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Back to Basics: Mozzarella

My bocconcini pulled apart beautifully.

This mozzarella recipe isn’t exactly foolproof, but I’ve messed up making cheese enough times to enough different recipes that I can attest that this was easier than most. I bought my supplies from Standing Stone Farms and used their ratios, though most of the rest of the recipe is borrowed from a former professor of mine, with my stretching techniques borrowed from Christine Clark at finecooking.com and some other adaptations all my own.

Good luck and happy cheesing!

Ingredients:

• 1/2 gallon whole milk (can be pasteurized or raw, but cannot be ultra pasteurized)

• 1 tsp. citric acid powder

• 1/2 tsp. calcium chloride diluted into 1/8 C. water

• 1/8 tsp. liquid rennet diluted in 1/8 C. water

• 2 tsp. kosher salt

Materials:       

• one large stock pot

• three small bowls or cups

• two medium bowls

• strainer or slotted spoon/spider

• kitchen thermometer 

• rubber kitchen gloves (as in the kind for washing dishes)

Instructions:

Prepare the Citric Acid, Calcium Chloride, and Rennet Solutions: Measure out 1/4 cup of distilled or spring water. Stir in the citric acid until dissolved.

Measure out 1/8 cup of distilled or spring water in a separate bowl or cup. Stir in the liquid rennet until dissolved.

Measure out 1/8 cup of distilled or spring water in another separate bowl or cup. Stir in the calcium chloride until dissolved.

You should have three mostly clear solutions, so be sure to label them or keep them separate so you know which is which!

Warm the Milk: Pour 1/2 gallon milk into the pot. Stir in the citric acid solution. Set the pot over medium-high heat and warm to 90°F, stirring gently. The milk may start to coagulate into a vaguely grainy texture at this point, but don’t worry, it shouldn’t largely affect the texture of your curds.

Add the Rennet: Remove the pot from heat and gently stir in the calcium chloride solution, then the rennet solution. SLOWLY count to 30. Stop stirring and let it sit undisturbed for 5 minutes.

*If you are using raw milk, it is important to top-stir it for several extra seconds when adding rennet. This mixes any butterfat that has risen to the surface back into the body of the milk. To top-stir, simply stir the top inch of milk with the bottom of a slotted spoon or skimmer. I did not use raw milk, as it is illegal to buy in NJ for human consumption, but it is my definite preference for cheesemaking. Do not use raw milk if you are immunocompromised.

I used a chip clip to hold my thermometer in the milk while it heated (not touching the bottom), but a candy thermometer would probably work better.

Cut the Curds: After five minutes, the milk should have set, and it should look and feel like soft silken tofu. If it is still liquidy, re-cover the pot and let it sit for another five minutes. 

Once the milk has set, cut it into uniform curds: make several parallel cuts vertically through the curds and then several parallel cuts horizontally, creating a grid-like pattern. Make sure your knife reaches all the way to the bottom of the pan.

Try not to scrape your knife on the bottom of the pan like I did.

Cook the Curds: Place the pot back on the stove over medium heat and warm the curds to 105°F. Stir slowly as the curds warm, but try not to break them up too much. Stir with more of an up-and-down motion or go side-to-side along the grid-like cuts to avoid breaking up the curds.

The curds will eventually clump together and separate more completely from the yellow whey. Make sure your thermometer is well submerged in the liquid (but not touching the bottom of the pot) so you get an accurate temperature reading. 

Remove the Curds from Heat and Stir: Remove the pan from the heat and continue stirring gently for another 5 minutes.

Separate the Curds from the Whey: 

Ladle the curds into a large, heat-safe bowl (ideally not metal) with the slotted spoon. 

Alternatively, you can strain the curds away from the whey using a wire-mesh strainer. If you do choose to strain them, be gentle when pouring the curds into the strainer to avoid breaking them. Then transfer the curds to the heat-safe bowl.

Set aside the whey for later. After this, whey may build up again as the curds continue to express it under their own weight, so you may have to pour whey off the top of the bowl a couple more times as you wait for the water to heat in the next step.

Salting the Curds: Work 2 Tbs. of kosher salt into the curds using your fingers. It will seem like a lot of salt, but don’t worry; most of it will remain in the water.

Heating the Curds: Heat a large pot of water (tap water is fine) until it registers 175°F to 180°F on a digital thermometer. Fill a large bowl with ice water and set aside.

Ladle or pour the hot water carefully into the bowl of curds—not directly onto the curds, but around them—until they are submerged. Let sit for 1 to 1-1/2 minutes.

My curd needed multiple hot water baths before it was ready to stretch, so be patient during this step.

Stretching the Curds: With your hands, gloved or bare (remember, the water is very hot!), gather some of the curds into a ball, lift it from the bowl and let it stretch back into the water. Continue to stretch it until it is shiny and elastic.

The curds should immediately and effortlessly stretch. If they don’t, return them to the hot water until they are soft and pliable, and stretch easily. (Tip: if the water has cooled too much, drain it and add more hot water from the pot.)

Shaping the Mozzarella: Once you have stretched the curds, shape them into small bocconccini (golf ball sized spheres or smaller) by stretching one surface and pushing the rest into the center of the ball.

Do this by creating a small circle with the index finger and thumb of your non-dominant hand and pushing the mozzarella into itself against the circle with the thumb of your other, dominant hand. This should ensure a smooth outer surface and an inside that isn’t too tightly packed.

Plunk the finished balls in a bowl of ice water.

My mozzarella came out a little grainy, so if doing this again, I’d probably repeat the hot water bath over the curds a couple more times to get all the graininess out with some good stretches.

Using and Storing Your Mozzarella: The mozzarella can be used immediately or kept refrigerated for a week. To refrigerate, place the mozzarella in a small container. Mix a teaspoon of salt with a cup of cool whey (the leftover liquid) and pour this over the mozzarella. Cover and refrigerate.

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