Fresh Mozzarella from Scratch

If someone told me that I could never eat another piece of chocolate or cake for the rest of my life, I’d say, “meh.” My sweet tooth is only really activated if there is something shoved in my face or if other people are eating it. The other day there were not just one, but two parties with cakes at work and I had a piece of each, which was more cake than I’d eaten probably in the past 6 months combined.  And my body nearly went into hyperglycemic shock. 

Now, if someone told me I could never eat another piece of cheese for the rest of my life, I would probably curl up in to the fetal position and cry. And then I would mourn.  And ultimately, I’d probably turn into a pretty miserable person to be around. 

One of the things I’m most excited about with this scratch cooking venture is homemade cheeses.  Like really excited.  Especially after how this last batch of mozzarella turned out.  

Mozzarella is one of the easiest cheeses to make at home  and I think I’ve finally gotten a hang of it.  I’m going to just throw away all the pants I fit in pre-wedding because I’ve given up hope that I’ll ever fit in them again. Luckily, my studly husband would rather that we have fresh cheese that a skinny wife anyway.  
Super simple ingredients.  Whole milk, salt, powdered citric acid, and vegetable rennet.  Raw milk is the best 
for cheese, but it’s illegal to sell in stores in Oregon, you can only buy it at small farms, boo.  A fine mozzarella is made with store brand milk, but raw is supposed to be better.  Whole milk produces the best texture but 2%, 1% and skim can be used. The less fat, though, the more rubbery the texture.  And c’mon.  Life’s too short to eat skim milk cheese.  

First step, add citric acid to a large non-reactive pot.  Non reactive pot… yeah, I had no idea what that meant so I Googled it.  And holy crap that’s why when I’ve made cheese in the past it hasn’t curdled right.  Luckily, we were gifted this pretty amazing stainless steel and copper cooking set for our wedding! A set that I fought  had an adult conversation weighing the pros and cons with my then fiance about, because I thought it was an incredibly presumptuous gift to put on our registry.  His response was first, “Someone could get it for us and then how great would that be?!” And then, “I told you so.”  Jerk.

With the citric acid in the pot, I then poured in 1/4 cup of water to dissolve the acid.  

You can find citric acid in bulk in the spice section of your grocery store.  It’s an organic acid that’s also a natural preservative.  Although naturally occurring in citrus fruits (duh), it’s now known as a commodity chemical and is produced by fermentation.  Are you supposed to cite sources on blogs?  Because trust me, that’s not something I just happened to know.  

Once the citric acid was dissolved, I added the gallon of milk.

Gave it a quick stir, then let it slowly heat up at a low to medium heat.

While I was waiting for the milk to heat up, I prepped the vegetable rennet.  
Rennet are complex enzymes that are produced the stomach of (mostly) calves.  Vegetable rennet can be derived from figs, artichokes, nettles, melons, etc.  Many cheeses are also made from microbial rennet, molds that produce similar enzymes.  These enzymes are key to cheese making because they’re what cause the protein in the milk to come together to form curds.  Yea, science!
You can buy liquid rennet or tabs like these.  When I went to go buy some at New Seasons, they just had the tablets, but next time I’ll go to a cheese making place like the Homebrew Exchange in North Portland and get some liquid rennet. That place is awesome, they have everything!  The tablets are fine an all, but the recipe call for only a 1/4 of one and, even though they’re scored, they still fall apart a little after cut.  So now I have all these little pieces that I have no idea which add up to a 1/4 tab.  Oh well.
Anyway, since it was in a solid form, I added that little rennet bit to a cup of water.

And let it completely dissolve.  

Then the milk was ready.  I probably should have paid attention to approx how long it took to heat up because that would have been helpful to know, oops.  Anyway, 90 degrees, which I think is about that spot on this little thermometer.  It was a close enough so I removed it from the heat.
I then poured the water with rennet in to the pot and gave it a few slow stirs to make sure it was all mixed.

Still off the heat I covered the pot and gave the little proteins and enzymes some privacy for them to do their thing for 5 mins.

After 5 minutes the curds started forming.  The top was soft and spongy, kind of like a soft custard.  Neat.
Then I cut the curd into 1 inch squares.  The recipe said to use a long spatula that will reach to the bottom of your pan, I just used a big knife.  
After the curds were cut, I returned the pot to the burner and turned the heat to medium.  While it continued to heat up again, I slowly stirred the curds around the edge of the pot and oh my god it actually made curds.  I’ve tried mozzarella in really old non non-reactive (reactive?) pots and the curds never formed well.  It was totally the pots fault!  Yup, I’m sticking with that one.  
After a few minutes of stirring I checked the temp of the whey.  This is apparently important, I wanted the whey temp not the curd temp.  
105 degrees was the target temp.  Well, as you can tell by my teeny little cooking thermometer getting to that temp, your guess is as good as mine was.  20 degree increments is probably not going to cut it for more complex cheeses.  Guess I’m gonna have to buy a cool digital thermometer. Maybe a bigger one.  Maybe a more accurate one.  I wonder if they make ones that sit on the side of the pot… Orr, holy crap they have temperature guns!  
>hint hint, nudge nudge<  best ever husband in the world! 
Ok, well my little thermometer gave me a good idea when the why was around 105 degrees so then it was time to separate the curds and the whey.  I used my grandmother’s slotted wooden spoon and separated the curds into a colander over a large deep bowl.  
Mmm.  Curd.  I was kind of impatient with the pot to colander transfer so there was still a lot of whey with the curd.  I pressed down on it a few times to strain it into the pot and then rotated the colander around a few times letter the loose whey strain out as the curd blob flopped around.  
The more whey strained the better. 
Once I felt like the colander had done all it was going to do to help, I took the curd ball out and lightly squeezed it between my hands to continue to get whey out.  You know what’s really hard?  Using both hands and taking a picture of what you’re doing.  Yea, that wasn’t going to happen.  

