If there’s one thing can make my heart go pitter-pat it’s the thought of rotten milk in the form of CHEESE. Who would have thought that adding animal stomach (rennet) to warm milk and then waiting around would produce such wonders as cheddar, parmesan or mozzarella?
I began my foray into the world of cheesemaking when I made some goat cheese earlier this year. That was super simple. Pretty much you stir rennet into goat milk, let it sit, then strain. It was easy, tasty, and can be frozen.
But that wasn’t hard core enough for me so I attempted mozzarella. I tried it for the first time a few months ago. It tasted good but wasn’t very pretty. Undaunted, I tried again.
I ordered the mozzarella and ricotta kit from New England Cheesemaking Supply Company. This company offers it all (supplies, advice, ingredients) and breaks down the steps in an easy to follow booklet. This is great for people like me who are just starting to develop our cheese kung fu. We need the short bus version.
Mozzarella is a simple cheese to make. NECS has the instructions on their website, which is nice. You pour diluted citric acid (they don’t recommend using lemon juice, maybe because they want to sell you a powdered version) into one gallon of milk, heat it to 90 degrees, add your rennet (you can buy it if you don’t want to play with your own calf or goat stomach…even though that actually sounds appealing to me…), wait 5 minutes, cut the curd, heat the milk to 105 degrees, stir, pour off the whey and stretch the curds into beautiful, smooth, delicious mozzarella!
Right? It’s that easy….right??
Well, I will admit that the process is easy. They claim it only takes 30 minutes but it always takes me longer. And the stretching part…let’s just say I need some practice.
The first part of the process really is easy. Heating and stirring. Cut the curd. Pour off the whey and save it for lacto-fermenting stuff. No worries. But when it comes to the process after that I ran into a few issues.
First, there are two options for heating the curd before stretching: hot water on the stove and the microwave. Since I don’t like to use the microwave much at all these days, I opt for the stove top version. You heat the water to 185 degrees. Note: this is FREAKING HOT, almost boiling. I have a high tolerance for heat and this business is HOT. You are supposed to pull the curds out of this hot water and stretch it like taffy.
Handling stuff that hot is not easy. As soon as the mozzarella is cool enough to handle, it’s not hot enough to stretch. Back into the hot water, where it gets hot enough to stretch but too hot to handle. *sigh* So I did as best I could without totally cooking my fingers.
Note: in the hot water bath you have a colander and the curds go into the colander. Do not use a wire mesh colander. I did that the first time and it took for-ev-ER to get rid of all the little cheesy bits stuck in between the wires. The second time I used an old, more solid colander like this one and it worked MUCH better. Far easier clean up.
When I got done stretching my cheese and trying to work the salt in while I did that (also not an easy task when your cheese isn’t hot enough) I put it into ice water. This is supposed to help it keep it’s shape (uh, not a problem for my cheese) and protect the silky texture from becoming grainy (since mine never got silky I don’t know why I even bothered with this step).
So my second mozzarella effort was close to the first. My cheese was not beautiful or silky. However, it was darn tasty and I was able to grate it and use it in my stuffed shells (for which I used strained yogurt as the ricotta and it turned out delicious). Fantastic looking mozzarella eludes me, but hey…once it’s grated up, who’s to know! And there is always tomorrow….Ricki the Cheese Queen’s kit makes 30 batches….