String cheese, pizza topping, Caprice salads. All thanks to the humble cow. Today is the day to whip up a little home-made mozzarella. You just need a gallon of milk. Oh and some rennet. And some citric acid. That is it though. (and did you know there is no ‘T’ in mozzarella? It is not mozzarella, like I thought). I have only made this twice before and it has been almost a year. But it is so fun to watch the transformation of the crumbly cottage cheese looking stuff into sleek shiny mozzarella.
You start with the citric acid. Its dry and granulated, like salt. You mix a tiny bit of rennet, 1 1/2 tsp. in a 1/2 cup of cool water. Set this aside.
Mix 1/4 tsp of citric acid in 1/4 cup of cool water. Set that aside too.
Now take a gallon of whole milk and pour it into a large pot. Pour the citric acid solution into the milk. Put the heat on high and stir vigorously to mix well. Stir while heating the milk to 90 degrees. (remember to use your instant read thermometer now!) When it gets to 90, remove the pot from the heat, slowly stir in the rennet solution, stirring in one direction for about 30 seconds. Cover the pot and leave for about 5 minutes.
Did 5 minutes go by? Now you lift the lid and see this custardy stuff. It’s the curds. Take a large spoon and using the back of the spoon, gently press the curds and see if it is set. If the curd is too soft, the whey too milky, put the lid back on and wait a few more minutes.
Now take a long knife and cut the curds into about 1/2″ squares, creating a checkered board.
Put the pot back of the stove, and now heat to 110 degrees, while slowly and gently stirring the curds in one direction with your spoon. When it reaches 110 degrees, remove from heat and keep stirring for 2-5 more minutes. The curds broke up when I did it and I thought something was wrong. It wasn’t.
Ladle out the curds into a colander or strainer, pouring out the whey. This takes a while because now the curds are broken (or may be) into little chunks. It seemed to take forever, using a small screen colander to sift out the curds. Put the curds into a piece of cheesecloth, laying this into a larger small holed strainer. I have used white paper towels, but prefer a cloth of some kind. Squeeze out the whey. The more you squeeze out the drier the cheese. I twist the top of the cloth, gently squeezing it out and shaping it into a big ball. You can put the whole thing into a plastic bag and put in the fridge for now if you want and do the next step later. Fresh mozzarella breaks apart after only a couple of days. You want it fresh.
Anyway, its time to shape the cheese. You might be worried because it looks more like cottage cheese at this point. But do not worry.
Heat a medium pot of water to 185 degrees. This is just below a gently simmer. When the water is warm enough, either turn it off or turn in off very low. Salt the water a bit. Cut off a chunk of the curds and lower into the water. Let it sit for 3-5 minutes. You just need it to warm through. With a slotted spoon, lift it out.
Now you might want vinyl gloves. This stuff is HOT. If is does not stretch like taffy, put it back in the water. It needs to be 135* (that means degrees for me). After tossing it back and forth going “ah-ah-ah hot!” you start to knead it, folding it over and over itself, bending, folding, stretching. Sprinkle some salt into it and continue to knead. Suddenly it is shiny and stretchy! Its mozzarella! Form it into a ball, or knot it or whatever shape you want.
Set this ball of cheese aside and cut the rest of the curds into chunks and drop into the salted water. After they are warm, pull them out one by one and salt, fold, knead. Soon you are done! How proud you feel. You are a cheesemaker! Not just anyone is a cheesemaker you know. But you are after this! It feels good. You are an alchemist, changing milk to cheese. This is even cooler than making butter, which is pretty cool. I put the cheese ovals in a baggy and put it into the fridge. When I took it out a little later to make the caprice salad, it had melded together into a large blob. Next time I would wrap it in plastic wrap to help hold its shape.
Now you take your garden tomatoes and slice them, put a slice of cheese on it and a leaf of basil. Drizzle a little olive oil over it, maybe some salt and pepper or just garlic salt. Yes, if you want, you can drizzle balsamic vinegar. It is wonderful, not matter how you shape it. Different salt gives it different flavor.