Thursday, November 6, 2014

making mozzarella

Cheese.  Glorious, homemade, creamy, cheese from grass-fed cows living a perfect Mennonite life.  Dudes, it just doesn't get better than this.

We get a gallon of milk from our farmer every week, rain or shine.  Because my kids are little, we struggle to drink the full gallon each week and usually have between 1 and 2 quarts left.  I refuse to dump it, so it either becomes yogurt, ice cream, or cheese.

My friends Parth and Julianne gave me a stupendous gift for my birthday this year -a cheese-making kit!   It had everything I need to make ricotta, ricotta salata, mozzarella, and burrata.  Do you know the joy of making a lasagna in which every item has been made from scratch, including the cheese?  It's an intense amount of joy.  Ricotta is easy and fast, and ricotta salata is easy but takes time to cure.  Mozzarella, on the other hand, is a little bit hard.  There are some elements to it that are sort of like bread-baking - you just have to do it over and over and then you know.  But I promise that it's worth it.  The taste just doesn't compare to what you can buy at the grocery store.

Let's get started, huh?  Cheese awaits us.

Cast of characters:  a half-gallon of good milk.  Doesn't have to be raw, but use the best-quality whole milk you can find.  Citric acid, calcium chloride, and rennet can all be found at cheese-making supply stores, or ordered online.  I've also found that a lot of brewing-supply shops carry cheese-making stuff.  If you're local to Nashville, All Seasons Brewing on 8th Ave. S. has everything.  And salt!

Start by putting the cold milk in a pot and adding 1 mL of calcium chloride, along with 1 t citric acid diluted in 2 T cool filtered water.

Heat the milk gently over medium, stirring constantly, until it reaches 32 C.  Have ready 1 tablet vegetable rennet dissolved in 2 T cool filtered water.  Having a good thermometer is essential!

When the milk reaches 32 C, add the rennet and stir briefly to dissolve.  Then cover the milk and let it sit for 30 minutes or so, until the curd is firmly set.  You can tell this by cutting into it slightly with a knife.  If it makes a clean cut, you are ready to go.  If not, leave it for awhile longer.

If the curd is ready, use a long knife to cut it into a checkerboard pattern.

Then place the curds back over medium heat, stirring constantly, until they reach 42 C.  They will change in texture during this time and become more stretchy and pulled-together.

Once the curds reach 42 C, dump them into a colander lined with cheesecloth, an old clean pillowcase, or a floursack towel.  Save some of the discarded whey if you are wanting to store your cheese after it's done.

Let the curds drain while you prepare your stretching water and your ice water.  Rinse out the pot you heated the curds in and fill it with fresh water.  Heat that water to 70 C and then remove it from heat.  While it heats, fill a medium bowl with cold water and add some ice and salt.

Okay, stretching.  This is really the tricky part.  I use rubber gloves because that hot water is really a little too hot for comfort.  Gather your curds together into one mass, and dip it into the hot water.  Leave it for about 10 seconds.  Pull it out of the water and begin stretching it like taffy.  Hold it with one hand and use the other to pull it away from you like a slingshot.  When it starts breaking rather than stretching, dip it back into the hot water for another 10 seconds.  Keep repeating this process of stretching and heating until it stretches smoothly and looks glossy.  Start stretching it into a ball by making a small circle with your fingers and palm and forcing it through the opening.  Try not to roll it, but rather mold it into a ball.  Once it is properly stretched and molded, drop it into the ice water.  Leave it there for 10 minutes or so, then it is ready to serve!  If you wish to store it, add a pinch of citric acid to the reserved whey and keep the cheese submerged in that in the refrigerator.

Yum!  I seriously have trouble not just slicing up this whole thing and eating it plain.

It will still have quite a lot of the natural moisture of the milk still in it, so if you want to grate it, it needs to be pressed and dried a bit first.  I tend to preferred it sliced rather than grated.  This mozzarella is an absolute essential to our Friday pizza nights.  I hope you enjoy it as much as we do!

[This post submitted to Real Food Wednesday 11/4/14 and Pennywise Platter Thursday 11/5/14.]

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