Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Homemade Mozzarella!

Earlier this year I bought a cheesemaking kit.  It’s their base kit, but with it & the booklet that comes with it, you can make butter, cream cheese, ricotta, mascarpone, mozzarella, chevre & queso blanco—basically most fresh & soft cheeses.
Those of you who’ve been reading here for a while know I did a stint as a cheesemonger down in New Orleans during grad school, where an already (perfectly natural) love of melty cheesy goodness was transformed into a bit of an obsession.  I spent my days memorizing the specific deets about over 200 types of cheese… periodically rearranging them in our display case so that for a while, they were sorted by milk type (goat, sheep, cow), then by region (US, France, Spain, Italy, etc), then by type (Swiss vs. bleu vs. gooey-stanky-French). 

I spent hours tasting various cheeses with various spreads on various crackers, determining which combinations complemented each other best, so that we could sample them out to customers together & boost sales.  I learned which cheeses went best with which wines.  I built cheese plates:
(…and ate a lot of them too.)
But as yet, I hadn’t tried to MAKE cheese.  So, I figured it was about time.  When the kit arrived, I bought a half-gallon of whole milk, busted out the instruction booklet, and gave it a whirl.

Unfortunately, something went awry with the first batch—I think I overcooked the curds, because it ended up super crumbly, like Feta.  It still tasted good, but was definitely NOT mozzarella. (BTW—we still totally ate it.  Crumbled on salads, pizza, tacos, even stuffed inside crescent rolls.)  So then I decided to hit up YouTube.  I watched a few different videos, and each of them made it essentially the same way—and DIFFERENTLY than what my instruction booklet told me.  Grr.
So during my second attempt (this time, with a FULL gallon of milk, since trying to make a half batch requires only 1/16 TEASPOON of rennet, and I was concerned that maybe my attempt at eyeballing such a tiny amount during the first batch might have had something to do with its failure), I pulled up this nice Canadian fellow’s video to watch on my tablet as I went through the process step-by-step.
1 gallon whole milk
1.5 tsp citric acid
1/4 rennet tablet (or 1/8 tsp of liquid), dissolved into 1/4 cup water
Cheese salt (non-iodized) to taste (if you use iodized salt, it can add a green tint to the cheese)
Optional: 1/2 tsp calcium chloride dissolved in 1/4 cup water (If you’re using store-bought milk or goat milk, this reportedly helps to make a firmer curd & helps the cheese retain more of the calcium when the curds form).  They don’t use this in the video and their cheese turns out fine, so I basically only used it because it came in my kit.
In a large pot, add the milk and the citric acid and stir gently.  Heat over medium heat (around 4-5 if your stovetop goes to 10) and stir periodically until it reaches 88F (if you opt to use the calcium chloride, add it now).  If not, continue on to a temp of 95F.  You’ll be seeing some separation.  That’s normal.  IMG_5090
When it hits 95F, move it off the burner and add the rennet.  Stir for about 30 seconds—you’ll see big curds forming.  Then put a tight-fitting lid on the pot & let it sit for 25 minutes.  It’s a good time to watch Big Bang Theory, or part of Cutthroat Kitchen. :)
After the 25 minutes are up, use a mesh strainer or slotted spoon to remove the curds.  Drain as much of the whey as possible, and transfer the curds into a microwave safe bowl.  IMG_5093
Drain off the whey form the bowl, and then, using your hands (gloved if you can, though he doesn’t in the video), squeeze the curds to get as much of the whey out as possible.  He spends about 2 minutes on this in the video. 
Next, you’ll nuke the bowl of curds in the microwave for 1 minute.  This will pull more of the whey out—just drain it off.  Turn the curds out onto a mat or cutting board and sprinkle with cheese salt—then knead!  The heat causes the curds to come together.  You can fold it over on itself several times & mix salt in as you go, to taste.  If you want to add in any flavorings (I did a few with basil & rosemary mixed in), mix that in with the salt when you start kneading.
The more time you knead it, the more whey you’ll work out of it, so the harder it will get.  If you want a really soft mozz, you can just knead/fold a few times and then roll into balls.  You can also make little knots if you want, or ropes.
Then you’ll need to “preserve” the cheese in someway to protect it until eating.  You can wrap each ball in plastic wrap (what I did this time), OR, you can store them in a jar of olive oil—or even seasoned olive oil to make “marinated” mozzarella & add flavor that way.

I’m SOO looking forward to when my tomatoes finally ripen so I can make some caprese salad!!!

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