We’re making mozzarella today- are ya ready? I’m assuming you’ve read Part One where we discuss all the preliminary stuff, (like ingredients and equipment), so let’s dive in!
*A Note to All Aspiring Cheesemakers* I want to give fair warning before we start. Cheesemaking is fun, but it is also finicky sometimes. So, you can’t get discouraged if this is your first batch and it doesn’t turn out… It’s a learning process! The first few times you attempt to make cheese, you’ll probably be sweating and reading the recipe a million times before starting. But trust me- the more you do it, the easier it becomes, and soon you’ll be making mozzarella in your sleep. Practice truly does make perfect!
(This post is very picture-heavy, so it may take a bit for it to load.)
How to Make Traditional Mozzarella Cheese
- 2 gallons of high-quality milk (I always use my raw milk)
- 1/4 teaspoon of thermophilic starter culture (buy it here)
- 1/4 + 1/8 teaspoon of double strength liquid rennet dissolved in 1/4 cup of unchlorinated water
- 1/4 teaspoon lipase powder (buy it here), dissolved in 1/4 cup of unchlorinated water
Important: With most recipes, I’m pretty laid-back and adventurous with times, temperatures, and measurements. However, cheese is one thing that you can’t really improvise too much on, so it’s best to follow the instructions as closely as possible.
Pour the milk into a large stock pot and slowly heat it to around 90-95 degrees F. Or, if you just finished milking and the milk is still warm from the animal, you can skip this step, since it will already be sufficiently warm. (I did this the other day, and it made a gorgeous batch of cheese.)
While the milk is heating, prepare your rennet and lipase by dissolving them both into 1/4 cup each of cool, unchlorinated water.
Sprinkle the Thermophilic culture on top of the warm milk, and gently stir in. Then gently stir in the lipase powder/water mixture.
Cover the pot with a lid, and allow it to sit undisturbed for 45 minutes, keeping it at 90 degrees the entire time. This is called the “ripening” phase.
(Depending on the heat of your house and the milk, you may or may not need to turn the burner on and off for brief periods to maintain the temp. During the summer, it’s usually fine as-is, though in the winter time, it needs a little help staying at 90 degrees. I sometimes wrap it in a towel to help insulate it.)
Next, gently stir in the rennet/water mixture- this is going to coagulate the milk. Replace the lid and allow it to sit for 60 minutes at 90 degrees F. (See why the timer comes in handy?)
Now the fun begins. You are looking for something called a “clean break.”
This is when the milk has coagulated and is forming a curd. You want to be able to stick your knife in the middle of the pot and see a “slice” in the curd, with a bit of whey filling up the indentation.
If you don’t have a clean break yet, leave the pot for another 30-60 minutes. If your milk is still entirely “milky” at this point and not thickened at all, you might be able to salvage it by adding a bit more rennet and allowing it to sit at 90 degrees for another hour or so.
Once you’ve reached the clean break stage, you get to cut the curd (this is kinda fun).
Grab a long, thin knife and make a checkerboard pattern in the pot, cutting all the way down to the bottom. You want the cubes to be about 1/2″ square, although I most certainly do NOT get out my ruler and measure…
Let your checkerboard curds sit for another 30 minutes. During this time, you’ll see the curds and whey begin to separate even more.
Use a slotted spoon to gently stir the curds, and cut up any curds that are too long (the reason behind cutting them into cubes is so they will release whey and begin to firm up). They will feel very soft and fluffy at this point.
Now, to encourage the release of more whey, they must be gently heated. We want them up to 100 degrees, but this needs to happen gradually, over the course of about 30 minutes.
You can do this by sticking your pot in a sink of hot water, but I’ve found that method to be cumbersome. So, I prefer to use my stove burner to add a bit of heat. I’ll turn it on and stir the curds gently to prevent hot spots, and then I’ll turn it back off. (The key is to NOT forget and leave the burner on accidentally… *ahem)
Once you’ve reached 100 degrees, let them sit another 10 minutes to settle, and then drain the majority of the whey out of the pot.
I use a coffee filter set-up, similiar to my milk-straining set up, to strain out most of the whey.
Set the whey aside, and let the clump of curds acidify in the pot at 100 degrees for about 3 hours. Check the temperature every half hour, and flip them over to ensure even heating.
The acidification process is very important, as this is what will enable us to stretch the cheese successfully.
As the hours progress, more and more whey will be released (you can continue to drain it off), and the clump of curds will knit together and become a solid mass.
Now we are ready to stretch!
Pull the curd clump out of the pot and cut it into roughly 1″ cubes. Pour some of the reserved whey back into the pot and heat it to 170 F. (Don’t use all the whey, as it’ll take forever to heat up. Some folks use water for the stretching process, but I prefer to use the whey, as I think it adds a touch more flavor.)
Put on your rubber kitchen gloves, and place half of the curd cubes into the hot whey. (Dividing them into two batches makes them easier to handle.)
Now, this part is a little painful, so you have to be tough. 😉 That whey is hot, and while the gloves offer some protection, you’ll still feel the burn a bit.
Allow the cubes to sit in the hot whey for several minutes. If you grab one, it should start to stretch and feel smooshy. Use a long spoon to swish the cubes around in the hot whey– it’ll save your hands a little bit. After a minute or two, the cubes should start to want to stick together. Encourage them to from a lump and start gently pressing them together in your hand. Once you have all of them, begin to gently work the curd and stretch it out.
This is the best part of the whole process. 😉 The amount of stretch you get depends on that particular batch, but even a little stretch is better than no stretch at all.
If during the stretching process the cheese begins to break, stick it back into the hot whey and let it heat up a little more.
Stretch out the cheese about 10 times, and then form it into a ball. Repeat with the second half of the curds.
Plop it into a bowl of cold water to cool it down and help it to hold its shape. (Instead of just plain cold water, you could also make a salt water brine for added flavor).
Allow the cheese to sit in the water for about 60 minutes, then wrap it tightly and store it in the fridge or freezer. (Or eat it immediately for a delicious snack- there is nothing like fresh mozzarella.)
*About Failed Batches* If your cheese didn’t turn out quite right, don’t throw it away!Even crumbly, non-stretchable curd is still great in filled pastas, casseroles, or on salads. There’s no need to toss it.
The Condensed Version
Whew! I bet your head is spinning right about now, huh? Here the the streamlined-version of the whole process:
- Heat milk to around 90 degrees F
- Add thermophilic culture and lipase powder
- Stir and let this ripen at 90 degrees for 45 minutes
- Gently stir in rennet and let sit at 90 degrees for one hour
- Cut the curds into ½" cubes, then let rest 30 minutes
- Gently stir and break up curds, then slowly heat to 100 degrees over the course of 30 minutes
- Let rest 10 minutes
- Drain excess whey, allow curds to acidify at 100 degrees for 3 hours, flipping every half hour
- Cut the knitted curds into 1" cubes
- Heat and stretch the cubes in 170 degree whey, until you can form a shiny ball
- Cool finished cheese in cold water or salt water brine for one hour
- Store in fridge or freezer
I know the whole process sounds super complicated at first glance, but I PROMISE it gets easier and easier the more you do it. Soon, you’ll find yourself making mozzarella in your sleep. And once you taste fresh homemade mozzarella, you’ll agree that it’s totally worth the effort.