Mozzarella cheese is shockingly simple to make, and for that reason (plus how much tastier it is and how fun it is to make) I will never buy it again. It’s a mild, soft, classic cheese that is very versatile and pairs well with more zesty ingredients, as we all know, like tomatoes, basil, and balsamic vinegar!
Something all vegetarians should know is cheese is not inherently, or guaranteed, to be a vegetarian food. Traditionally, many cheeses are made with the addition of rennet, an animal-based substance which comes from the stomach of a calf. Nice to know, right? Fortunately, for those of us who prefer out cheese vegetarian, vegetable rennet is available, no animals harmed in its extraction!
This was definitely a culinary adventure in the kitchen…my friend Katie, Kristina, and I rushed off to the store to find a special thermometer for this project (its imperative to know when your milk reaches 90 degrees, and later 105 degrees). While Kristina rearranged the pink piggy timers and stacked miniature funnels, Katie and I puzzled how to reach the one thermometer that would do the trick, which was, of course, hanging about 8 feet in the air. And, of course, there were no sales associates available to help us…we put our three blonde heads together and while I held a shopping carriage steady, Katie (always a trooper) climbed precariously up and wrestled said thermometer from its lofty post. This reminded me of when we used to play Scrabble against her husband and considered us two-for-one as a team…
By the time the excitement died down and we made it home, Kristina decided she had had enough of our antics (not to mention some of her own) and retired for a nap with her Baby Shelly. This left Katie and I free to explore the magic of turning milk into cheese by adding an acid and an enzyme, boiling, draining, repeat, and voila! Cheese!
½ gallon whole milk
½ cup cold water
1/8 cup cold water
¾ teaspoon citric acid
1/8 teaspoon vegetable rennet
1 teaspoon salt
*and you will want to have a large pot, a slotted spoon OR cheesecloth lining a colander, a candy thermometer designed to read temperatures as low as 90 degrees
*citric acid, as I learned after spending my life savings ordering it from a specialty store online, is simply “sour salt”, ironically something stocked in the original McCorrie Lane Kitchen. Vegetable rennet must be purchased from a specialty store, easy enough to find at cheesemaking.com.
1) Mix citric acid into ½ cup cold water until it is fully dissolved. Pour milk into large pot, stir in citric acid mixture & turn heat on a medium setting. The goal is to slowly bring the milk to 90 degrees, stirring gently as you go.
2) Meanwhile, add vegetable rennet to 1/8 cup cold water. If you are using tablets, crush and dissolve. Also, prepare a colander lined with cheesecloth.
3) Once milk has reached 90 degrees, take it off the burner, pour in vegetable rennet mixture and stir gently for about 30 seconds. You will begin to see the milk separating into curds (white pieces) and whey (a yellowish-clear liquid).
4) Cover the pot, and allow the cheese to rest for about 5 minutes or longer if needed, until they curds have floated to the top of the whey and begin to congeal.
5) Once they curds have firmed up, use a knife that reaches to the bottom of the pot to slice the curds into 1 inch pieces. Place the pot back on the burner and bring the cheese up to 105 degrees, stirring slowly while reaching desired temperature.
6) If you are planning on saving the whey for future cheese-making projects, then use a slotted spoon to scoop the whey into the colander lined with cheesecloth, otherwise simply pour the contents of the pot into the colander lined with cheesecloth, allowing the whey to drain off. Squeeze out the remaining whey by gently twisting and pressing the cheesecloth.
7) Put the ball of mozzarella into a glass microwave safe bowl, and microwave for 1 minute. Press the cheese using either a spoon or your hands (cheese will be hot, but should not burn you) to express more whey.
8) Put mozzarella back into the microwave for another 45 seconds, and this time after squeezing off any remaining whey, knead the cheese like you would a bread dough, pulling and stretching, until it becomes smooth, shiny and elastic. Add 1 teaspoon of salt now if you like, kneading it into cheese. If you prefer a slightly drier cheese, and/or it has not yet reaching a smooth consistency, you can put it back into the microwave for another 35 seconds or so, and repeat the kneading process.
9) You can shape the mozzarella into a large ball, roll it into several smaller balls, roll it out and slice it, braid it, etc, etc. Serve warm, or wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate up to a week.