For our first foray into cheese-making, we decided to go small and stay home with a simple mozzarella recipe. Unfortunately for us, our freshly purchased copy of Artisan Cheese Making At Home had other ideas in mind. Its Traditional Mozzarella recipe was booted out of the beginner’s chapter and into the intermediate level, using words like “thermophilic starter culture,” which scared our chubby hearts.
And so… to the Internet!
We settled upon this relatively easy-sounding recipe - all we needed was:
- Whole fat milk: We used store-bought (just make sure you don’t buy ultra-pasteurized), though we have heard tale that local is even better.
- Citric acid: Weirdly, already on-hand by Fat Kid #1, photographer by trade. If you are not a shutterbug, you can usually find it at health food stores or specialty shops for beer or cheese-making.
- Rennet: Also found in cheese-making shops and possibly in the bakery aisle at the grocery store; we used tablets, though for small batches we may switch to liquid (more on that later).
- Bottle of water
- Stainless steel pot
- Large bowl
- Cheese press: Optional (we do not have one)
Much of this stuff is probably already found in most foodie kitchens, making the task seem less daunting.
Because the instructions from the recipe we used are a little confusingly written, let’s paraphrase.
- Gently heat the milk in your stainless steel pot, stirring constantly and not allowing the milk to rise above 80°F.
- Add the citric acid (about a teaspoon per half-gallon of milk) and heat the milk to 90°F - as you continue to stir, the milk will start to curdle slightly and stick to the spoon. Do not panic, but rejoice, because this means you haven’t messed up yet.
- Add the rennet by mixing it with the bottled water, following the package instructions on your tablets or drops to achieve the right balance. (Note: This may be where we messed up, so be judicious with your rennet.)
- Mix thoroughly, turn off the heat, and walk away for 20 minutes. We spent this time drinking Pale Moon and watching “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia.”
- After 20 minutes, come back and check for a clean break by dipping your finger into the milk and seeing if it comes back clean, much like testing a cake’s doneness. Do yourself a favor and check out the photos that accompany this step on the original recipe - it looks like a baby’s arm jammed into a lump of cheese the size of a bathtub.
- Cut the curds in a criss-cross pattern (jump! jump!) and cook for 10 minutes, stirring until the curds and whey separate pretty cleanly.
- With your cheesecloth, strain the whey into your bowl - keep it for later.
- Using your hands, press out the whey from your ball of cheese curds. There are also ways to do this using the microwave, but that seemed not “Little House on the Prairie” for us, so we went old school.
- Roughly chop and salt your curds - we didn’t want to go overboard with the salt, but our end product was a little on the bland side. Most recipes we’ve seen call for about a 1/2 teaspoon per 1/2 gallon of milk, but you may want to go for the gusto.
- Add the curds back into the whey (still contained in your cheesecloth so you don’t have to fish them out again) in your stainless steel pot and cook until they become stretchable at about 160-165°F.
- When they reach the proper temperature, begin kneading the flaming hot cheese curds with your hands. Note: THIS PART HURTS. We even used gloves and it was still not fun. Be careful.
- Knead and stretch your curds until they form a tight, shiny ball. If you find your curds are too firm and won’t stretch like taffy, they need to be reheated in the whey to regain some resiliency.
- You made cheese! Store in the fridge (as you might guess).
So how was our first adventure into cheese-making? So-so. It tasted exactly right, if a little bland like we mentioned earlier. To combat this, we stored ours in a mixture of olive oil, pesto, and red pepper flakes to impart a bit more flavor.
Our larger concern was that it was a bit too firm. We are wondering if perhaps we added too much rennet (we used the tablets, which are difficult to measure precisely), though it is possible that by letting the curds cool and not enduring second degrees burns, we allowed them to become too stiff. Maybe silicon gloves are the answer.
We’ll keep you posted on how our cheese-making prowess improves as the weeks roll on.