My most recent conquest in the kitchen has been to make my own mozzarella cheese.
It is not cheaper to make your own mozzarella cheese, the product is not as consistent as store-bought variety and it is more effort than picking up a brick of cheese from the store.
So, why make it? It’s simply the satisfaction of knowing how it is done and, most importantly, the feeling of smugness when you say, “I made it!”
Because mozzarella cheese does not require aging, there is so no ripening time required. It takes just 30 minutes from start to finish and only three ingredients are needed: milk, citric acid and rennet. The first two elements are readily available; the rennet, however, is not and it is the most important ingredient in mozzarella making.
Rennet is a complex of enzymes found in the stomach of baby calves that allows them to process mother’s milk. It is used in cheese making to speed coagulation and separate the curds and whey after the citric acid is added to the milk. Although most store-bought cheeses rely on animal-based rennet, vegetable rennet is also available. This is made from plants that have coagulating properties. Using vegetable rennet could, however, affect the flavour of cheese, so if you are a cheese purist you’ll want to take that into consideration.
Around our area, rennet can only be purchased online or at a speciality store. I bought mine at a cheese-making place in Edmonton. The enzyme comes in tablet or liquid form. Whichever one you use, it is dissolved in water before it is added it to the milk.
After you have your rennet, you are only five steps away from making your own mozzarella cheese. As far as cheese making goes, mozzarella cheese is the least daunting and the most fun. The fun part comes from watching the transformation of liquid milk into curd, custard, play dough and, finally, into a taffy consistency!
4 litres whole milk
1 1/2 teaspoon citric acid dissolved in 1 cup of water
1/4 tablet or 1/4tsp of liquid rennet diluted in 1/4cup of water
The following are the five stages:
1. Curdling your milk
Add diluted citric acid into stainless steel pot and mix in whole milk. Heat the milk to 21C or 90F; the acidity and the heat will cause the milk to curdle.
2. Curd to custard
Remove the pot from the burner and slowly add diluted rennet to the milk. Stir for approximately 30 seconds and then stop.
Cover the pot and leave undisturbed for five minutes.
Check the curd — it will look like custard and the whey should be clear. If the curd is too soft, continue to let set for a few more minutes.
Now cut the curd into one-inch squares with a knife that reaches the bottom of the pot.
Place the pot back on stove and heat to 40C or 105F while stirring slowly.
Take the pot off the burner and continue stirring slowly for two to five minutes.
3. Custard to play dough
To remove the whey, you can strain it through a cheese cloth or use a slotted spoon to scoop the soft custard into a microwave safe bowl. If it is too soft, let it cool a bit more.
When it is cool enough to manage, press this curd gently with your hand, pouring off as much whey as possible.
Next, microwave the curd on high for one minute. You will notice more whey has run out of the curd. Drain off all whey as you did before.
When it is cool enough to touch, quickly work the cheese with your hands.
Microwave two more times for 35 seconds each, and repeat the kneading. Drain off all of the excess whey.
Knead as you would bread dough, until it is smooth and shiny. Salt can be added at this step.
At this point the cheese should be soft and pliable enough to stretch like taffy.
4. Play dough to stretch taffy
These steps transport you back to preschool years while giving the mozzarella cheese its stringy characteristic.
Start stretching and stretching and well more stretching, kind of like stretchy play dough. If the cheese thread breaks, heat in microwave for 30 second and continue the stretching.
5. The final product
For the final product to be more authentic, shape it into a smooth ball. The cheese is ready to be used in your favourite recipe or simply serve it topped with fresh-chopped herbs with a drizzle of olive oil.
Madhu Badoni is a Red Deer-based freelance food writer. She can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @madhubadoni.