Mozzarella and I have met twice in my kitchen. The first time didn’t turn out well and I ended up with mozzarella cheese spread, which we didn’t end up eating. This time, I had help from Alana Chernila’s book, The Homemade Pantry. Her book is wonderful and makes me happy, so I suggest you go buy it so we can be happy together.
You start with a gallon of milk. Make sure it’s not ultra-pasteurized, which has been heated enough to kill off the good bacteria as well as the bad. Mix 1.5 teaspoons of citric acid into a cup of cool filtered (or boiled) water. I believe the point is to make sure the water doesn’t have chlorine in it, which would get in the way of the cheese making. Add the citric acid mix to the milk and heat over medium to 90 degrees. When the milk gets to 90 degrees, it’s supposed to be curdled. That wasn’t really happening, so I sprinkled a bit more citric acid into the milk, I’m guessing it was about 1/4 teaspoon.
Next comes the rennet, which can be slightly tricky. It comes in either liquid or tablets. I bought liquid last year and never used much of it, so I decided to get tablets this time so I could keep them in the freezer indefinitely. However, once I started reading the recipe, I found that I needed 1/3 teaspoon liquid rennet. Each tablet is equivalent to 1 teaspoon liquid. There was a frustrating moment when I considered running out to the store to get the liquid rennet (and some more beer while I was there), but in the end I decided to wing it. I had read that it’s difficult to measure the tablets, so I pulled out my handy scale only to find out that the tablet was less than a gram, so it didn’t register on the scale at all.
Plan B for the rennet (or maybe it’s Plan C at this point): Crush the rennet tablet, and add water to make 1 teaspoon. Then use 1/3 teaspoon of that mixture. The measuring and mixing worked fine, and the end result obviously worked, but I was pretty nervous about the whole rennet process.
The rennet gets mixed with 1/4 cup of water and added to the pot. Stir it gently for 30 seconds, then take the pot off the heat. Cover it and let it sit for 5-8 minutes. I went with 7, but would probably give it another minute next time.
At this point, you have a large pot of white cheese curd in one solid mass. You have to cut the curd into pieces. I’ll apologize for the lack of action shots, but my photographer was working on laundry.
This goes back on the heat for a while. After what feels like forever, but is probably only 10 minutes, the curds and whey will split apart.
The curds get scooped out into a colander to drain.
The whey gets heated up to 165 degrees and then you take half the curds and dunk them in the whey for about a minute to soften them. Note that I have two hands in the picture because my photographer stopped by to help.
Once the curds are warmed again, Alana suggests putting on heatproof gloves and squeezing the cheese to release the whey. I asked Kip if the gloves under the sink were cleaning gloves or hot pepper gloves and the look that I got in response didn’t fill me with confidence. He didn’t take me up on my suggestion to have him lick the gloves so we could figure out which kind they were. So, I used a spoon to squeeze the cheese.
Once it cooled down a bit, I started
playing with kneading it. I felt very sad as this picture was being taken. I really thought it was not going to work. But, then I remembered Alana said something about the moment when it goes from something like this to shiny mozzarella.
Look at that beautiful, shiny cheese! Really! I made cheese! I’ve heard that good writers don’t need to use exclamation marks, but really… I MADE CHEESE!
I got almost a pound of cheese from a gallon of milk (I zeroed out the scale before adding the cheese to the measuring cup). The texture isn’t as soft as the stuff I buy at the farmers’ market, but that goes for $11/lb. Mine was about $4/lb. Next time, I’ll probably add some seasonings during the kneading stage.