pushed me to try the stovetop method. If you want detailed instructions, click though the link above, as I am only sharing my experience. If there’s anything this experience taught me, it’s that cheese is complex, and I don’t know much about it. Yet. It may not be magic, but it is chemistry, and art, and I don’t know much about either.

The milk was easy to find, as we pick up raw milk from a farmer weekly, and we found the rennet at the beer supply store. The citric acid was a bit harder, but my husband hunted it down in the bulk health food & beauty products section of Berkeley Bowl, a local grocery.

This recipe is called a 30 minute recipe, but I don’t know what speed maniacs make it happen in that short a period of time. Maybe the tenth time I make it, it will take only 30 minutes. This first time it took about two and a half hours from start to finish.

warming milk

Instead of heating the milk on the stove, I heated it in a plugged sink by means of hot tap water, before adding the rennet and letting the curds set up. I rather liked this method of indirect heating, as I didn’t have to lug the big pot of liquid back and forth from the stove to the sink. I also had no worry about burning the milk.

set curd

When it came time, I had some difficult cutting the cheese. Ha. I mean, the curds. I did a regular criss-cross cutting pattern, but as I learned, this results in a checkerboard of long curds. Cutting at overlapping angles would have sliced those puppies up into more manageable chunks.

cutting curds

I kept underestimating the volume of the curds, so I had to move them from the strainer I initially scooped them into, into the larger colander. I think I was supposed to be able to fit the colander back into the pot I heated the milk in, so that the warm whey could keep the curds warm, but the dimensions weren’t cooperating.

curds in colander

Once the curds had been strained, the next step was to cut off small pieces of curd, drop them into 175° water (or whey), then retrieve them from the liquid and stretch them out. I used a slotted spoon to put the curds in and fish them out, but I had to do the stretching with my bare hands, and man did it hurt. I kept having to put down cheeses and mutter curses at the temperature, the cheese, my hands, and my desire to DIY anything. Ever.

stretching curds

Grumble grumble.

When the curds stretched, though, oh boy did they stretch.

long stretch

Sometimes into humorous shapes. <blush> Oh my. </blush>

drooping curds

Once I stretched each lump of cheese, I formed it into a ball the way I would form bread dough into a roll. Putting the shaped cheeses directly into cold brine helped them hold their shape considerably. I stored them in a glass jar in the fridge, swimming in the brine. The outsides of the cheeses got slimy in about a day, and I attribute it to the brine; next time I’ll store them in straight water.

sliced mozzarella

How did it taste, you might ask?

Delicious.

Like mozzarella.

A bit dense, but layered, and squeaky, and very mozzarella-y. The extra minutes of work and sore hands were well worth the end result.

We powered through the cheese in under a week. My favorite preparation was slicing the cheeses and and sprinkling them with salt, pepper, and a few drops of olive oil.

And brie? I’m looking at you. Be warned.

5 Responses Post a comment
  1. December 20, 2011

    1. Home Is Just A Wee Factory should be part of the title of your first book. =D
    2. Uhh, even after looking at the recipe in your link I still can’t seem to figure out how much milk you used and how much cheese it made.
    3. How much stretching was enough stretching for each ball? And do you stretch it out and then moosh it back together, stretch moosh stretch etc.? Or what?

    I love this! I want to eat it. Now.

    • Alice permalink*
      December 21, 2011

      I used 1 gallon of milk, and it made… enough cheeses ~2″ across to fill a 1 quart jar. I didn’t weigh them, which was a mistake I won’t repeat.

      I stretched and folded, rather than stretch and moosh. Think of folding sheets – pull it out flat, then bring the ends together, then turn (stretch) and repeat. This worked to create layers that would then peel apart when the cheese was finished. I think mooshing might mess up the layers. I probably did it 4-6 times per cheese ball, but I wasn’t paying that much attention. I did it until the curds felt more fluid and smooth.

      I’ll make more soon enough. We’ve got 3/4 gallon milk sitting in the fridge, and it’s bottle return day, so I think I’ll have to make some last minute ricotta tonight. Quelle domage.

  2. December 24, 2011

    Yo, if you make Brie I’ll have to elevate you to goddess status. I’ve been watching your cheesemaking endeavors with tremendous interest. ONE DAY I WILL get up the nerve to do this too. Ricotta is first on the list.

    Luckily for me we get our milk delivered to the house from our neighbors down the road, so it’s easy to up the order.

    Cheese — watch out, I’m coming for ya and Alice has my back!

    • Alice permalink*
      January 19, 2012

      Ricotta is a great place to start. Once you make it one time, you’ll never lack the nerve again. The hardest part is waiting for the milk to heat slowly.

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