Saturday, September 14, 2013

Making Fresh Mozzarella

I feel like I should make mozzarella a few more times before writing this post, because we're still so new at it! But I'm trying to get this Cheese Unit all written up before I forget everything, so I'm just going to plow ahead and show you what we did, failures and all.

So, we wanted to make some cheeses for this unit, of course, but I wanted to keep it pretty simple for our first attempts---nothing that needed aging, for example. (Maybe we'll try that someday!) We have made paneer before, but this time we made yogurt (technically a cheese), which is super easy, and ricotta, which is super easy, and then we moved on to mozzarella. Mozzarella is different because it's coagulated by rennet, so you can't just make it with lemon juice and milk like you can ricotta. A friend recommended this site, so I read a bunch of stuff there, and on other cheesemaking sites online, and finally settled on ordering this mozzarella kit. It has cheesecloth, a thermometer, rennet, citric acid, and cheese salt in it, and you can make a ton of cheese with it.

Here are the basic instructions: you heat a gallon of milk (to kill any bacteria, I assume) and then add part of a dissolved rennet tablet (or liquid rennet). You also add citric acid. Then you let it sit 5 minutes. It becomes stiff like pudding. You cut it into curds, then drain the whey and keep heating the curds to release more and more whey until you can stretch it. At the end you knead in some salt. And that's the whole process in a nutshell.

The first time we tried the mozzarella, we didn't get very good curds. They were small and ricotta-y, like this:
The instructions we had said that this might mean our milk was ultra-pasteurized (but it wasn't)---and it wouldn't work, so we should just start over.

We drained out the whey, stirred the curds together, and added salt, and used this as a cheese spread on crackers. It was quite tasty! But it was not really mozzarella.

Hmm. The instructions said that some milk is almost ultrapasteurized, and the high temperatures make it unsuitable for making cheese. Our milk was just regular milk from the BYU Creamery and it seemed like it should be okay, but we decided to try again with some goat milk we got from a goat dairy nearby.
We love visiting the goats. They are so cute and friendly! (At least they are friendly through the fence!) :)

Armed with goat milk, we tried again. This time the curds looked very promising. They were bigger and held together a little better than before:
But when the time came for stretching the cheese, again we couldn't get it to be stretchy. It was just in a soft lump in the bowl and when you tried to stretch it, it just broke apart softly, kind of like one of those soft cheese balls you serve with crackers. (Sorry I don't have a picture of that stage.)

Again, though, it tasted good, and this time I kind of patted some of the cheese onto pizza for our dinner.
You can see how it doesn't really hold together, and it's certainly not sliceable like regular fresh mozzarella. However, it melted beautifully, and it tasted really good on the pizza.

At this point, honestly, having already used two gallons of milk, I might have just given up on this. It was tasty, but it didn't seem worth all the work. But, then our friend Tami from Harmon's saved the day! She told us that they do mozzarella demonstrations on Saturdays at the store. But since we were going to be busy that Saturday, she said we could arrange to meet her at another time and she would show us how to stretch the mozzarella.

When we got there, Tami had hurt her wrist and couldn't handle the cheese! But she gave us a big container of curds, some instructions, and said we should go home and try it ourselves. Her instructions were a little different than our other ones. She said we should heat the cheese to 180 degrees instead of 135 before stretching it! So, we took the curds home, heated them, and . . .
Finally! They stretched. It was beautiful.

The fresh mozzarella is so delicious! It tastes amazing while it's still warm. We formed it into balls so we could slice it to eat with tomatoes and basil later. This ball is spreading out because it's still warm. I should have put it in cold water before it had time to settle like this.

Now, having had one success, I was motivated enough to try the whole thing one more time, from scratch. This time, like the first time, we used our regular grocery-store milk. We used 1/2 of a rennet tablet instead of 1/4.
After adding the rennet, the curds looked very nice.

We ladled them into a colander so the whey could drain, then put them into a plastic bowl.

Then we heated the bowl in the microwave. This time we kept heating it until it was 180 degrees, like we had with the Harmon's cheese. But still, the cheese was soft and lumpy and unconsolidated, just like it had been the first time. We were afraid we were going to be stuck with just a cheese "spread" again! But I had talked to a neighbor who had made cheese before, and her advice was: "It doesn't matter what the curds are like. Just keep heating them. When they are hot enough, keep stretching and it will work."

So, we persevered, heating them 30 seconds or a minute at a time in the microwave, stirring them with my hands, and then heating again. The curds got so hot that I had to put on cloth gloves (the stretchy kind you wear in the winter) beneath my rubber gloves so my hands wouldn't get burned! I just kept scooping the curds over each other in the bowl with my hands, trying to get them to form a ball. Suddenly they got shiny and I could tell they were starting to melt together! Then I could stretch them:
(cloth gloves underneath rubber gloves) You can see the kind of gritty-looking cheese on the wrists and arms of the yellow gloves? That is the cheese that stuck to me before it was hot enough. Once the curds were hot enough, they stuck together and cleaned off my gloves as I stretched the cheese.

And then we could form the cheese into nice little balls:
So! It was another success, and this mozzarella was just as delicious as the other. Hooray!

I think, now that I have seen this work, that if I had persisted longer with the first batch, I could have made that one work also. I just never got the curds hot enough and I wasn't patient enough with the kneading/stretching process. 

In short, here are my recommendations if you want to make this cheese. I really like the kit we got, and it will make you bunches of cheese. But, don't stop when the cheese is heated to 135---just keep heating and kneading, heating and kneading, until the cheese finally starts to be stretchable. Don't give up on it! And wear double gloves so you won't get burned. Since we have more rennet, next time I will double-glove Abe and Seb and let them do the stretching, but it's definitely too hot for really small kids to work with. However, little ones would probably love to watch and definitely have tastes of the warm cheese! It is SO delicious. 

1 comment:

  1. mmmmmm... I wish I had some right now!!!!!!!!!!!


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