Cheese It

One of my favorite things about July is fresh tomatoes, and one of my favorite things to go with them is fresh mozzarella. Here’s the secret the cheese cartel doesn’t want you to know about: It takes about 30 minutes to make, and it’s easy. Provided of course, you follow the directions and have an accurate thermometer.. two steps I skipped the first time I made it, resulting in an egg-sized piece of cheese with the flavor and consistency of silly putty. I was whey upset, but it’s all good now.
Here’s what you need to get started:
  • 1 gallon non-homogenized, low-temperature-pasteurized whole milk

  • 1 ½ teaspoon citric acid

  • ¼ teaspoon rennet (liquid or tablet), mixed with two tablespoons of non-chlorinated water. Rennet is frequently sold under the brand name Junket.

  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt

  • Large stainless steel pot

  • Instant-read thermometer
Add the citric acid to one cup of cold water and pour into the pot. Pour your milk quickly into the pot while whisking or stirring so it mixes well. 
Heat the milk slowly to 90 degrees, stirring every few minutes. This will take about five minutes and the milk will start to curdle due to the heat and acidity. (Some brands of milk may need to be heated to 95 or even 100 degrees to curdle.)
At 90 degrees or when it curdles, remove from heat and slowly add your rennet mixture. Stir in for 30 seconds, making sure you mix the top and bottom. Cover the pot and leave for 5 minutes. At this point, the curds should look like custard, and there should be a clear separation between the curds and the liquid whey. If the curd is too soft, or the whey isn’t clear, let sit for up to 30 minutes. 
While still in the pot, cut the curds into a checkerboard pattern spaced one inch apart. Place the pot back on the stove, slowly stir the curd, and heat to 105 degrees. Take the pot off the stove and continue stirring for 2-5 more minutes. The longer you stir at this point, the firmer the cheese.
Transfer the curd with a slotted spoon to a colander, then use your hand to gently press out as much whey as you can, reserving it in a bowl. Transfer to a microwave-safe bowl, add one teaspoon of salt if desired, and microwave for one minute. Pour off additional whey and lightly massage using a spoon or your gloved hands (it will be hot to the touch), then microwave for thirty seconds and knead and drain again. Microwave again for 30 seconds, knead and drain. 
Now the fun begins. Knead the curd quickly in the bowl like you would bread dough, then remove it from the bowl and continue kneading with your hands until it’s smooth and shiny. You should be able to stretch it several times like taffy. If it cools and doesn’t stretch, microwave it in the bowl to warm it back up. 
Finally, knead it into one large ball, or several egg-shaped balls, and let rest in the cooled whey solution for 20-30 minutes until ready to eat. It’s best fresh, but it will keep for a few days wrapped tightly in plastic wrap.
Fresh mozzarella is creamier and much softer than mass-produced mozzarella and I like it best drizzled with balsamic vinegar and served with fresh tomatoes and basil. Other great pairings include eggplant, spinach, roasted peppers, and mushroom.
One note, rennet is hard to find in stores, but it’s available with other cheesemaking supplies at Artisans Wine and Homebrew in Midlothian.

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