I’ve been wanting to make mozzarella for years. There’s something about learning a mysterious process that takes one familiar thing (milk) and transforms it into another familiar thing (cheese) that I find irresistible! After I read Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle book, where she tells the story of her family’s pledge to buy food grown or produced in their own community or learn to live without it, I was particularly inspired. Kingsolver blithely speaks of whipping up a batch of fresh mozzarella in a 1/2 hour for her weekly pizza night and makes it sound easy. If there’s any book more likely to fan the flames of latent cheesemaking desire, I haven’t seen it. I needed to try this! But where do you find rennet? And unhomogenized milk? And someone who’s done it before?
The milk was easy – Foxhill has been selling their lovely unhomogenized (pasteurized) milk from their storefront at the Seaport market for about a year now. Rennet was a bit trickier to source, but we managed to find a supplier online that specializes in home-cheesemaking here. As for someone who’s done it before, it turned out that Libby, our researcher with the Our Food project, had worked in a deli years ago that made their own mozza. After a few practice batches at home that turned out great, we put on a class, which filled up quickly. It turns out that I hadn’t been the only person with a burning desire to learn how to make cheese! (Check out the links at the bottom for the full recipe and sources.)
First, you add some citric acid to your milk and heat it to 88 degrees. At this point, you can add your rennet and gently stir it in. Let it sit undisturbed for about 5-10 minutes until the milk starts coagulating and begins to separate from the whey. Once the curds are quite firm, you can cut them into chunks and scoop them into a colander to drain.
Once your curds have drained, you can begin the heating process. If you want a firmer cheese you can squeeze out the whey through cheesecloth. This makes the final cheese a little tougher, but it’s easier to work with, especially for your first time!
Now the fun part begins.
In order to transform this lump of curds into cheese, it needs to be gently heated until the point that it gets stretchy. You can do this with a microwave if you truly do want to make it in half an hour – or you can gently dip your cheese ball into very hot whey for a few seconds at a time, and knead it while it’s very hot. Either way, your goal is to get the curds hot enough that they start to stretch like taffy.
And stretch they will! Right before the cheese gets to this point, it will stretch and then break apart. Keep heating it and the texture will eventually change to a smooth, glossy, stretchy texture. Shape it into a ball (or lots of small balls for bocconcini) while hot, and drop it in some ice water to cool.
That’s it! Cheesemaking 101!
Click here for a quick mozzarella recipe similar to the one we used.
Click here for some more great tips and troubleshooting for your own mozzarella.
1 litre of milk
Put the milk in a saucepan and bring to a boil while stirring constantly. Just as it comes to a boil, remove from heat. Add 1/4 cup of vinegar or lemon juice and stir. This will cause the milk to curdle. Strain the mixture through a cheese cloth or tea towel. Squeeze out the whey. Voila, paneer!
Now try this recipe for Palak Paneer from our Indian cooking class.
Updated from posts originally published in 2011 and 2012