Gifted with a DIY cheesemaking kit by a gifted foodie friend who never fails to expand my culinary vistas, I spent much of a cloudy Saturday—the first in a solid month of sunshine—making the first of many mozzarella cheeses to come. (According to the handy instructions, I have enough rennet, citric acid and cheese salt to create nine more batches of amazing mozzarella magic.)
So, jump forward to the results: the will, the whey and the wonder. The cheese is like cream filled silk in my hands, yet not a drop of liquid escapes. Beyond good, especially when still warm after the whey bath, salt, stretch and fold.
Since the recipe essentially makes two balls, bricks or braids of mozzarella according to your preference and skill level, I opted for one plain and one with fresh basil from the garden, julienned then diced, together with a teaspoon of hickory smoked cracked pepper.
(The last is a secret weapon my spice rack and grill have never been without since discovering amongst Maison Cote’s massive array of creative seasonings. I digress with good reason because half the fun of pulling off these kitchen stunts is having a handful of imaginative ingredients on hand to give your creations fresh flex on the go—keeps things fun and tasty too.)
So back to the part that really matters. What emerges from a few key ingredients and a few mindful moments over the pot is pretty much the mozzarella you never dreamt existed. This is not the classic buffalo milk mozzarella of Campania, but what you can make in about an hour at home floors the experience available anywhere else—except straight from artisan source.
What we purchase in its more common moisture-reduced format simply does not compare in terms of the silken elasticity, creamy texture and mouth-melting finish. This is true fior di latte!
Gathering the Essentials
Fresh mozzarella is ideally made to be eaten fresh, and if gifted with a few DIY essentials is pretty simple to pull off. As for what’s in the bag itself—a great idea and a few basic ingredients:
1/2 tsp citric acid (dissolved in one cup, cool, non-chlorinated water)
1/4 rennet tablet (dissolved in one cup, cool, non-chlorinated water)
1gallon* whole milk (can make with lesser fats, but no ultra pasteurized milks)
1-2 tsp cheese salt
fresh basil, cracked pepper (optional)
* Milk obviously not included. This is a DIY cheesemaking kit not a Tardis.
Since everything came with the kit except for the milk and I live next to one of the best cheese shops on the continent, Les Amis du Fromage, I popped in to ask Allison. Together with her mom Alice, she has been molding West Coast cheese culture for over two decades.
Much Ado About Milk
Unsurprisingly, the milk was key. As always, Allison lived up the shop’s name and put me onto a great local dairy, Avalon. As so happens, we are lucky enough to have a corner store that stocks Avalon both by the carton and in old-school, clunky and cool one litre glass bottles—complete with resealable pop top! I cleared the shelf of the remaining three whole milk glass bottles and nabbed a homogenous litre carton to account for the gallon (3.78 litres) required.
Before we get into the actual making of the cheese—which really is as simple as the instructions make it out to be—a word about Avalon’s whole milk in a glass bottle thing. Not growing up with clotted cream, the experience of breathing each bottle open by breaching the creamy milk plug that forms was in a word befitting its bottler—divine. With the subtle chew of cream cheese and texture of silken buratta, those three magical milk clumps set the scope of my expectations high. Holy cow that was some happy chow.
Making Mozzarella at Home
As to the actual making of the mozzarella, give yourself about an hour.
- Add the milk and citric acid solution to a five gallon pot over low to medium heat. With your digital thermometer on hand, and stirring occasionally, bring to 90 F before adding the rennet solution. Stir through entirety of milk mixture.
- Depending on the quality and fat content of the milk used, what happens next either takes no time, a minute or two, or does not happen. Essentially the water or whey begins to separate from the milk’s fat or curds. It’s not pretty at first, but with a stir or two the curds begin to mass. DO NOT over stir though, especially when making mozzarella.
- Continue to heat until temperature is 105 F if you think using a microwave for the next step counts in DIY cheese making. Push to 110 F and be a real cheese maker instead. Remove from heat and cover for five minutes.
- Now, using either gloves and/or a slotted spoon remove the curds from the whey and place the rubbery, ricotta like mass in a heat proof dish or on a clean surface. Now, make it mozzarella by cutting the mass in half and shaping it into ball.
- Return whey water to burner over medium and bring to 185 F before taking off the heat. Using a slotted spoon submerse your curd ball the the whey bath until the centre of the mass reads 135 F. This took closer to seven minutes than the three in the instructions. The results were totally worth it though, so stick by
the internal temp and return briefly to heat as needed.
- Remove the cheese carefully with a slotted spoon or gloves and transfer to room temperature heat resistant bowl. Mine was extremely soft so I let it sit for a minute to firm slightly before sprinkling one tsp of the provided cheese salt atop the cheese then folded it into itself while stretching gently a few times. Silken, impossibly smooth and warm. (Memorable Moment: Really, you have to eat some of your mozzarella at this point. Nothing comparable comes to mind except for a scallop fresh from the ocean versus fresh from the store—except warmer and dairy.)
- I had been forewarned by mes Amis du Fromage that overworking mozzarella toughens the final cheese, so I stretched and folded until it was smooth and popped it into a plastic tub roughly 4”x6”. At this point, you can make your mozzarella pretty much any shape you like. The treccia twist is a famous preference, but seemed elaborate for a first go.
- Repeat the process with a twist if you wish. I was happy enough with my basic brick o’ mozza, and so opted for flavourvariety with the remaining half of the original curd mass. After bringing the whey water back up to 185 F and repeating the above process, I added 5 leaves diced fresh basil and 1 tsp hickory smoked cracked pepper along with the salt. Stretch, fold and mold.
- Near beyond description when eaten fresh, your mozzarella will store in the fridge for up to five days.
Good Fun, Better Results
Both cheeses firmed covered in their forms in the fridge fairly quickly, so I made use of the basil and pepper version that night. Together with a few heirloom tomatoes from Farmers Market and more fresh basil from the garden it made a mouth-melting crostini topper.
Seeing as the homemade cheese keeps for about five days, I gave myself a day to check up on the finished products’ Day Two status. If anything, sharing a bite with my friend Jim and seeing the look on his face was confirmation enough. I called and was lucky enough to secure a lunch with Nancy the day after to return the good tidings of a remarkable gift.
Needless to say, mozzarella, fresh basil and tomatoes from my own backyard and Market alike, though mine are much smaller by choice. This year that choice is yielding plenty to share. Fortunately, this DIY kit has me set for nine more batches of ricotta or mozzarella.
Hmm…maybe something new. There are some zucchini blossoms coming up in the garden out back.