Matt and I joined forces to take a dabble in cheesemaking! First was goat cheese, which we will write about soon, and second was mozzarella, which we’ve made twice already! It’s so easy and tastes great. I’ve asked Matt (the food scientist) to write up the post amidst my photos. Take it a whey, Matt!
Just about every homebrew shop carries the ingredients and equipment to make cheese – besides the fact that it’s easy to get into once you’re a brewer, there’s certainly something in the two hobbies that excites the same type of people. Cheese making, just like baking and brewing, is a fine balance between art and science. In all three you can meticulously plan out your ingredients to the gram, diligently sanitize your equipment, carefully monitor temperature, but there’s something wild and unknown about adding yeast and other fermentative microorganisms to food. I like to think that if you give your yeast the respect it deserves, it will reward you with a high quality product.
Mozzarella is about as easy and quick as it comes if you want to make cheese (the only things easier being yogurt and soft, spreadable cheeses like goat cheese). All the methods we used are derived from Ricki Carroll and the New England Cheesemaking Supply Company. I also used the Pioneer Woman’s mozzarella post for some good guidance.
The ingredients are simple: a gallon of whole milk, citric acid, and rennet. The last two can easily be purchased online or probably at your local homebrew shop. The process is also pretty simple: we use the citric acid to curdle the milk and the rennet to coagulate it. Then we use heat to tighten the proteins, which wrings out a lot of the moisture. When it gets hot enough, it becomes very stretchy and pliable, and then it gets kneaded into the classic shiny mozzarella nuggets.
Start by dissolving 1.5 teaspoons of the citric acid in .25 cup of water. Stir to dissolve and give it a few minutes if needed.
In the meantime you can pour your milk into a non-reactive pot (anything but aluminum the websites say). We used Whole Foods’ 365 brand, organic in this post but we found the Trickling Springs Creamery milk we usually buy for drinking made a better product in our second batch. Just make sure the milk is NOT “ultra-pasteurized.” – the proteins are broken down too much to make good cheese. “Pasteurized” is okay.
Bring the milk up to about 90 degrees. Ours went a little over! But so long as it’s not above 105* you’re okay. Stir occasionally to evenly distribute the heat.
While the milk is heating, dissolve .25 teaspoon of rennet into 1 cup of water. What’s rennet you ask? Let me google that for you!
Once you hit the target temp, turn off the heat, pour in the rennet solution, and stir for no more than 30 seconds to evenly distribute. Then stir in the opposite direction so that the milk is still. It’s important that the milk isn’t moving around too much so that it can coagulate properly. Cover the pot and let sit for 5 minutes.
When you come back you’ll be surprised to find that the milk will look like thick custard floating in water! Give it a small push with your finger to double check that it has lightly coagulated. It definitely won’t have much spring back, but it should feel like a thick film. If it doesn’t feel like this or you’re not sure, it’s fine to give it an extra 5-15 minutes just to make sure.
Now it’s time to cut the curds! Use a knife or thin spatula that will reach the bottom of the liquid and cut into a 1 inch grid. This is to make it easier for the whey (the liquid) to drain off.
Once the curd is cut, turn the heat on low to medium and gently stir as you bring it to 105*. The curd cubes will break apart some and that’s okay.
Now scoop out the curds with a slotted device (a spider works best but I can’t find ours!). The first time we did this we scooped into a colander but I don’t think this is necessary now.
You’ll be amazed at how solid it already is!
Save the big pot of whey for now – you might use it later.
At this point the goal is to squeeze out a bunch of the whey and also heat the curd to a point that we can stretch and shape it. Put it in a microwave-safe bowl and cook on high for 1 minute.
Take it out and give it a thorough squeeze. My preferred method of squeezing the whey out is not to remove the curd from the bowl but to press it against the side of the bowl. Tilt to the side to allow the whey to run out. Lightly fold the curd into itself. It’s not so much like kneading bread dough where you roughly and thoroughly tighten it – it’s more like lightly folding and squeezing/pressing. It will begin to tighten some and start to look a little shaggy.
Continue with the microwaving (for 30 seconds at a time now) and then squeezing/folding process.
After three rounds, begin to try and pick it up and stretch it. If it tears easily, you need to keep microwaving and removing whey. Here’s a log of it that’s tearing:
Eventually you’ll see that you can stretch it some without it tearing. This is the point to add about 1 teaspoon of granulated salt. Continue stretching and wrapping into itself until you have a smooth ball. If it cools down too much in your hands and begins to tear, heat it in the microwave a bit. Eventually you’ll get a sturdy, firm, smooth, and shiny ball on your hands:
This recipe will yield about a pound of final product. I find that half of this is good for one pizza, so consider splitting the batch in half at some point in the shaping process and making little tiny balls. Then add enough salt to some of the retained whey to make a briny solution and store in brine for about a week. Amazing on salads!
At this point we’ve made mozzarella a couple times and like a lot of things in life, each time you do it you get a little better at it. The good news is that even if you produce a shaggy, ugly lump of curd, you’ve still made cheese! And it will taste great too! I highly recommend reading the FAQ on the cheesemaking.com website, and watching these videos to familiarize yourself. Happy cheesing!