The cheesemaking process is something that has always fascinated me, despite my aversion to hot milk. As I would stroll through Pike’s Market in Seattle, my destination was usually the fishbowl that is Beecher’s cheesemaking room, to marvel at the SHOVELS full of curd that 2 men in oompa loompa suits were pushing around in a giant stainless vat. It wasn’t something I ever saw myself trying though, since the joke on the gal from the dairy farm is that she’s lactose intolerant…
A mad scientist friend of mine suggested we try making fresh mozzarella this weekend and I jumped at the chance. I had no idea where to start, and was given a simple list for shopping. Buy a gallon of pasteurized whole milk and lots of tomatoes. Yup. Tomatoes.
You can probably guess that there’s more to making cheese than milk. And that tomatoes probably don’t have much to do with making cheese. And you’d be right. The mad scientist showed up with citric acid and rennet, 2 ingredients instrumental to creating cheese curd. He also makes a mean tomato sauce.
After a bottle of homemade Elderberry wine was uncorked, poured, and partially consumed, we set to making cheese. We probably should have waited to open the wine, as our first batch of curd, well, didn’t really “curd” the way we needed it, because we were too busy being silly, and not busy enough watching the thermometer. In fairness to the scientist, I should note that as we were reading the directions online, the guy switched from Fahrenheit to Celsius, and this critical after-the-fact find isn’t helpful if you have a sensitive concoction on the stove. So I won’t blame the mad scientist for either mishap. I enjoyed the wine and we didn’t let the first batch of curd go to waste.
The mad scientist went to work quickly on our mishap, straining and draining and squeezing and kneading, and the result was a boursin-like cheese that with a little roasted garlic butter (which we had made a few days earlier to put on our flat irons) and some basic herbs, became a delectable spread that tastes amazing on just about anything.
So, did we actually make mozzarella? Yes! After another trip to the store for more milk, and another glass of wine (or 2), we went through the whole process again, and the curd formed a nice solid chunk that we were able to cut with a knife. We then proceeded to go through the strain, reheat, strain, reheat, knead process and the result was cheese curds everywhere and an incredible full-size ball of fresh mozzarella.
And it TASTED like mozzarella. It actually sliced much cleaner than what you would buy in the store, and because it had not been sitting in a brine for weeks, our palettes were expecting it to be little more salty, and so we decided that next time, we would add just a touch more.
What we ultimately created was a wonderful afternoon full of good food, wine, laughs and lots of dishes. The mozzarella landed on grilled pizza where the sauce, caramelized onions and the dough were also made from scratch, as well as a few fresh sliced tomatoes with basil and vinegar. We hatched a plan for more cheesemaking in our future, that included buying a few goats (ok – maybe that was the wine talking), and we’ll share that whole experience with you too! For now, see a quick list below of what you’ll need for making your own mozzarella, as well as a link to the instructions we followed.
- Large stainless or enamel stockpot
- Large mesh strainer
- Candy-making thermometer
- Stainless measuring cups & spoons
- Microwave safe bowl
- 1 gallon of Pasteurized milk (NOT Ultra Pasteurized)
- Sea salt
- Unchlorinated water (we used Pelligrino)
- Citric acid
- MALAKA BRAND Liquid Vegetarian Rennet, 0.5 Ounce Bottle (Pack of 2)
- It is extremely important to watch the heat and the time. Don’t let the milk get above 90ºF.
- Have lots of towels around as making cheese curd is messy business.
- It really helps to have 2 people. The straining process is a lot of back and forth, and it really helped to have one person holding the big pot, while the other holds the strainer and kneads.
- We used this website as our basis for the recipe/process. I suggest you read it through carefully from start to finish because timing and heat is crucial to success.
For our grilled pizza, we made 2 batches of basic white pizza dough ala Cuisinart, and then topped the first with the mad scientists amazing homemade tomato sauce, fresh basil, and dried Italian salami. The other pizza was half BBQ sauce, my homemade caramelized onions, blue cheese, and the other half more red sauce, mozzarella,
Greek olives, basil and salami. We heated the pizza stone on the grill, but would suggest pre-cooking the crust for about 5 minutes before adding the toppings and putting it back on the grill. Watch the bottom! It will burn fast if the heat is too high. Add a couple of cold beers, and a great view and you have yourself a really nice afternoon.
Happy Cheese Curding!
~ Gal Foodie