After reading this post about homemade cheddar cheese, I decided I should try my hand at home cheese making. There’s a one-stop shop here in Massachusetts that sells the most popular book on the subject as well as starter kits with everything I’d need to become a fromager, so I ordered a few kits and the book.
Rather than dive right into making hard cheeses, I thought a test run of the basic techniques would be prudent, so I assembled the ingredients I’d need to make a simple mozzarella: a gallon of pasteurized milk (not ultrapasteurized, which contains degraded proteins), a teaspoon and a half of citric acid, a teaspoon of fine salt, and a quarter of a rennet tablet. (Note: I am not related to the owner of the dairy, nor am I an heir to the Shaw’s supermarket dynasty.)
I dissolved the citric acid in a cup of chlorine-free filtered water, and the rennet in a quarter cup of the same. Working with clean pots and spoons (second nature after years of working in cell culture laboratories), I added the milk to a pot set over medium heat, stirred in the citric acid, and let the milk come up to 90° F.
After removing the pot from the heat, I stirred in the rennet solution, then covered the pot and let it sit for about eight minutes, until the curd cleanly separated from the whey.
Using a curd knife (actually a long icing spatula) I cut the curd mass into half-inch cubes.
I put the pot back on the stove and slowly heated it to 105° F, stirring slowly with a slotted spoon. Once at temperature, I killed the heat and continued to stir for another five minutes. The curds sank to the bottom of the pot.
Using a flat perforated ladle, I scooped out all of the curds into a clean glass bowl. This took longer than I thought because much of the curd was small enough to fall through the ladle, so I resorted to using a small strainer to scoop out the remaining curds.
The weight of the mass of curds pushed out more whey, which I drained off before microwaving the bowl for about a minute and a half, until the curds reached 135° F. I added the salt, and stretched the curds until they were smooth and shiny, splitting the mass in two and forming a ball out of each (a skill I mastered as a Silly Putty-obsessed child). I rinsed the balls in cold water, then dropped them in an ice bath to chill.
My first attempt was certainly better than anything I could find in a supermarket, but lacked the creaminess and depth of flavor I’ve come to expect from small-batch mozzarella. Part of that is due to the method I used, which is quick but doesn’t allow for any flavor development from enzymatic action. I probably could have stirred the curds for less time, and stretched less vigorously, both of which produce a softer end product. I cut up one chunk and tossed it into a salad; the other piece will probably end up as pizza topping.
I claim victory: the process was disaster-free and edible. Now that I’m familiar with the basic steps, I plan on making a simple cheddar very soon. And I wound up with a bonus:
That’s two quarts of filtered whey, which I will use in the place of water in this week’s batch of bread dough.
As I worked through the process, this scene came immediately to mind: