It’s not that making fresh mozzarella was all that hard, Fellow FoodBeest, it’s just that it was a pain in the butt. In some ways, this was more of a chemistry experiment than it was a cooking effort. It required acquiring difficult-to-obtain ingredients and it’s a good idea to have all the information you need before you start.
First the Rennet
Rennet is an enzyme which traditionally comes from the stomach of a young milk-fed mammal but for this you might want to use a vegetarian rennet whose enzyme is extracted from a mold. Rennet is essential to the making of cheese.
It’s finding rennet that is not easy. I tried Whole Foods (three different stores in the Chicago area, including the huge flagship store). They carry it, they said, but didn’t have any and didn’t know when they would have it in. I also tried The Chopping Block (a cooking supply store), Olivia’s Market, Paulina Market and Southport Grocery and a couple of True Value Hardware outlets (someone suggested it so I gave it a shot) who said something like, “what exactly is rennet?”
Before I gave up and bought this $4 item on Amazon and paid the postage, someone suggested a beer-making supplier. An amazing place called Brew & Grow that supplies both the beer- and wine-making community had both animal rennet and vegetarian rennet. Victory.
Now the milk
Most commercial milks are ultra-pasturized, that is they are processed at a very high temperature. The high temperature kills bacteria, but also the enzymes needed for making cheese. There are farms within an hour’s drive around Chicago that sell raw milk and I actually found one that would sell me a gallon (for $9!). That was if I had a glass container to pour it in and transport it home.
To get a glass container, I would have had to go back to Brew and Grow for a glass jug or buy a glass jug – already filled with either cider or milk, poured the contents into something else before I washed the container and took it to the farm to fill it with raw milk. Just didn’t compute. So I bought two half-gallons of minimally pasteurized milk (heated only to 145-degrees) off the refrigerator shelf at Whole Foods.
What You Need to Make Mozzarella Cheese:
¼ t liquid vegetarian rennet
¼ C cool, chlorine-free water (most bottled waters are chlorine-free)
1 gallon raw or minimally processed milk (2%, 1%, or skim)
2 teaspoons citric acid (sometimes labeled “sour salts”)
You Will Also Need
A non-reactive (not aluminum or cast iron) pot big enough to heat a gallon of milk
A slotted spoon
A fine strainer
A large bowl that is not aluminum (glass, plastic or ceramic will work)
A microwave oven
An instant-read thermometer
How to Make Mozzarella Cheese
Pour milk into a non-reactive pot (not aluminum or cast iron). Place over medium heat. Sprinkle the citric acid over the milk and stir a few times. Then slowly heat the milk to 88 degrees F. The milk will begin to curdle.
At 88 degrees F, add the liquid rennet and continue stirring slowly every few minutes until the milk reaches 105 degrees F. Turn off the heat. Large curds will appear and begin to separate from the clear, greenish whey. Think Little Miss Muffet. Let it sit for a few minutes to allow the curds to fully form.
With a slotted spoon or mesh strainer, scoop the curd into a large glass bowl. Press the curds gently with your hand and pour off as much whey as possible.
With a spoon, press curds into a ball until cool. They will be very grainy and the ball will want to fall apart.
For this next step, the curds must be about 135 degrees or it will not work. You can get the curds to this temperature by microwaving them for about 30 seconds at a time. Use your instant-read thermometer to be sure the curds are at the right temperature. Microwave curds on high for 1 minute. Some of the whey will separate from the curds during this process. Don’t drain it all off or you will wind up with very hard un-mozzarella-like cheese.
None of the recipes or directions I had for cheesemaking mentioned this step. Until I learned about this, my efforts at cheese-making were an abject failure. I kneaded the rapidly cooling ball of curd for at least a half-hour, and had grainy cheese curds all over me, the counters, the sink and the floor. Learn from my mistakes, Fellow FoodBeest. This was not pretty.
Drain the whey and work cheese into a ball. It will be quite warm, but not too hot to touch. Knead the curds like bread dough until smooth. If it is at the right temperature, this will happen rather quickly. If it is not at the right temperature, you can knead it until your arms fall off and it will never get the right consistency. Trust me on this.
When you can stretch it like taffy, it is done. You can sprinkle 1 to 2 teaspoons salt into the cheese while kneading and stretching it. The cheese will become stretchy, smooth and shiny. If it is difficult to stretch and breaks easily, put it back in the microwave for another 30 seconds. Then pick it up again and stretch it into a long rope. Fold over and stretch again.
When the cheese is smooth and shiny (this takes just a few minutes), it is ready to eat. Shape it into a ball, tuck the ends underneath and store it in a solution of about 2 teaspoons salt to 1 cup water.
Now what? Well, there’s pizza. There’s caprese salad. There’s omelets or frittatas. There’s this mozzarella prosciutto and olive salad sandwich. What else would you use your homemade mozzarella for? Let us know what you would do in the “comments” section below.