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Food Sunday: 30-minute mozzarella

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A supermarket is quite an amazing thing.

You can walk in with a list clutched in your hand with the security that you will walk out with every item on that list. Not only that, but there will be choices among choices involved. You know you must buy cereal, but what color will it be? Shall it be based in corn or wheat, puffed or shredded, or perhaps shaped like Dora?

So many choices!

So why, with the wonders of the supermarket available to you, would you want to try to make food at home that you usually buy at the store?

I love that question!

Depending on your circumstance, patience level, and personality, the answer can take a very different shape. But I’ll try to cover all the possibilities here, and if you need convincing, hopefully one will resonate.

Why make it yourself?

  1. Most of the time, it costs less money to make something at home.
  2. Food made at home is better for you. It is fresher and you know where your ingredients come from. There are usually no ingredients in your own food that you can’t pronounce, unless they are in another language.
  3. Food made at home usually tastes better.
  4. Making food at home that you usually buy at the store can have the effect of making you feel like a superhero. For example, "Would you like some butter on your toast? I churned it this morning."
  5. Making a specific food at home will connect you to the source and production of that food in a new way, even if you never make it yourself again. After you make ricotta at home, I guarantee that you will think of that ricotta every time you take a bite of any ricotta. You will wonder what was used to separate the curds from the whey, and you might even think critically on the texture of the curd. The way I see it, any way that we can get a little closer to the source of our food is a good idea.
  6. The alchemy involved in some of these products is incredible. Watching the butter separate from the buttermilk, witnessing milk turning into yogurt or cabbage into sauerkraut; these are some fascinating science experiments.

I’ve gotten more curious about making normal everyday foods in this last year. I’ve made fresh pasta, puff pastry, ice cream, pudding, granola, yogurt, bread, salad dressing, ricotta, tomato sauce, applesauce, pickles, sauerkraut, hamburger buns, chai– whew, we could start to fill a supermarket of our own here.

Today, we add mozzarella to the list.

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I’ve been wanting to make mozzarella for a long time. I had heard how easy and fabulous it was, and I felt a little silly for waiting so long.

And was it worth it? Definitely. I had a few friends over, and I think we all cheered when those curds turn stretchy. So in the science experiment and super hero categories, this one is a real winner. Taste-wise, it was a little bland and a little tougher than I’m expected, but it was my first time after all. I forgot to add the salt in the whey until later, and that probably explains the blandness, and as for the texture, I’ll work on that as I get more used to the recipe. In terms of cost, it does fairly well, depending what kind of milk you are using. I used raw milk, which runs about $4.00 a half gallon, so I’d say with the other ingredients the whole recipe cost me about $9.00, which is definitely a bit less than fresh mozzarella in the supermarket. Less expensive milk will obviously lower the cost, but either way, it’s pretty good. Curds will definitely be stretched again in my kitchen, and soon.

If you are new to making cheese at home (and most of us are, right?), there is a name that you should be familiar with. Yes, I’m talking about that queen of home cheesemaking, Ricki Carroll.

Ricki Carroll opened up New England Cheesemaking Supply Company in Ashfield, MA the year I was born. She wrote the bible on making cheese at home, and she has every material that you might need to culture, curdle or harden a gallon of milk.

She has a recipe for 30-minute mozzarella, and this is so popular that she even sells a little kit with the ingredients. As far as cheeses go, this one is pretty simple. You do, however, need a few ingredients that might not be on your shelf.

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The first is citric acid. It is what will separate your curds from your whey.

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The second is rennet. You can get it in liquid form or in tablets, from a vegetable base or animal base. I used liquid animal rennet.

The materials that you will need are a large non-aluminum pot and a cheesemaking or candy thermometer. A candy thermometer doesn’t go quite low enough, but it helped me to approximate the temperature, and that seemed to be okay.

If you have a microwave, it will come in handy. If you don’t, you will also need heavy rubber gloves and a small strainer. I don’t have a microwave, so that will be the process that you will see here.

You also will need one gallon of milk. I’d use whole milk if I were you. I used raw whole milk. You’ll get about a pound of mozzarella.

30 Minute Mozzarella
from Ricki Carroll, Home Cheese Making

  • 1 gallon whole milk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons citric acid dissolved in 1/2 cup non chlorinated cool water (use 2 teaspoons if you are using raw milk)
  • 1/4 teaspoon liquid rennet or 1/4 rennet tablet, diluted in 1/4 cup non chlorinated cool water
  • 1 teaspoon cheese salt (optional)

In a large, heavy non aluminum pot, heat the milk to 55 degrees. Stir in the diluted citric acid.

Heat the milk to 90 degrees over medium low heat. It will start to curdle.

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Gently stir in the diluted rennet with a scooping motion. While you are stirring, continue to heat the milk to 100 to 105 degrees. The curds will start to pull away from the pot, and the mixture will thicken dramatically.

The curds will be shiny and the consistency of yogurt. Once you see this, remove the curds with a slotted spoon to a bowl.

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Here is where the nukers diverge from the microwave free folks.

If you have a microwave:

Scoop the curds into a microwavable bowl. Pour off as much of the whey as possible and set it aside. Press on the curds to try to squeeze as much whey out as you can.

Microwave the curds on high for a minute. Drain off all the excess whey. With a wooden spoon or your hands, fold the curds over on themselves several times to distribute the heat.

Microwave on High for 35 seconds two more times, pausing to kneed in between heatings. You can add salt after the second time if you like.

When the cheese is stretchy and doesn’t break, it’s ready. If the curds break, reheat again.

If you don’t have a microwave:

Heat the whey (without the curds) to 175 degrees. Add about 1/4 cup non-iodized salt to the whey. Keep the pot on a low burner to maintain that temperature. Divide the curds into two balls. Put one ball in the small strainer and dunk into the hot whey for about 5 seconds.

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Remove it from the whey and knead the ball folding it over on itself. Try to get as much liquid out as you can. If you have sensitive hands, you might need rubber gloves at this point. Or like me, you might opt to burn yourself a bit so that you can experience the very exciting sensation of kneading cheese curds.

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Repeat this process 3 or 4 times with each ball. When the cheese stretches without breaking, it’s ready.

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At this point you can roll it into little balls and eat warm, or you can add fresh herbs. If you are going to store it, submerge it in ice water for 30 minutes to bring the temperature down. After that, you can take it out of the water and place it in a covered container in the refrigerator. It will keep for a week.

Don’t dump out the pot full of whey! It’s great for making bread, or as a base for soups or smoothies. It will last for a few weeks in the refrigerator.

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