On Sunday afternoon, feeling a bit adventurous (early spring sunshine will do that to a girl), I decided to try my hand at a bit of cheese-making. I am extraordinarily pleased (and more than a little relieved) to report that the project was a rousing success. And, better yet, it was really pretty easy. So, in the event that you or someone you know has been itching to know how one makes mozzarella in their own kitchen in under an hour, here it is:
I chose to use a different recipe from the one that came with the kit but since the ingredients themselves were all the same, I still used the individual components of the kit, albeit in a slightly different way than I would have had I used the kit recipe.
For one gallon of milk I used:
1 teaspoon citric acid crystals (apparently you can substitute 2 tablespoons vinegar here)
1 cup cool water (I boiled it and then cooled it in the fridge to get rid of any chlorine)
1/4 tablet rennet (I used vegetable rennet, either would work fine)
Start out by setting out three glass or ceramic bowls and a large cooking pot. Don't use aluminum or cast iron for this. I used glass bowls and a stainless steel pot. In one bowl, make an ice bath/brine for the finished cheese by mixing ice, water and a few tablespoons of salt together. You'll add a bit of whey to this later as well. In the second bowl dissolve the 1 teaspoon of citric acid in 1/2 cup cool water. In the third, dissolve the 1/4 tablet of rennet in 1/2 cool water. Measure out both the rennet and the citric acid very carefully.
Let the milk mixture sit undisturbed for ten minutes. It should start to solidify and take on a look like soft but firm custard. At the end of ten minutes, press gently with a spoon to make sure that your liquid has become a mass of soft curd that will break cleanly if cut with a knife.
Because cutting it with a knife is exactly what you are going to do next. Take a long knife and cut the curds into cubes, about one inch square. Begin to heat the pot back up, gently stirring the curds as you do so.
Continue stirring the curds gently as you monitor the temperature of the liquid in the pot. As the pot heats up, the curds will begin to change texture and stick to themselves. It is kind of remarkable actually; it's almost as if they are magnetically drawn to each other. When the curds reach a temperature between 130 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit, they will become gooey, stretchy and will be stuck together in one big mass. At this point, throw on a pair of rubber gloves and reach into the pot and pull the mass of curds (which is basically now cheese!) out.
A word about the gloves: At this moment, we are dealing with a 140 degree mass of gooey cheese, so they are undoubtedly necessary for safety and comfort. That being said, you aren't going to be cooking this cheese any more before finishing it off, so I'm thinking that using your dishwashing and or housecleaning gloves for this would be bad form. I bought a new pair of gloves for this project (expecting that I'll be doing this more than once) and I might suggest that you do the same. Just a thought.
Once you have removed the mass of curds from the pot of (what is now) whey, gently and briefly stretch them out and work them a bit. A bit being operative here, folks. Ten seconds or less is plenty of time if you want unrubbery cheese. No, "unrubbery" is not really a word.
If you want to work in any cheese salt, now would be the time. I did fold in about a teaspoon, but I think that in the future I might leave it out and just rely on the brine to salt the cheese for me.
Form the stretched curds into a ball and cut the ball into two equal sized pieces (or as many as suits your fancy). Form the pieces into oval-shaped balls. Measure out a few tablespoons of the whey and mix it into your cold brine mixture. Drop your mozzarella balls into the brine.
A couple of notes:
I've heard that the mozzarella is supposedly best if you eat it right away but I was much, much happier with it after it had soaked in the brine overnight. Immediately upon finishing it I felt like it was a little dry and maybe even rubbery. However, after a soak in the brine, it was absolutely perfect the next day. Like, best cheese ever.
I did feel like one night in the brine was plenty. I don't have any proof, but it does seem like if I left it in longer than that, the cheese might have gotten overly soft and gooey on the outside. I was not into that idea at all, so I took it out of the brine and wrapped it up tightly with a bit of plastic wrap. There might be a better storage method than this and depending on how dry your cheese turns out, leaving it in the brine might well be fine.
Here is the finished product with a bit of olive oil and balsamic on a bed of pea greens and some toasted squash cornmeal bread. Ridiculous.