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Mozzarella Redux: Knead you now

2012 February 29

I made mozzarella back in December ’11, and wrote about the experience here. February’s cheese challenge topic happened to be this cheese again. Since I’d already tried making it all by hand, with burning hot water, and no microwave, I took this opportunity to try it the “easy” way: nuke it.

Nuke it hard.

curds in bowl

I already mentioned that my awesome mom recently gifted me Home Cheesemaking by Rikki Carroll, the proprietor of New England Cheesemaking Supplies. Is it just me, or is the home-cheese-making world small small small‽ Pretty much all the cheese-specific ingredients and tools I’ve been using are from her company… If that monopoly is harming anything, I’m yet to know. Anyway, the first time I made mozz, I used Rikki’s no-microwave recipe online. I naively thought that the microwave recipe in the book (page 134, for those following along at home) would have one difference: you use a microwave rather than a stove to heat up the liquid to heat the curds in.

curds with ladle print

Boy, was I wrong. Microwaving is just the beginning. This version brings direct heat, reheating the cut curds, and no colander draining. And at the end of the day, I prefer the handmade version. With so many differences, it’s hard to tell which step caused the crucial differences though. And, I fully admit that execution could have been the entire change. Oh well.

If you had any lingering doubts about me being some sort of rational scientist in the kitchen (let’s be honest – anywhere), this debacle of an “experiment” should clear those right up. You’re welcome!

1.5 Hour Mozzarella

(Getting faster. Woot!)

Instead of using indirect heat by putting my pot in the sink and filling the sink with hot water, this time I heated the milk directly on the stove, like for ricotta, but only to 90°.

After setting the curd with diluted rennet, the top of the curd was not smooth.

curdled curd

This came out in the wash, though, as the recipe had me gently heat the cut curds up again, this time to 105°. This was when the curds stopped looking burbled, and smoothed out.

recooking the curds

I moved the curds directly from the whey into a microwavable bowl. They took a pit stop in a too-small container that I later repurposed for holding the finished cheeses.

ladled curds

At this point I introduced something new into the equation: gloves. I had picked up some natural rubber, cotton-lined food-safe gloves as an impulse purchase at the hippie grocery, and they turned out to be the perfect work aid here. My skin wasn’t a bit red or sore after this experience, in stark contrast to mozzarella Numero Uno.

alien hand and finished cheese

After pressing out as much whey as possible, I microwaved the curds for 1 minute on high. I then drained the whey that exuded during the heating, and kneaded the curds two or three times like a lump of bread dough. Microwave for 35 more seconds, drain, knead, repeat.

Each time I heated and kneaded the curds they became a bit smoother. I went through three iterations of this process before the cheese felt smooth like taffy.

stage 1

stage 2

stage 3

Stretching and pulling the cheese was fun, but tinged with a feeling of “am I doing this right?!” This is a downside to teaching myself from books and the internet. I have been a successful autodidact in many fields, but reading the pages of a book can’t beat seeing someone experienced going through the steps of physical tasks. Not even YouTube fills that gap, though it comes close. Watching this video from the 3:00 mark assures me that I’m kneading correctly. Win.

Having brought the whole lump of curds to a pliable consistency, I pulled off largish hunks and formed balls. I placed the cheeses into a ice bath to help them retain their shape. This time I used a pro tip from our dairy farmer Mike, and stored the finished cheeses in plain water instead of brine. This had the desired result of preventing the slimy exterior my previous cheeses suffered.

mozz balls in weck jar

These cheeses came out drier, and slightly less tasty than the first batch, which I made by hand. I didn’t salt these curds either, and even when I salted the finished cheeses they tasted a bit bland. It grated decently, though, and melted great. We ate the whole batch in under a week.

shredded cheese

The verdict, you ask? Good, but not great. The increase in ease and speed of this method was not enough of a motivator for me to be a convert. Next time, I’ll try the no-microwave version again, and see if I can replicate the tastiness of my first batch.

2 Responses Post a comment
  1. February 29, 2012

    Interesting that you preferred the hands-on method more. I think I would too (not only because I don’t have a microwave). At what point do you salt the curds if you’re going to do that? Or were yours more tasty the first time because of the brine?

    • Alice permalink*
      March 2, 2012

      You salt the curds during the final stretch. I bet the brine did contribute to tastiness. Nice catch. I’ll try no-brine, yes-salt next time.

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