Fresh mozzarella, drizzled in olive oil and sprinkled with herbs and garlic salt.
The very first time I attempted to make cheese, it was mozzarella. I bought a cheesemaking kit with the supplies and instructions to make mozzarella and ricotta, both considered beginner cheeses. I was particularly enticed by the mozzarella. We love mozzarella here! Friends Missy and Pete came over that day–Missy was interested in learning to make cheese, too. I even talked Missy into handling the mozzarella because I’m a wussy and mozzarella is hot. I didn’t want to handle it. Trouble was, neither one of us had ever made cheese before and we had no idea what we were doing. (You should have seen us studying the mozzarella like it was an unknown object under a microscope.) We made the worst mozzarella in the history of mozzarella! It was…hard. And….kinda gross. But hey, we separated curds from whey. Sometimes, that’s enough.
Enough to make you quit making cheese for a couple months, which is what I did. My next cheese attempt was ricotta–after I had a hands-on, live and in-person demonstration. All righty! Back to cheese! But not mozzarella. I languished in mozzarella mortification. Ricotta is truly an easy first-timer cheese. I also find cream cheese to be so simple and straightforward, a first-timer would be well advised to try it.
Mozzarella? I’m not so sure I agree with it as a first-timer cheese. I make cheese quite frequently now. I’ve made all sorts of soft cheeses and I’ve even started making hard cheeses. Mozzarella is a soft Italian cheese made with a pulled-curd method with the curds at a very high temperature. (This is what makes mozzarella stretchy.) While this is not a particularly difficult process (like, say, compared to brain surgery), when you put it on top of just figuring out how the heck to make cheese in the first place, well, I think it’s a little much for some beginners. (Me, specifically.) There’s only so much information your brain can hold at once and if you’re still in the stage where you’re going, “OHMYGOD, are those CURDS?!” then I don’t think you’re ready for mozzarella and the addition of some unique steps it requires beyond basic cheesemaking.
I came back to mozzarella with plenty of cheesemaking experience behind me, determined to tackle it once again, focusing on what is unique in the mozzarella process. I have a foundation of understanding basic cheesemaking. I was pretty sure where the foul-up had occurred the first time around–in those unique mozzarella steps–and I knew I had the confidence now to make the cheese work. I’ve had “near” cheese failures a few times, and I’ve learned how to take corrective action, recognize the signs of a cheese going wrong, and avert disaster, recovering a cheese to success. Making cheese is like anything else–practice, practice, practice. If you truly desire to have wonderful homemade cheese, just keep trying. Your cheeses will get better all the time. (Similar to learning to make bread.)
There are a couple of different ways to make mozzarella (and yes, you can even make it with goat milk), but the method I’m going to post here is the simplest. This cheese is best made with farm-fresh or local milk, either slow pasteurized (at 145 degrees for 30 minutes) or used raw. If you’re using pasteurized store-bought milk, add 1/2 teaspoon calcium chloride directly to the milk when you put it in the pot. Do NOT use ultra-pasteurized milk.
This 30-Minute Mozzarella recipe comes Ricki Carroll at New England Cheesemaking.
How to make 30-Minute Mozzarella:
1/2 teaspoon calcium chloride (only if using store milk)
1 1/2 level teaspoons citric acid dissolved in 1/2 cup cool water
1 gallon whole milk
1/4 teaspoon lipase powder (Italase) dissolved in 1/4 cup cool water (for 20 minutes prior to using)*
1/4 teaspoon liquid rennet diluted in 1/4 cup cool (unchlorinated) water*
cheese salt to taste (recommended, 1 teaspoon)
*Do not add lipase if using milk from the store. It will make your curds too soft.
Step 1. If using store milk, add the 1/2 teaspoon calcium chloride directly to the milk when you put it in the pot. While stirring the milk constantly, add the citric acid solution.
Step 2. Begin heating the milk, continuing to stir, until it reaches 90 degrees.
Step 3. Stir in the diluted lipase. Mix thoroughly then stir in the diluted rennet with an up-and-down motion. If using raw milk, continue heating (stop stirring) the milk to 100-105. Turn off the heat and let sit for 5 minutes before transferring to a bowl.
If using store-bought milk, after adding the rennet at 90, turn off the heat and let sit for 5 minutes. Check the curd. If it’s too soft, let it sit a few more minutes. Cut the curd into 1-inch squares with a knife that reaches the bottom of the pot. Place the pot back on stove and heat to 105 while stirring slowly. Take it off the heat and continue stirring slowly for 2-5 minutes before transferring to a bowl.
Step 4. Scoop out the curds with a big slotted spoon and put them in a microwavable bowl. I used a 2-quart glass bowl with a pour spout. You’ll still have a lot of whey mixed in with the curds. The curds will be soft, yogurt-like.
Press on the curds with the spoon, pouring off the whey. As the curds sit in the bowl and you press on them, more and more whey will come out. Keep pouring it off.
Step 5. Put the bowl of curds in the microwave and heat on High for 1 minute. Take the bowl out and work the curds as if you are making bread dough, folding it over and over, gently kneading it. You could use rubber gloves to do this (the cheese will be very hot!) or a sturdy spoon. I don’t like rubber gloves much, and I’ve found a sturdy spoon works just fine. If there’s more whey (and there will be), pour it off. Heat the bowl again, on High, this time for 35 seconds. Pour off any excess whey again. Knead it, with rubber gloves or using a spoon. Heat it again, for 35 seconds, on High. If there’s still any extra whey, pour it off.
By this time, you should have all the excess whey out. Add cheese salt to taste and knead in. How do you know when it’s done? When the cheese is smooth and shiny, and most important–stretchy.
You can slice it warm and eat it right away, or put it away it to use later. For the smoothest texture, put the cheese immediately in a bowl of ice water for 20-30 minutes to chill it down quickly then drain it and use or store in the fridge.
Fresh mozzarella takes under an hour from start to finish, making it a very quick cheese–and it’s delicious! If you’re feeling frisky, I don’t want to scare you off from trying mozzarella as a beginner, though that just didn’t work for me. Whether you try it right away–or ramp up some experience on some other soft cheeses and then come back to it–mozzarella is worth it. I promise you will love it! (It makes mozzarella from the store taste like cardboard.)
Note: Why the microwave? It’s the quickest, simplest way to get the curds hot enough to stretch. If you don’t have a microwave or just don’t want to use a microwave, after removing the curds from the whey, heat the pot of whey to 175-degrees, stirring in 1/4 cup of cheese salt. Place the curds in a strainer and dip them down into the hot whey then transfer them to a bowl to knead–following the same process as when using a microwave.
Repeatedly heating the curds, kneading, heating the curds, kneading, etc. In this case, you’re heating the curds by dipping them into hot whey instead of putting them in the microwave, which is a more authentic method. I’ve tried this. It works, but it takes longer and is a little more trouble as you have to keep transferring from the strainer to the bowl etc. (Up to you! I recommend using the microwave the first time. Try the dipping in whey route after you have a little more experience.)
Try a ball of fresh mozzarella on a plate drizzled with olive oil and Italian herbs. Drizzle more olive oil and herbs on top. (I like a little garlic salt, too.) This is a complete meal. (In my opinion.)
See this recipe at Farm Bell Recipes for the handy print page and save it to your recipe box.