Now it’s time for the microwave.  Ugh.  Ok, anyone who knows Dan and I well know we don’t have a microwave.  Well, we have one, it just lives in the basement.  Because that’s how much we use it.  And because we’ve always had tiny little kitchens and we refuse to sacrifice precious counter top space for a machine we never use.  Seriously, the last time we used it was Christmas 2011 when we made a ton of Christmas cookies as gifts and we had to soften, not melt, like 6 lbs of butter.   Then, it sat in the garage in our old place until it got moved straight to the basement of our new place, where it has been since we moved in a year ago.  Until now.  Grumbling, after having to move two camping coolers and a bunch of other crap that seems to breed in basements on things you think you’ll never need but then one day do, I brought the wretched thing up.  Because, dammit, it makes this process so much faster.  

So I popped my little curd ball into the microwave for 1 minute on high.  

Oh hey, look at all the whey that that separated.  Damn you, microwave.

At this point my studly husband came home form the gym and rescued me from picture taking.
So after the microwave, the little curd was hot and super pliable. This is when it really starts to form. I squeezed off more of the whey, and kneaded it a bit.

Then put it back in the microwave for another 35 seconds to heat it up again.

Took it out and kneaded and squeezed it more. Again, it was a hot, there was more whey to pour off, and it was getting more and more pliable and stretchy.

Another trip in the microwave for another 35 seconds and more squeezing off whey and kneading and it started to get smooth.  Ooohh la la.


To add some additional flavor, I generously salted a cutting board.

Then I plopped my smooth, soft, but dense and slightly stretched mound onto the cutting board, front and back to pick up the salt, and I kneaded it some more working the salt in.

Oh hey, it’s stretchy!  Cool. I played with the stretchy little ball for a little while longer but our French Onion Soup that Dan had spent the day before prepping, was ready and waiting, so I cut the playtime short and started forming it into the standard mozzarella ball shape.

Anndd Ta-da!  Mozzarella!  Look at how pretty it is!

It was still pretty warm though and since we were going to use it immediately for French Onion soup, I gave it a little ice bath to cool it down so we could slice it.

Eeeee.  SO fresh.  Soft. Moist.  Creamy. And a slight hint of salt. 

What we didn’t use right away we stored in a tupperware with a mix of whey and water to keep it’s moisture.  It’ll last for about a week.  Also, it’s not a super melty mozzarella.  Maybe if we grated it that would help, but it doesn’t get too ooey and gooey in the oven.  

Oh!  And the whey!  Whey is awesome and can be used for so many things!  We saved a bunch of it because we’re going to use it in Dan’s Como Bread (replacing the water in the starter), AND make ricotta cheese out of it.  Two cheeses for the price of one! Win.  

Mozzarella Cheese 
1 gallon of whole milk
1 1/2 teaspoon of citric acid powder
1/4 tablet (or 1/4 teaspoon of liquid) vegetable rennet
Salt to taste 
In a large non reactive pot, pour in citric acid powder and 1/4 cup of water in to dissolve.  Pour in milk.  Turn heat to low / medium and heat until 90 degrees and remove from heat. 
Mix rennet tablet (or liquid) with 1 cup of water.  Add mixture to heated milk and give a quick, slow mix. Remove from heat. Cover and let rest for 5 minutes. 
After the 5 minutes it should be soft like a custard.  With a long spatula or knife, cut the curds into 1 inch squares.  
Turn burner on to medium and return pot to re heat.  Stir the curds slowly until whey is 105 degrees.  
With a slotted spoon, ladle the curds in to a colander over a bowl to catch the whey.  Continue until all curds are in colander.  
Press gently against curds to release whey.  Turn in colander a few times to release more whey.  
Put cheese in microwave safe bowl and heat for 1 minute on high.  
Drain whey, squeeze more whey out of cheese and knead for a few minutes.  Cheese will be hot, don’t let it cool.  
Return cheese to the bowl and heat again for 35 seconds and repeat the drain, squeeze, knead process.  Continue to reheat until cheese is relatively whey free and begins to knead smooth.  
Sprinkle cutting board or flat dry surface with salt and roll cheese on to board absorbing salt.  Knead salt in.  
Stretch cheese, warm again if necessary, and then shape in to a ball.  
Cool and serve! 

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